Resources Growing for Community Gardens in Springfield
By Chris Dettro, Staff Writer Posted Apr. 26, 2015 at 10:00 PM
The resurgence of urban gardening has a relatively new booster in Springfield as community gardens sprout about the city, providing fresh fruits and vegetables to neighborhood residents.
The latest garden effort took root last week at the Brandon Court apartment complex with the help of Grow Springfield and the Springfield Community Federation.
Grow Springfield is a network of individuals and organizations created to support community agriculture efforts by providing resources, education and promotion, said Joseph Eby, its coordinator. It is a result of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance receiving a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.
"The goal is to get locally produced, healthy foods to people's tables more often," Eby said. The network shares best practices and identifies places to have gardens, among other efforts.
Eby said Grow Springfield so far has identified about 10 community gardens and six school gardens, as well as one urban farm and one aquaponics operation, in Springfield.
"Most of the school gardens are by genHkids, one of our seven planting partners," Eby said. The garden at Butler Elementary School is independent and is coordinated by Alana Reynolds, who, like Eby, is an AmeriCorps worker with Grow Springfield.
"She has a passion for digging in the dirt," Eby said of Reynolds, who is garden coordinator for Grow Springfield.
The Brandon Community Garden consists of four raised 3-by-8-foot plots.
John James, an AmeriCorps member working with the Springfield Community Federation through the Illinois Public Health Association, said the federation for the past couple of years worked with the Springfield Urban League and other organizations such as University of Illinois Extension and genHkids.
"Brandon in the past has had a garden outside the complex," James said. "They had some soil testing done, and it was recommended that we, the federation, move the garden inside."
He said a survey was conducted of Brandon residents "to see who was interested in having a garden outside their back door" and how many wanted to be involved in the planning process. From a total of 21 responses, only two people said they wouldn't be available to help, James said.
"We knew there wouldn't be a lot of people available to kick it off in the middle of the week," he said. "But we had about 16 folks out there — a potpourri of organizational volunteers, staff members and residents."
"It helps establish a sense of ownership," he added.
Anyone who lives in the Brandon complex is eligible to participate in the eventual harvest of vegetables such as chard, tomatoes and potatoes, James said.
Eby said Grow Springfield is interested in helping supply community gardeners with resources or pointing out where they may obtain resources at little or no cost.
Among the organization's first projects is designing and printing a resource guide for urban gardeners, which will include instruction of how to start a garden, he said.