Growing together: It's taken a community to create this school garden and make it bloom

  • The harvest from the community garden at Western Avenue School will go to the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry and St. Peter's Food Pantry in Geneva.

      The harvest from the community garden at Western Avenue School will go to the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry and St. Peter's Food Pantry in Geneva. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Updated 7/31/2020 5:35 AM

A simple question more than a decade ago led to the creation of one of the most ambitious projects -- and pleasant settings -- one can experience on the grounds of a public school.

Geneva parents Dana Christensen, Lisa Goewey and Jen Kelly approached Western Avenue Elementary School principal Ron Zeman. They asked if their daughters could try to grow a small garden on school grounds to earn some Brownie Troop patches.


Fast-forward to today, and Western Avenue showcases a huge garden with several raised beds, a "reading circle," some benches made of stone from the former Coultrap Middle School, an arbor and a vine-covered archway. And, of course, a scarecrow.

"We wanted to teach the girls about gardening, and it literally mushroomed from there," said Christensen, who has been president of the volunteer Get Up & Grow committee of parents and teachers who work with the students in the garden.

In the first couple of years, the girls' small garden became a pumpkin patch with some other plantings. The parents suggested a much bigger garden for the school. With Zeman's support and Goewey's ambitious research of gardens in other states, Western Avenue soon became a showcase for such a school project.

Christensen said the garden is for everyone in the community to enjoy or volunteer to pick weeds or do other tasks.

"I don't have the greenest thumb, but I have learned a lot over the years," said Christensen, whose husband Jeff is also a vital helper. "However, I can orchestrate the volunteers and do the hardscape and get all of the plants and get it all organized."

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Ultimately, as the garden grew, it became the source of food donations to area pantries. Two that should benefit this year are the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry and St. Peter's Food Pantry in Geneva.

In looking over this impressive garden, which sits in front of the school along Western Avenue, one might not realize all of the moving parts and support involved in this creation.

Neri Landscape built the stone benches; Midwest Groundcovers provides mulch and dirt; Kramer Tree Specialists provided the tree stumps that serve as seats in the reading circle (dedicated to former teacher Mary Bencini). Wasco Nursery donates and helps with the orchard, and Davey Tree serves as the arborist.

The community garden at Western Avenue School in Geneva is in full bloom and many vegetables are ready to be picked.
  The community garden at Western Avenue School in Geneva is in full bloom and many vegetables are ready to be picked. - Rick West | Staff Photographer

Tim and Elva Slepicka donate all of the pumpkins at the garden's annual fall festival, while Geneva High School horticulture club members Jason Lesatz and Tom Anderson bring high school students to the garden several times during the year to help build the raised beds and take on other tasks.

Jay Womak of the school's natural resource committee drew the original plans for the garden and helped establish fundraising efforts through the annual "Wine, Cheese and Trees" events.

Lisa and Brian Goewey have also had various fundraisers at the Gia Mia, Livia and Harry & Eddie's restaurants they operate. After all, their daughters Livia and Gia, were involved in that first garden patch. So many people have pitched in to help this year, Christensen calls it "the best of times in the worst of times" for the garden because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In showing how the garden has come full circle, Christensen said Maddie Cooper, Lydia Kelley and Reiss Christensen, all girls who first started the garden, continue to go back to it to help.

"And I can't say enough about Mr. Zeman, our amazing principal," Christensen said. "He really has created a great, whole school appreciation for the garden. He inspired the teaching staff, and they, in turn, really made it a special part of Western Avenue School and have done a wonderful job of integrating learning into their curriculum in enjoying the outdoors and the beauty of the garden with their students."

Even more sweets:

It's hard to imagine downtown Geneva could fit in more places to please the sweet tooth. But it has. Hey Sugar opened at 507 S. Third St. about two weeks ago, and, based on some Facebook photos of the treats they create, the former operators of the Latest Crave cupcake shop should find plenty of success with this new endeavor.

We're still awaiting the opening of Cookie Dough Bliss in the former Latest Crave spot at 227 S. Third St. This new shop was featured in Talk of the Town in mid-May. Owner Kirstie Geyer told me she had no specific target date for opening because she wanted to be flexible about some changes to the site and assuring COVID-19 regulations and precautions were in place.

It appears it should be opening soon.

Let's be careful:

There's plenty of excitement surrounding Wahlburgers on the west side of St. Charles, now that the restaurant has finally opened. TV and music stars Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy have made it quite clear they enjoy living in this area since tying the knot at Hotel Baker six years ago. So we hope this venture has great success for them, as they worked so hard to have a Wahlburgers in their hometown.

As a side note, if you want to see photos of one of the most spectacular settings the Hotel Baker's famous Rainbow Room has ever seen, check out their wedding photos on the web.

Wahlburgers joins the list of area restaurants featuring an outdoor dining area. We've certainly enjoyed seeing so many of our restaurants doing well with outdoor dining arrangements.

However, it's understandable if some are a bit uneasy when seeing the big crowds of people along Third Street in Geneva and around First Street in St. Charles.

It's definitely a mask-wearing situation, so here's to hoping everyone will remain vigilant and aware that the virus hasn't gone anywhere, and has no intention of doing so.

Even if you want to gamble in saying it's not a highly fatal illness, it's impossible to argue against the reality we are facing: It's highly contagious, and we have no way of stopping.

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