College of DuPage students and staff start garden to offer fresh produce

Patrons of the College of DuPage Fuel Pantry will soon have fresh produce available to them, thanks to the efforts of interns and faculty from COD's Food Security Initiative.

The group recently installed five garden beds and planted crops at the Community Education Fuel Garden on the Glen Ellyn campus, in preparation for summer and fall harvests.

The garden, in its infancy, came to fruition after COD faculty members Shamili Ajgaonkar, Deborah Adelman and Lauren Morgan, along with a few of their students, joined forces to participate in a civic engagement project.

Marcela Calderon was one of the students who suggested an on-campus community garden.

"The Fuel Pantry had recently opened, and we heard students complaining that there were only processed foods available," the Downers Grove student said. "We wanted students to have the chance to obtain fresh, healthy produce that promotes a healthier diet and lifestyle."

The COD Fuel Pantry opened in 2015, the result of a collegewide project initiated by Phi Theta Kappa and examining food insecurity on campus.

The idea of the garden working in tandem with the Fuel Pantry came easy to the students, but they knew acquiring the finances would be more challenging. With that in mind, Calderon and a few of her classmates sought funding sources and were awarded a grant from The GardenWorks Project, a local nonprofit organization that provides community members garden beds and seeds to set up a community garden.

The students also held fundraisers at local restaurants in order to obtain money to buy garden supplies.

"It was important for us to take ownership over this project, and that meant showing the college that we had a well-thought out plan for the garden that would not only benefit students, but the community as a whole," Calderon said.

In addition to the students' efforts, Ajgaonkar, Edelman and Morgan were awarded a Resource of Excellence Grant from the COD Foundation to hire more student interns.

"Gaining the support of the Foundation was crucial for us," Ajgaonkar said. "With the college's support, this project has really taken off."

Moving forward, the students hope the community garden brings together many different departments on campus. To start, an architecture class will build a pavilion that will act as a meeting spot and an entryway to the garden. Long-term, they hope to involve culinary students as well.

Student and garden marketing intern Carina Cirillo of Homer Glen has been involved since the beginning. She heads to University of Illinois at Chicago this fall, leaving the garden behind, but hopeful that those continuing the effort will gain much satisfaction from the experience.

"A lot of us who have been here since the beginning are transferring, and we want to hand this project off to people who are going to treat it like their own baby," Cirillo said. "We hope the garden becomes a fixture in the COD community."

While Prairie Manager Remic Ensweiler, who helps oversee the project, stressed that the garden is in its early stages, he is excited for what's to come.

"These students have worked tirelessly to get the garden up and running, and while it's a waiting game to see how much surplus will grow, we all feel hopeful," Ensweiler said.

View photos from the May 5 workday on the College of DuPage Newsroom page.

To learn more about the Community Education Fuel Garden or to get involved, contact Remic Ensweiler at

College of DuPage students and staff prepare plantings for the new Community Education Fuel Garden. Courtesy of Press Photography Network/Special to College of DuPage
The new Community Education Fuel Garden at College of DuPage will offer students fresh, healthy produce. Courtesy of Press Photography Network/Special to College of DuPage
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