Community garden to be built for high school

By Jessica Christofersen

DeKalb County Community Gardens plans to start a garden west of DeKalb High School so students can get their hands dirty while learning about agriculture.

Dan Kenney, DeKalb Community Gardens director, said the organization leased a 4-acre plot west of the school, 501 W. Dresser Road, from Shodeen Group for $1 a year. Sarah Peterson, DeKalb High School agricultural teacher and Future Farmers of America adviser, will help manage the field and begin working with students to plant crops by mid-April.

“I’ll help my FFA students and [agriculture] students organize and get things done … and I think we will take about half of it to do a project on our own on it, and the other half the Community Gardens will use to grow produce,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the high school has land where volunteers grow corn to fund agricultural school projects, but those two locations — one in Malta and one near the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport, 3232 Pleasant St. — are not used for educating the students because they are too far from the school.

Peterson said the new garden will give the students an opportunity to work in the field during the day and help fund Future Farmers of America programs by selling produce grown in the garden. The field will produce pumpkins, gourds and squash.

The donated property is ideal because it hasn’t been used for commercial farming or other purposes, said Nancy Proesel, board member of DeKalb County Community Gardens.

“Before properties are made available they need to meet certain qualifications such as being dormant or organic for a period of years without fertilizers,” Proesel said. “This area can instantly be used.”

Kenney and Proesel said the location is also good because it is close to other gardens like the NIU Communiversity Gardens on the east side of Anderson Hall. This will make it easy to move equipment needed to maintain the garden, Kenney said.

The location will also expand the availability of vegetables to those in the Hillcrest neighborhood who wish to volunteer, Kenney said. Volunteers are allowed to take produce home.

DeKalb County Community Gardens has harvested more than 21,000 pounds of produce from nearly 40 sites county-wide this year. Most of that has been distributed to local food pantries, Kenney said.