Tireless volunteer grows community resource in Lake County

At 84, Mundelein-area senior Ann Axtell finds joy in little things, particularly when it comes to her diet.

"I'm almost a vegetarian in the summer," she said. "I've learned to use a lot of vegetables I've never used before."

That Axtell and many others have a choice from among dozens of varieties of organic plants and herbs is the result of the tenacity and tireless work of Fremont Township resident Alicia Dodd.

Over the past four years, Dodd has transformed a sorry patch of land outside the township office on Route 60 near Fremont Center Road into a garden of earthly delights - and then some.

Season by season, the space has undergone a remarkable change. Not only has it become the main source of fresh items for the township food pantry, which is used by low-income residents and seniors, but a project site, outdoor classroom and conservation center for students, Scouts and various other groups.

Behind it all is Dodd, who four years ago answered a Facebook notice for volunteers to help weed and has never left.

She is still considered a volunteer, although she puts in 20 hours or more each week during the growing season April through November and many hours before and after.

"Why do I still do it? I get a lot of satisfaction working with the volunteer kids or adults and sharing in their excitement as they learn new things and try new foods," she says. "I like to provide nutritious produce for those in need."

An airline pilot on hiatus, Dodd has no formal training in organics, construction or project management. She's learned by doing.

"I don't think we've come up with a title for me yet. I am the organizer of what we grow, when we plant, connecting with volunteers (and) developing websites."

Indeed, the garden and its ancillary facets like a solar-powered storage shed, bee hives, bug motel and the centerpiece cob house topped by a green roof, have become an attraction. Passers-by often stop for a look.

"It's really an outreach to our community to become involved and learn more than how to plant vegetables," said Fremont Township Supervisor Diana O'Kelly. "She's a resource to so many people."

Sixth-grade classes at Fremont District 79 are using the garden as part of a personalized learning program.

"I feel it's a natural, organic connection between the township, the garden and the school," she said.

With about 125 types of fruits, vegetables and herbs, the garden is a hub of activity.

"I'd rather go there than the grocery store," Axtell said of the offerings at the food pantry. "I use these things every single day."

  Alicia Dodd at work during one of the final harvests of the season in the Fremont Township garden. Mick Zawislak/
  Alicia Dodd shows parsnips grown in the Fremont Township garden. Mick Zawislak/
  Alicia Dodd prepares to leave after another long workday at the Fremont Township community garden. Mick Zawislak/, 2016
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