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Cherry Valley couple grows organic fruits, vegetables for the hungry

October 5, 2011

By Lauri Luessow

Mission work — right here in Rockford.

How many people do you know who would plant a vegetable garden in their own back yard with the intent of giving most of it away? Not too many, is my guess. But that is exactly what Jude and John Wrzesinski, of Cherry Valley, have been doing over the past 18 years.

They have converted approximately one-quarter of their 5 acres of land to grow organic fruits and vegetables to help feed the hungry within the greater Rockford community.

In their garden, they grow herbs, tomatoes, corn, peppers, okra, carrots, red beets, turnips, radishes, rutabaga, kohlrabi, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, onions, ground cherries, Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, asparagus, yellow and green beans, peas, egg plants, lettuce, cabbage, zucchini, strawberries, apples, pears, blueberries, kiwi, blackberries, raspberries, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkin and many varieties of squash.

Jude believes healthy eating should be a way of life — thereby making it easier to keep your weight under control. Additional benefits include fewer illnesses, doctor visits and less of a need to take medications.

The distribution of food is done through Gentle Shepherd Fellowship Church, affiliated with the Fellowship of Church Assemblies, 2905 N. Bildahl, Rockford. Their website is gentleshepherdfellowship.com. Through organized efforts of the church and Joan Zimmerman, the food pantry coordinator, approximately 400 families are being helped each month. The pantry opens each Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.

Zimmerman believes as many as 300 of these families have their own home gardens and receive seeds and more than 900 vegetable seedlings from the pantry that Jude, John and their helpers have planted.

Yes, it would be a daunting task to do all this work alone, so Jude has asked for help from church families and other friends to help plant the seeds and seedlings, weed and harvest. For their hard work and devotion to the program, every volunteer takes home produce from the harvest.

In addition to giving the children and their families a wonderful outdoor playground in which to run and have fun, for some of them, it’s the only opportunity they have to escape the confines of city life. It’s safe, and with bordering forest preserve property, the kids have lots of room to explore. They are also receiving training in how to grow and maintain a garden, and these skills, even for the very young, are tools that can be used throughout their lifetime.

Jude encourages everyone to plant an “extra” row in their gardens. With the larger harvest, they might share the food with friends, neighbors, or their church or local food pantry. Check out rockfordpantrycoalition.org to find your local food pantry.

Jude and John know they have been blessed throughout their lives. They feel the strong desire to bless others with the gifts and abilities they have been given.

Although John admits gardening is not his first choice for leisure activities, he is a diligent worker in the gardens, often watering the seedlings several times throughout the day to prevent them from drying up and dying before reaching a healthy stage. John is much happier operating the lawn mower and tractor-tiller.

In addition to growing the produce, Jude has planted hundreds of varieties of flowers and native plants, so the gardens also become a feast for the eyes, nourishing all who come to be blessed by the experience.

Jude is converting most of her lawn into “No-Mow” grass, which only needs to be mowed twice a year, once it is established. This is just one more example of their commitment to being good stewards of our beautiful planet.

This past year, Jude applied for and received a grant from Neighborhood Networks, allowing her to purchase more seeds, gardening tools and supplies.

Contributions to further these efforts are always welcome. They may be sent directly to the church, designated for the “Garden Ministries.”

If you would like additional information about volunteering in the Wrzesinski gardens, contact Jude at (815) 874-0633. Volunteers are always welcome!

From the Oct. 5-11, 2011, issue

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