by Tina Koral, Executive Director
According to a recent survey by Feeding America, a national network of 200 food banks, 55% of people identify fresh fruits and vegetables as the foods they most desire but aren’t receiving from their food pantry. Since 2012, The GardenWorks Project has built 132 raised-bed vegetable gardens for families in need of food pantry assistance in DuPage County. We know we will never be able to build a garden for EVERY family who needs one. After all, there are 74,000 people facing food insecurity in our County (1).
Even those families that are served by our programs cannot grow all of the food their families require with one 4x8’ garden. While our gardens serve the important purposes of providing a portion of the food a family needs (supplementing what they receive from food pantries), teaching families how to grow food at home, and reducing their dependency on budget-busting grocery stores, low-income families need help from other sources.
How can we grow food together to increase the well-being of our community and environment, while placing a special focus on ensuring families needing food assistance have access to fresh, organic vegetables? How do we approach the seemingly out-of-reach dream of empowering all gardeners in the DuPage area to grow more food for themselves and for those who can’t garden and can’t afford to buy it?
"One Big Ass Garden"
Last weekend, GardenWorks board member Jessica Buttimer and I attended "Three Perspectives on Food: A Conversation between Will Allen, Ron Finley and Alice Waters," part of the 2016 Growing Power Conference in Milwaukee. When the panel was asked how agricultural operations in the cities can scale to nourish a whole community when restricted by limited space, Ron Finley ("The Gangsta Gardener"), replied, "If you have 100 gardens, you have one big ass garden!"
While we have installed over 4,200 square feet of gardens for our clients, there are hundreds more home, school, and community gardeners that we can empower to grow for our neighbors in need, ensuring that everyone has access to fresh, local, organic produce via their own garden or a food pantry. We can create one big ass garden via a network of food growers in our area.
Organic Suburban Agriculture (OSA)
The term Organic Suburban Agriculture (OSA) relates to growing and raising food crops and animals in a suburban setting using organic growing methods for the purpose of feeding local populations. Organic farming methods reduce the negative environmental impact of traditional food growing methods.
By supporting OSA in DuPage, we can increase the amount, variety, and freshness of the produce offered in food pantries – filling the gap when a family cannot afford to purchase expensive, organic produce, or when their gardens are not producing.
EVERY gardener in DuPage can be part of the Organic Suburban Agriculture movement.
How will GardenWorks support Organic Suburban Agriculture in the DuPage County area?
1. Continue our Home Gardening Program, in which volunteers build raised-bed vegetable gardens for families who need food pantry assistance.
2. Open The GardenWorks Project Suburban Agriculture Resource Center at 103 W. Washington St. in West Chicago, where we will lend gardening tools, books, and other resources; distribute seeds, seedlings and raised-bed gardening kits; and offer organic gardening classes.
3. Build demonstration gardens near the Resource Center that will allow us to offer hands-on classes in organic gardening, experiment with innovative gardening techniques, and evaluate our services by measuring 4’ x 8’ raised bed garden outputs.
4. Support home, community, and school gardeners by offering how-to classes, seeds, seedlings supplies and grants to those programs which grow produce for food pantries.
What can you do?
First, you can join our new facebook group, DuPage Food Growers Network. On this page, GardenWorks will provide information on home, community, and school gardens, best practices, and innovative gardening methods. We will also provide you with information on our local food pantries, including locations, hours of operation, and what types of foods they can accept. We hope that you will also share articles, stories, and other inspiration for gardeners to grow and share more food.
Next, you can support us on Giving Tuesday as we raised funds to put these ideas into action in 2017. Donate here on Giving Tuesday or anytime.
And finally, you can volunteer to help us prepare for 2017. If you've built a garden with us before, volunteer to be a garden build leader. We also have spots available on our board (we are currently looking for a Treasurer and a board member focused on programs) and committees. And we will soon be recruiting for garden builders to help us meet our goal of building 70 gardens this spring.
Join us as we create a strong network of gardeners growing food together, for each other. We can't do it without you!