Residents interested in working with others to grow fresh, affordable food for their neighborhood and for others who may not have access to nutritional food are invited to participate in the 2014 Community Action Gardens project.
Upcoming workshops will be held to discuss available grant funding (introducing new funding changes from previous years), application details, education and training plans, and the basics of planning and planting a community garden. Master gardeners will also be available to speak with individuals about their proposals.
Two opportunities to attend a workshop include the following:
• Thursday, Feb. 20, 6-7:30 p.m. — Bethesda Covenant Church, 2101 E. State St. (basement); and
• Monday, Feb. 24, 6-7:30 p.m. — City Plaza, 555 N. Court St., Room 115 (basement).
Community Action Gardens can be located within Winnebago or Boone counties. A representative of any group interested in applying for a Community Action Garden grant should plan on attending one of the two sessions. The following groups are invited to apply:
• Neighborhoods, schools, faith-based organizations or other groups that are interested in learning gardening skills and are willing to help their community by donating a portion of the produce to area pantries and other organizations serving those in need;
• Organizations that collaborate and include in their program education, nutrition, or expanded involvement and outreach to groups such as children, seniors, and veterans;
• Neighborhoods and other types of groups that will use the gardens as part of an effort to increase neighborhood and community vitality or unity; and
• Neighborhood groups that are interested in participating in farmers’ markets and using proceeds to support neighborhood-based activities such as block parties and cleanups that benefit the entire neighborhood.
Applications will be available at the workshops or can be obtained beforehand by contacting Cyndie Hall at (815) 967-4034 or email@example.com, or Christopher Greenwood at (815) 967-4039 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications must be submitted by March 10.
“I am excited that the Community Action Gardens will again allow people the opportunity to work together to grow healthy food for themselves and others, and help improve neighborhoods,” said Hall.
In addition to raising inexpensive and fresh food, gardens also promote healthier lifestyles, increase neighborhood vitality and community pride, and encourage environmental stewardship. The project will also connect, educate and encourage entrepreneurial projects. Participating gardeners can share in produce grown, but at least a portion of the produce should be given to area hungry. The preferred method is by donation to Lifescape Community Services Meals on Wheels for Seniors and/or “Plant a Row for the Hungry.”
A green thumb is not required to be a part of the community gardens, as a major focus of the program is learning.
Margaret Larson, county director for the University of Illinois Extension, said: “You don’t have to be an expert gardener. Extension staff and our Master Gardeners will work with participants to make their gardening experience positive. We are excited to be able to provide technical expertise and educational workshops, and we have master gardeners and other volunteers ready to help, from planning through basic food preservation.”
The U of I Extension staff would like to expand their work with youth in the community gardens and is interested in meeting with neighborhood groups wanting to explore garden-related youth education and training.
In 2013, 2,687 youth and adult volunteers donated more than 4,124 hours in 23 Community Action Gardens. All gardens contributed at least a portion of their produce to Plant A Row for the Hungry or to area food pantries, for a total donation of more than 5,900 pounds of vegetables.
Community Action Gardens are funded by the City of Rockford Human Services Department, a Community Action Agency, through Community Services Block Grant funds. Community Action Gardens should not be confused with the rental garden plots available through the Rockford Park District.
From the Feb. 19-25, 2014, issue