How Schaumburg Community Garden Club continues to share the bounty
At long last, local gardeners are reaping their homegrown tomato crops this month, and so are the volunteer gardeners involved with the Schaumburg Community Garden Club's food pantry garden.
In fact, they need a wheelbarrow just to contain all of the tomatoes coming in. Would you believe they are harvesting 170 tomato plants?
What makes it even more commendable is that they are all intended for the nearly 700 families who visit the Schaumburg Township food pantry each month.
That's not all. These 20 or so gardeners -- who come from Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg -- also donate zucchini, beans, cucumbers, Swiss chard, potatoes, carrots, onions, herbs, peppers and lemon cucumbers, to name just a few.
Amy Fillmore, who oversees the food pantry for Schaumburg Township, says these fresh vegetables make a tremendous impact on their ability to provide healthy food for their clients.
"Eating healthy can be difficult for low-income households," Fillmore says. "We all need fresh, nourishing food to lead healthy, productive lives. The tremendous amount of produce that the garden club delivers helps us to provide that choice for our clients."
These gardeners working behind the scenes have been at it for close to 20 years, including for the last 11 years at their present location, behind Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Schaumburg.
"The garden was established with the intent that the produce we grew would be for the food pantry," says Bonnie Gill of Hoffman Estates, who serves as secretary of the Schaumburg Community Garden Club and coordinates its food pantry garden.
"We always talk to the people at the food pantry to find out what clients want," Gill adds. "And every year we try and improve our gardening techniques and find ways to expand our garden."
Their plots now extend to nearly 6,000 square feet and as of this summer they include raised beds made from livestock watering tanks, or stock tanks, purchased with the help of grant money from the National Garden Clubs.
The Schaumburg Garden Club was one of four Illinois communities to receive one of its Plant America Community Project Grants. Garden clubs in Elgin, Libertyville and Roselle also received grants this year.
"The raised beds make it easier for our older volunteers -- and they help us deal with our bunny problem," Gill says.
Specifically, they plant their leafy greens and root vegetables, like carrots and beets, in the stock tanks, which are filled with a nutritious mix of garden soil mixture, almost better than the clay-based soil in the garden itself.
A grant from the Espoma Company, maker of organic fertilizer and potting soil, helped them create their nutritious soil mixture, while Home Depot generously supplied the gardeners with a wheelbarrow and sturdy stakes for all of those tomato plants.
The group also receives funds and support from the Schaumburg Community Garden Club itself, which celebrated 30 years this summer.
A distinctive pollinator garden accompanies the food pantry garden, filled with flowers that feature nectar and pollen, and fulfill requirements to become a certified monarch way station.
"Every good vegetable garden needs flowers, lots and lots of flowers," Gill says, "to pollinate the vegetable plants."
Her volunteer gardeners range in age from teenagers to those in their 80s, but this much they share: They all love to roll up their sleeves and work the land.
"It's nice to be able to do something for the community," Gill says, "but it's also a social event. It's good exercise, it gets out in nature and provides stress relief. We just love to garden."