They say it takes a village to raise a child. In the case of Fremont Township in Lake County, it takes a community to grow a garden.
For the third year, township officials have turned nearly a half-acre behind their building into a vegetable garden for the families and individuals who visit their food pantry.
Pete Tekampe, township supervisor, says they planted about 100 tomato plants, 40 pepper plants, 20 eggplants, as well a couple rows of squash and rows of melons, zucchini and pumpkins.
The land used to be part of a large farm that produced sorghum for hay, making its land is rich and fertile for growing vegetables. Nearby farmers also contribute extra fertilizer, which has added to its output, Tekampe adds.
With such a large, ambitious garden, township officials depend on volunteers to help tend the garden -- and community members of all ages have responded.
Amy Kaczmarek of Mundelein mobilized her children's Scout troops -- including Boy Scout Troop 198, sponsored by St. Andrew's Church and Brownie Troop 41003 at Fremont School, both in Mundelein -- to help with the planting last spring.
Last weekend, some of the Scouts returned to work with township officials in harvesting the vegetables.
"It's nice for them to follow through, and see what their seeds produced," Kaczmarek said.
She says their work in the garden is an extension of other projects at Fremont School in support of the township clients, including "Share the Harvest" at Thanksgiving time and "Adopt a Family" over the holidays.
Schoolchildren also conduct a warm winter coat drive during the winter and hold regular food pantry collections of nonperishable food. Working to provide fresh vegetables, was the next step, Kaczmarek said.
"People need a lot of extra help these days," she says. "Everyone is struggling."
The garden also drew nearby residents, such as Betty Kramer of Mundelein, who helped organize the planting, as well as some of the food pantry clients themselves, to come out and work in the garden.
"It's turned out to be a great community project," Tekampe says, "with lots of different people turning out to help."
Fremont Township serves more than 32,000 people and includes portions of Mundelein, Libertyville, Grayslake, Round Lake, Round Lake Park, Long Grove, Wauconda, Hawthorn Woods, and North Barrington.
Its food pantry is set up in the community room, where clients can choose what vegetables they want -- and as many as they want.
"There's no limit," Tekampe says. "We know that fresh produce is the first to get cut from their budget and that they can't get it anywhere else.
"People are always overwhelmed with so many vegetables to choose from," he adds, "and are always thankful."
The garden has produced so much produce this summer, despite the extreme temperatures and drought, that township officials also bring vegetables to a pair of nearby senior residences.
"They really appreciate getting produce from the garden," says Nancy Lech, food pantry coordinator. "Many of them used to have gardens, so they appreciate the fresh vegetables."
The community garden project has proved to be so successful this year, Tekampe adds, that they will continue it next year.
"Definitely," he says. "We're always in need of more volunteers, but we'll do it again next year. It's been a great project."