Helping their community garden grow

Volunteers, Vernon Area Library help to feed people

BY ALYSSA GROH

Pioneer Press, Lincolnshire Review, July 8, 2016

This summer, Laura Rothschild visits the Vernon Area Library in Lincolnshire with her 7-year-old daughter, Rebecca, about three to four times a week not to browse for books and the other materials available to rent.

They, instead, come to the library each week to plant, water and care for the many vegetables growing within the community garden on the Vernon Area Public Library grounds. A unique feature for any library, the community garden—maintained by volunteers in the Lincolnshire area—also has a unique purpose, Rothschild said.

"We are thankful the library has this program," Rothschild said. "It is nice for people who don't have a lot of time to do something like this that doesn't take a lot of time. But you still feel like you give back a lot to others."

Volunteers, ranging from children to the elderly, grow vegetables at the community garden and donate the produce to Sharing Hands Food Pantry in nearby Indian Creek. The intent of the garden program is to give the pantry fresh, organic vegetables and herbs since Sharing Hands typically receives canned food donations, according to the library.

The garden also can help volunteers learn more about gardening while they work to give back to others in the community who rely on Sharing Hands' services, said Laurel Shapiro, the youth services events and programming coordinator who helped create the garden program.

"We would be able to incorporate both children and adult programming, and welcome in people of all ages to help build and grow the garden," she said of the idea.

Shapiro brainstormed a community garden with Roz Topolski, adult programming coordinator at the library, four years ago, when the library was preparing for its "Dig into Reading" theme for summer reading clubs. As more people became interested in the garden, they decided to bring back the program each summer.

In past summers, the library has donated between 200 and 300 pounds of vegetables to Sharing Hands, which serves about 500 people a month, she said.

Each year, Frank Ruder, director of the Sharing Hands pantry, provides the library with a list of ideas for produce the pantry could use for its clients. Volunteers and master gardeners from the University of Illinois Extension typically gather at the garden in May to help volunteers plant vegetables and sow seeds.

The university also will certify and train community members who are interested in becoming master gardeners. When Rothschild and her daughter initially started gardening at the library three summers ago, they weren't expert gardeners, Rothschild said.

Through master gardeners and volunteers at the library, they've learned how to properly grow a garden, she said.

This year, the Rothschilds and other volunteers are growing tomatoes, hot peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, radishes, beans, green peppers, cilantro and green onions for Sharing Hands.

Volunteers either will help with the planting in May or pick a week during the summer to care for the garden. While tending to the community garden, a volunteer family, group or individual will spend three to four days a week watering, weeding, weighing and maintaining the garden.

Once the vegetables are ready for Sharing Hands, volunteers sometime transport the produce to the food pantry, four miles from the library.

Volunteers come to the Vernon Area Library with different gardening experiences. They often consult with Shapiro, Topolski and other master gardeners in the community.

"They (parents) are teaching the children about giving back in a very easy and hands-on kind of way," Topolski said.

Gail Tanimura, a master gardener at the library who has been gardening for more than 30 years, typically starts with the basics when teaching volunteers, especially children or adults with little gardening experience.

She finds it important to give them a short lesson on how a seed grows and what they need to do to take care of it.

"I find it quite exciting to be able to help children and adults understand how a plant grows and what it does for them," Tanimura said. "My main goal is making people aware of how gardening can actually enhance your life."

Alyssa Groh is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press

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