Community gardens sprouting throughout Lake County
The exercise is a plus and the camaraderie is pleasant, but there is another enticement for digging in a community garden.
"No matter how fresh you get it, it always tastes better when you do it yourself," said Round Lake Trustee Dale Multerer, whose seed of an idea finally has sprouted.
For years, Multerer had tried to sell the concept of making village property available for a public garden, but it never went anywhere.
That changed last week, when the village board approved the use of land on Cedar Lake Road near village hall, and on Townline Road behind the public works building, as the Round Lake Community Gardens.
Information is available at eroundlake.com and will be included on upcoming water bills.
"The question usually was, 'What if? What if the downtown decided to develop or the property was sold?'"
"To put it bluntly, nobody is buying property these days," said Multerer, a gardening fan.
Round Lake won't be the only new bud on the community gardening tree this season, as other efforts are planned or expanding.
Interest apparently is not limited to Lake County. The American Community Garden Association in Columbus, Ohio, reported the number of phone calls it received increased 19 percent and e-mails 24 percent from 2008 to 2009.
"With all the requests for information we're getting, we're guessing (the number of community gardens) is growing tremendously," said Vicki Garrett, project coordinator.
A tough economy in which growing your own can save cash, concern where food comes from and even an entrepreneurial spirit are among the reasons 2010 could produce a bumper crop for local gardeners.
"I also think there's a larger commitment to eating healthier and getting outside," said Rory Klick, an assistant professor and chair of the horticulture department at the College of Lake County.
Some of her students are fashioning a site plan for property behind the Avon Township Center in Round Lake Park.
Because of high demand at its food pantry, the township wants to establish a small working farm. A community garden is also part of a three-year plan scheduled to begin this year.
"With the food pantry, there's a lot of prepackaged foods, packed with preservatives and other unhealthy elements," said Sam Yingling, township supervisor.
"We realized we needed to be more aggressive to have an onside production facility."
Food pantry clients also will be able to get instruction on how to develop gardens at home.
At Mano-A-Mano, a family resource center in Round Lake Park, clients surveyed last year expressed interest in growing crops and possible future business opportunities.
An arrangement was made to create 24 plots for gardening on land owned by the adjoining W.J. Murphy Elementary School.
"It was an easy sell," said Carolina Duque, director of Mano-A-Mano. "I'm pretty sure we'll have a waiting list."
One consideration in establishing such sites is finding land with available water and parking. A long-standing community garden on Garfield Avenue in Libertyville, for example, closed several years ago when the land was sold. Organizers are looking to replace it.
"Nothing has been available that will work out," said Susan Plasz, president of the Gardners of Central Lake County, perhaps best known as tenders of the Rose Garden in downtown Libertyville.
Recognizing that problem, Roland Kuhl, pastor of the North Suburban Mennonite Church in Libertyville, has started a campaign.
"We have over 500 churches in Lake County. A lot of them have land they're not using," he said. "We're trying to cast a vision of them creating community gardens on their properties."
That idea may not bear fruit this year, but there is a more immediate mission.
Kuhl plans to form "gleaning teams" to collect extra produce from individual and community gardens to supply food pantries.
"It's more of an initiative to get people thinking about if they're not going to use it, bring a healthier alternative into the food pantry system," he said.
Klick has a similar plan for the community garden at CLC, which became an immediate hit when it was established last year.
"We turned over about 9,500 square feet of ground. We made about 40 plots and they were all taken," Klick said. "People told their neighbors ... that community spirit is evolving, which is just what I had hoped."
This year, the space has been expanded to 50 plots and all are spoken for.
Klick has more than 20 years experience in community gardening beginning as a program director for Greencorps Chicago, a community gardening and job training program. She and others are enthusiastic supporters of the community garden concept.
"People need to unplug themselves from their computers, iPods and iPhones and say, 'Look at this,'" she said.