This month's stretch of warm, summerlike weather played right into the hands of a pair of Mount Prospect Girl Scouts, when the abundant sunshine helped extend their growing season.
Mary Kate Dempsey, a Prospect High School senior, and Nora Gawlik, a John Hersey High School senior, spent the summer working a 40-foot garden plot, to raise fresh vegetables for the local food pantry.
They went into the project hoping to raise 100 pounds of vegetables, but after their latest donation Monday they are up to nearly 650 pounds.
"We have five rows left that are still producing," says Gawlik, who runs cross-county when she's not tending crops. "We knew very little about gardening when we started this, but we learned a lot."
Their latest harvest included tomatoes, peppers and winter and summer squash. They picked the veggies on Sunday, before washing them and bagging them for their delivery to the CEDA Northwest Self-Help Center in Mount Prospect.
Formally the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, CEDA aims to empower families and individuals to achieve self-sufficiency and improve their quality of life.
It draws residents from Arlington Heights, Bartlett, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Park Ridge, Prospect Heights, Roselle, Rosemont, Schaumburg, South Barrington, Streamwood and Wheeling.
Dempsey and Gawlik first worked with the agency last year when they organized a food collection. While making one of their deliveries, they noticed fresh produce being offered and how eager families were to get it.
Couple that with Gawlik's involvement with the Mount Prospect Youth Commission and its booth at the Mount Prospect Farmers Market, and the two girls became increasingly aware of the value of fresh vegetables.
Last summer, they tried a "practice garden" in Gawlik's backyard and were surprised when they grew 65 pounds of produce with minimal efforts. This summer, they became more ambitious and took over a garden plot near the back of Woodlands Trails Park in Mount Prospect, offered to them by the River Trails Park District.
"We had 20 rows, and when every row was producing we had to water every day," Gawlik says. "We didn't have the use of a hose, so we had to carry buckets from the nearby stream."
Working in shifts, and occasionally together, they figure they spent more than an hour a day working the land. It was not total smooth sailing, however. A portion of their peppers rotted and they scrambled to figure out why.
"We were over-watering them," Gawlik says. "So we added mulch to help soak up some of the water."
Both Dempsey and Gawlik have been in Girl Scouts since they were in kindergarten, and now they are approaching a rare accomplishment, earning their Gold Award.
The garden and its ability to help provide nutritious vegetables for local families is their project, which they will begin writing up when their plants dry.
"Once the girls committed to this project, they organized every aspect of their work," says Jane Walsh-Gawlik, Nora's mother and their troop leader, "from talking to park district personnel to buying plants, seeds and tools, and working out a water and weeding schedule."
There are college scholarships available to Gold Award winners; and according to Girl Scout officials, having a Gold Award immediately will raise a person one rank in any of the U.S. military branches.
Now, that's no small potatoes.