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posted: 9/10/2011 6:30 AM

Kraft garden project delivers produce to food pantry

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  • DuPage County Master Gardener Pam Kowalczyk collects produce from a garden for local food pantries. Master Gardeners this year are tending a garden near the Kraft plant in Naperville.

      DuPage County Master Gardener Pam Kowalczyk collects produce from a garden for local food pantries. Master Gardeners this year are tending a garden near the Kraft plant in Naperville.
    Daily Herald file photo, 2010

  • Some of the 300 pounds of produce contributed to Loaves & Fishes food pantry in Naperville from the University of Illinois Extension Service in DuPage County.

      Some of the 300 pounds of produce contributed to Loaves & Fishes food pantry in Naperville from the University of Illinois Extension Service in DuPage County.
    Courtesy University of Illinois Extension service

 
By Eileen O. Daday

On the west side of the Kraft plant in Naperville, where a variety of Nabisco brand crackers are produced, another type of food production goes on, thanks to the tender care by Master Gardeners.

Nearly a dozen members of the University of Illinois Extension Service in DuPage County have been working the garden, coming twice a week throughout the summer.

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They are participating in a community garden project, which was organized as a joint effort started last year with Kraft Foods and the Urban Farming organization headquartered in Detroit. Kraft donated the land, top soil and seedlings for the project.

Master Gardeners donated the know-how. Both organizations endorse the mission of Urban Farming, which works worldwide to bring people together in communities to plant food on unused spaces. They utilize everything from backyards to rooftops, all in an effort to end hunger while greening the globe.

Last month, the Master Gardeners realized the fruits of their labors, harvesting nearly 300 pounds of vegetables during the month of August, and all from a plot that measures 20 by 20 feet.

They delivered all of their produce to Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in Naperville, where officials were thrilled to have so many fresh vegetables to provide for their clients.

They have many individual gardeners that contribute produce as well as some of the area farms, officials say, and they accept all of it.

In August alone, they fed more than 9,000 people, including nearly 750 single mothers, nearly 700 senior citizens and more than 4,000 children.

"We here at Loaves & Fishes truly appreciate the contributions of this Master Gardener group," says spokeswoman Jody Bender. "Urban farming is sweeping the nation, and these wonderful people are on the cutting edge of the sustainability movement."

Sarah Navrotski, the Master Gardener coordinator, says the community garden project has returned her experts to the land and brought them back to their roots, so to speak.

She points to other DuPage County gardens they help to tend, including ones at Naper Settlement, Graue Mill and Kline Creek Farm, but mostly they work with flower gardens.

"The mission of Master Gardening is to teach," Navrotski says. "This is one program that has allowed our Master Gardeners to give back rather than just work with flowers."

Sally Mabbitt of Glendale Heights is among the many Master Gardeners working the plot at the Kraft plant who also harvest vegetables in their backyard garden for food pantry clients.

But, they take extra pride in the output from their combined efforts at the Kraft garden, they say.

"We call it our 'little garden that could,'" Mabbitt says. "There was so much, it didn't fit into my car."

Their most recent contribution included onions, okra, tomatoes, peppers, Swiss chard, green beans, basil and eggplant.

The Kraft site is the fourth community garden that the DuPage Master Gardeners are working. The others include park district plots in Glen Ellyn, Downers Grove and Naperville.

Their combined output this year has been nearly 1,500 pounds of vegetables, all donated to DuPage County food pantries, Navrotski says.

"All the gardeners have done a really good job of planting crops that were very productive," she says. Considering the weather we've had this summer, they've done really well."

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