DeKalb County Community Gardens hosts free farm tour and open house

Staff Report

DeKalb County Community Gardens will be hosting a free, open to the public, open house at the new Walnut Grove Vocational Farm, 33600 Pearl Street, in Kirkland on Saturday, August 29 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In addition to tours of the farm, orchard, garden and greenhouse, there will also be an heirloom tomato and garlic tasting between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. There will be over a dozen varieties of locally grown heirloom tomatoes and garlic to sample and learn more about. Participants will be given an opportunity to purchase and vote for their favorite.

In addition to the tour and tasting there will be live music provided by local musicians and DCCG will also have fresh locally grown produce for sale.

“Another feature will be the only locally grown hardy fall mums, fountain grass, and flowering kale for sale.” Said Dan Kenney, founder and executive director, of DeKalb County Community Gardens. “The fall flowers and plants were raised by local individuals with special needs under the guidance of Heather Edwards, greenhouse management instructor of Kishwaukee College.”

Heather Edwards, also of the former Ozzie’s Greenhouse, located on Hinckley Road, is now the greenhouse manager for Walnut Grove Vocational Farm. She guides individuals with special needs as they learn potting, transplanting, and other plant related skills while working with her on the farm. The mums were also cared for by Carol Bushong and Hannah Thompson, Kishwaukee College, horticulture department interns.

The Walnut Grove Vocational Farm is a new program of DeKalb County Community Gardens. It was launched this year and is in the development stage, although several individuals have been out to the farm working in the garden, painting the new fence and other farm related tasks. Individuals from Opportunity House of Sycamore, Gracie Center of Kingston, the Life School of Sycamore High School, as well as others have all benefited from experiences on the farm.

DCCG is also working with Intersect for Ability of Rockford, and Access Service of Northern Illinois to make this agriculturally based experience available to others with special needs from Boone, Winnebago and Ogle counties as well.

“There are hundreds of individuals with special needs who can benefit from a farm experience like this.” Said Matt Toohey, director of Rockford based Access for Services of Northern Illinois.

DCCG will be working with local school districts of DeKalb, Ogle, Boone, and Winnebago Counties to provide career exploration and skills training for individuals in the public school transition programs.

The farm will offer agricultural and horticultural experiences and training for individuals with special needs. They can learn about raising poultry, livestock, orchards, and vegetables. They will also learn about greenhouse management, plant care, sales, marketing, and many other skills. They will also learn about flower gardening, seed germination, and landscaping on the farm.

“We want to provide as many different training opportunities on the farm as we can. Then when leaving the farm individuals will be able to find work in the communities, and maybe even start their own flower gardening, lawn mowing, or other small businesses.” Said Gene Heinsohn, who has a 20 year old son with Downs Syndrome. Gene and his family own the farm where DCCG runs the program.

In 2013, students of the Rockford College Masters of Business Administration program conducted an exhaustive research study and found that the best job opportunities for people with developmental disabilities would be on a farm. Walnut Grove offers just such a farm experience.

DeKalb County Community Gardens in their fourth growing season, and have raised thousands of pounds of food for food pantries, senior citizen living centers, preschools, and more. The nonprofit organization has won national awards for their work in establishing more than 50 gardens all across DeKalb County.

For more information or to reserve your spot for the tasting contact Dan Kenney at dkenney@dekalbgardens.org or 815-793-0950.

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