It all started on a routine trip to the library with the kids, when I spotted the book Reclaiming Our Food, by Tanya Denckla Cobb, in the new-releases section. I grabbed it and checked it out without reading anything more than the title.
It proved to be a serendipitous find, because it changed my life.
In the last few years, I've found my calling career-wise in the field of landscape design. I love designing gardens and have met some incredible people since I started my business. But I wanted to do more. So when I opened this book and read the very first section, "Giving Gardens to People in Need," I was intrigued. Building vegetable gardens for families in need would not only help those who needed it most, but would combine my love of horticulture with my husband’s interest in carpentry while providing a volunteer activity that we could do with our two young kids.
Although we live in one of the wealthiest areas in the country, there is still hunger and poverty in Chicago's west suburbs. According to the West Suburban Community Pantry, "Over 95,000 people in DuPage County go to bed hungry every night. Of those, over 45,000 are children." Over 45,000 are children.
Having kids of my own, this statistic floors me. It’s unbearable to think about kids going without even the most basic human need – food – in the Chicago suburbs. I firmly believe that we are all entitled to eat fresh, organic food, and knew I could make a difference.
Since food pantries often have difficulty obtaining and storing fresh produce, we knew that building gardens was a good place to start. We committed to building five 4x8’ raised bed vegetable gardens and providing the soil, plants, and support the families might need to get started. We approached the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry to ask if they would help us to identify needy individuals or families, and they were enthusiastic to help. We called the project GardenWorks.
By the end of 2012, we had built four gardens (we could not reach one of the families), emptied eighty bags of soil and compost, planted thirty vegetable seedlings, and taught seven adults and seventeen children how to grow their own food. I was able to step outside of my busy life, which I admit was focused mainly on my own family, and do some good for someone else. And that has given my life balance and satisfaction in a way that I’ve never experienced before.
In 2013, with the help of dedicated volunteers, we refreshed those four gardens with new compost and seedlings, and gave ten more gardens to people who were both food insecure and wanted to grow their own food at home. In 2014, we built 20 more gardens. We partnered with the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry, Bridge Communities, People’s Resource Center, Neighborhood Food Pantries of Warrenville, and Hossanah Lutheran Church in St. Charles to identify families who both needed food and wanted to learn to grow it at home. Our residential gardens currently serve 163 individuals, about half of whom are children. We could not have done this without the help of 75 community volunteers who dedicated their time and talents to the project.