Community gardens — a real giving of thanks

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Beginning as a small school garden for in-school suspension students, the DeKalb County Community Gardens (DCCG), a nonprofit organization, now manages large acreage and more than 200 raised beds. More than 70 partners, including schools, faith-based groups, social service agencies, educators and others provide more than 300 volunteers for the program. Tons of food from the gardens have been donated to those in need.

The organization’s founder, Dan Kenney, a teacher for more than 25 years, has held numerous offices in organizations to which he belongs.

He believes that no child, especially in an area with some of the best farm land in the world, should ever go hungry or miss out on eating nutritious food. He cites the nearly doubling of local child poverty in two years as evidence for the need for such a program.

During the school garden’s first summer, Kenney took produce to local food pantries, which was met with delight by people who seldom have the opportunity to eat fresh vegetables. He then realized this country has two food systems, one in which people have access to all of the fresh, nutritious food they need and want, and another for those who stand in line for charity.

As the project grew, “food deserts” where people do not have access to healthy fresh food or supermarkets, were identified and targeted for gardens. Kenney wants “to provide an opportunity for people to provide for themselves.” Rather than offering charity, volunteers work with residents of these areas and help them learn to tend the gardens, promoting self-reliance.

Through educational programs, seed saving and swapping, and dinners as well as donations, local residents learn about health and nutrition, building communities, education and economic development. They put their newly learned information and skills to work planning, planting and tending their gardens and harvesting food.

New efforts are spreading the project to all parts of the county. Kenney wants to help DeKalb County, then other surrounding counties, to develop a sustainable food system to provide fresh, locally grown food for all.

Gardens of Hope program volunteers set up 5-foot-by-10-foot gardens in the yards of families in need that can provide as much as 500 pounds of vegetables each year, delivering fresh food and saving money.

The Garden Paths of Hope program works with homeless people, providing training and employment and teaching agricultural, marketing and communications skills that can be used to find employment.

A large farm in the northwest corner of DeKalb County will provide a comprehensive program for all people, offering work with chickens and farm livestock, gardens, greenhouses, orchards and bees. People with special needs can learn new skills there. It will also have opportunities for hiking, picnicking and other recreational activities.

The DCCG has confidence that this comprehensive approach can be transferred to other locations. Kenney is now working on a book to provide guidance to those interested in establishing their own program.

Dan Kenney believes in “honor[ing] the resources we have and do[ing] all we can to preserve and enhance them for future generations.” He was a presenter at the 2013 and 2014 Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle fairs. We hope he will return to speak at the 2015 fair.

Those interested in working with this project or starting their own are encouraged to contact him through their website, dekalbgardens.org.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Nov. 19-25, 2014, issue

Share this story