Garden group hopes to help needy

By James Casey

I worry many of us often neglect to learn about the food we eat. Fortunately, DeKalb County Community Gardens is attempting to stop this problem one garden at a time.

Food insecurity is how the USDA measures people’s lack of access to nutritional food in a given area. To combat food insecurity, the gardening organization is dedicated to building a healthier and more sustainable community.

It hopes to accomplish this by providing fresh, wholesome food sources in the form of community gardens.

“We have about 40 different locations around the county and 70 different partnerships and sponsors,” said Dan Kenney, director of DeKalb County Community Gardens and president of its board. “We donate food from these gardens to places like Feed ’em Soup, Voluntary Action Center or Meals on Wheels.”

According to Feeding America, 49 million Americans live in food-insecure households. DeKalb County is not immune to this problem, with 14,560 — or 13.9 percent — of its total residents and 4,640 — or 20 percent — of children facing food insecurity.

Along with helping to curb malnutrition through food donations, I believe the community gardens are helping to stop over-nutrition.

Kenney told me every elementary school in DeKalb and Sycamore now has a garden thanks to the organization. Studies have shown elementary school children involved in gardening are more likely to try vegetables and continue to eat them. While I’ve only read about this, Kenney, a recently retired elementary school teacher, has seen it firsthand.

“To pick something right off the vine and eat it is a whole different experience,” Kenney said. “These gardens also tie in well with the curriculum. Students learn things about science, agriculture and the environment.”

I wondered why NIU doesn’t have its own community garden: It could easily be incorporated into the curriculum of a variety of courses. Kenney said the gardens’ organization is discussing having a “communiversity” garden on campus.

According to the DeKalb County Community Gardens Facebook page, the benefits of volunteering for this organization include helping those in need, producing nutritious food, reducing the food budget, encouraging self-reliance and increasing agricultural literacy. People need to become more connected with the food they eat and this project provides the perfect opportunity to gain that connection.

I assumed the coming winter months would require a dormancy for the program until the spring, however Kenney explained to me they are continuing to harvest and deliver food to pantries, and they will continue to grow through the winter months. When it comes to gardening, this organization has a few tricks up its sleeves and members are willing to share with those who are willing to listen.

One example is using “low-tunnels,” which is a method of covering crops with arched plastic sheets to mimic a greenhouse environment throughout the winter.

For anybody interested in learning more, and as a thank you to all who have volunteered and supported it, the DeKalb County Community Gardens will host a Harvest Moon Celebration Pot Luck Dinner from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at 1915 N. First St. For more information, visit or check out the Facebook page at

The food choices we make have political, economical, environmental and personal health consequences.

The more I think about these impacts, the more I want to eat locally sourced foods, and this wonderful organization is making that possible while also helping those in need.