An organic community garden started by Elgin firefighters is serving local families and benefiting the Food for Greater Elgin food pantry.
The garden, next to fire station No. 7 at 3270 Longcommon Parkway on the city's far west side, is the 25th within the Elgin Community Garden Network, with whom the fire department partnered for the initiative, Fire Lt. Bob Bedard said.
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Eleven individual garden plots are planted, with one more in the works; the garden -- open to all Elgin residents -- has space for 50 to 60 plots, Bedard said.
All gardeners are asked to donate part of their produce to the food pantry, Bedard said.
"The intent of this garden is to serve as a community service," he said. "They are free to donate to another food pantry, of course."
Monica Dombrowski, who lives across the street, said she can't have a garden in her backyard because of the acidic soil caused by a black walnut tree. "Everything just died," she said.
Now, she's looking forward to growing squash, yellow wax beans, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower on her garden plot at the fire station.
"I like the idea of being able to service the community," she said.
The community garden is especially welcome to some residents of Edgewater by Del Webb across the street.
Gardens there are restricted to the backyard and must be at least three feet from a house, Del Webb residents Rod and Mary Gohrke said. In their case, that means they can't plant anything because of the lack of sun, they said.
"You can forget your cares when you're working in the garden," Rod Gohrke said.
"Rod is the hard worker -- he planted, and I pick mostly," his wife added.
The garden is part of the Elgin Fire Department's community service initiative that kicked off last year.
Each fire station chose a cause to benefit, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin, but firefighters at Station 7 didn't quite know what to do, Elgin Fire Capt. Tony Bialek said.
Bialek said he eventually came up with the idea of a community garden, which kicked into gear in May.
Firefighters prepped the area by burning off weeds and rototilling the land, Bialek said. Bedard, a founding board member of the Elgin Community Garden Network, built the raised gardens.
"People can just apply (to have a garden), and as long as they take care of it, they get the use again next year," Bialek said.
The city of Elgin provides free water for the community garden, Bedard said. The plan is to eventually install an automatic irrigation system with a one-time contribution of $20 to $30 per gardener, he added.
Food for Greater Elgin serves about 1,200 families per month, Executive Director Sue Ericson said.
"The fire department chose Food for Greater Elgin (as a cause to benefit), and it's been really effective," Ericson said. "It's a great community service."
For more information on the garden, call Bedard at (847) 946-3380.