Garden feeds hungry DeKalb

Students plan garden plots Tuesday at the Communiversity Gardens. The gardens are meant to reduce food insecurity in DeKalb, according to DeKalb County Community Gardens Director Dan Kenney.

By Sophia Mullowney

DeKALB — The arrival of spring has helped kick the Communiversity Gardens into gear, as students and faculty alike participate in efforts to prepare the gardens for a new growing season.

The Communiversity Gardens are situated in four locations: the Annie Glidden Heritage Garden at 231 W. Lincoln Highway at the Oderkirk House, the Huskie Service Scholars Garden at 511 Russell Road at Immanuel Lutheran Church, the Native Plants Garden, a raised native flower and plant bed between Stevenson and Grant Towers and the Sandra Steed Communiversity Garden on 520 Garden Road, behind the east side of Anderson Hall.

The gardens are all managed under the larger network of the DeKalb County Community Gardens, which maintains 10 acres of garden space and 40 different locations in and around DeKalb, according to the DeKalb County Community Gardens website.

Director Dan Kenney said the aim of the Communiversity Gardens is to confront food insecurity in DeKalb County and provide learning and volunteering opportunities in sustainability to willing participants.

He said they have been working with the Walnut Grove Vocational Farm, 33600 Pearl St. in Kirkland, to share produce for food drives and network for purchasing large quantities of soil, crops and equipment. Additional greenhouse planting efforts have taken place at the farm since February, and participants have germinated plants in preparation for the current growing season. An event open to the public took place Tuesday, in which vegetable, flowering and hanging plants were sold.

The annual kickoff for the DeKalb County Community Gardens will take place 6 p.m. April 29 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 158 N. Fourth St., according to Kenney. He said students are encouraged to come learn about garden maintenance and get in touch with the larger gardening network in the community.

Melissa Burlingame, NIU Green Team Chair and co-manager of the Communiversity Gardens, said the main work to be done at on-campus locations during springtime includes tilling the soil, reestablishing pathways and replanting summer crops. She said garden volunteers will be planting root vegetables, potatoes and carrots in the coming weeks, as well as reworking the strawberry patch and transplanting some raspberry plants into a neighboring patch.

Due to the small timeframe of planting made available because of the long winter and late snows, Burlingame said the Communiversity Gardens is focusing mainly on getting in working order for the summer season.

“Really we’re getting ready for summer right now, and summer’s more about maintenance than planting,” Burlingame said.

She said the gardens will be donating heavily to the Huskie Food Pantry during this time due to its close proximity and high level of engagement.

Recent donations to the Huskie Food Pantry included a large harvest of chives from the herb garden. Burlingame said they’ve been getting feedback from pantry recipients and workers to better understand what produce to cultivate and donate.

“We make sure [the Huskie Food Pantry] know[s] what we’re growing so they know what to expect throughout the growing season,” Burlingame said.

In addition to the pantry, Burlingame said other resource offices and organizations on campus take advantage of the garden.

She said recent volunteers have represented Lambda Sigma, a co-ed sophomore honor society, Outdoor Adventures and business students gaining hours toward their business passports.

She also said the Communiversity Gardens is hoping to better advertise its contribution to campus to gain more volunteers in any capacity.

“We’re seeking a broader range of engagement and looking for students to realize that vision,” Burlingame said. “Giving is flexible — time, money or a presence on social media can all help. We’re all working toward the goal of feeding students.”

The garden hosts open volunteer hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday during the spring, summer and fall. Volunteers are encouraged to take a bit of the day’s harvest with them if they put in work.

Christine Lagattolla, assistant director for Outdoor Adventures and Communiversity Gardens co-manager, said the program’s involvement with the garden has presented many students with the opportunity to learn about sustainable food practices and gain volunteer experience. She said gardening ties into the ethos of university recreation and wellness.

“Wellness is our mission, and gardening is wellness,” Lagattolla said. “For me, [wellness is] about getting people outside, and that can be through gardening. We’re hoping to bring more awareness of the opportunity students can have to support the gardens and fight the food insecurity issue on campus as well.”

Garden volunteers also had much to say about the opportunities they have received through participating in spring efforts.

Brenna Sment, sophomore nutrition major, said she’s been involved with the Communiversity Gardens since last semester, when she saw a notice posted on the NIU volunteerism website. She said she hopes to see more students come out for work hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“It’d be great to get more people involved here,” Sment said. “I like working at the garden because it’s good to see what comes from the work you put in.”