Communiversity Gardens invites volunteers to learn about food production

The gardens are open for volunteers every Wednesday from 3 to 5 p.m.


Mingda Wu

(left to right) graduate student Eric Cnus and Sareh Nerwell, first-year psychology major work in the Anderson Hall Communiversity Gardens, 520 Garden Rd. The gardens are open for volunteers every Wednesday.

DeKALBNIU is hosting student and faculty volunteer opportunities at the Anderson Hall Communiversity Gardens, 520 Garden Rd, for the remainder of the semester. 

The gardens are meant to provide a space for community members to learn about food production and sustainable farming practices, according to the Communiversity Gardens webpage. The gardens also promote a culture of environmental awareness, and give volunteers an opportunity to give back to the community. 

Currently, the NIU campus hosts four garden spaces, including the Communiversity Gardens near Anderson Hall. 

The location at Anderson Hall started as a class project for graduating seniors in Nonprofit and Nongovernmental Organizations major in 2014,” said Melissa Burlingame, assistant director for the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy/Environmental Studies. “I was asked to consult on the location and set-up. As the students graduated, a group of faculty and staff met to discuss incorporating the gardens into the curriculum so that the opportunity would be more likely to stay available to students and the community.” 

The Communiversity Gardens officially opens for the semester on April 6, and the gardens will be open to volunteers through May 11, according to NIU’s event calendar. Volunteers are able to work in the gardens every Wednesday from 3 to 5 p.m. 

Due to COVID-19 protocols, volunteers must sign up to attend any volunteer sessions at the gardens. Unapproved volunteers will not be allowed into the gardens, according to the Communiversity Gardens webpage.

The volunteer events will allow approved students, staff and faculty members to work in the garden, which could include watering plants, sowing seeds, using tools to keep the garden free of pests or weeds and harvesting plants, according to the Communiversity Gardens volunteer guide.  

The Communiversity Gardens are also one of the 57 gardens that make up the wider DeKalb County Community Gardens.  

“The Communiversity Gardens are the result of a collaborative effort between NIU, (the environmental studies program) and the DeKalb County Community Gardens,” said Mylan Engel, one of the faculty members involved with the garden.

The gardens have had a lasting impact on the community, especially those studying environmental sciences.

(By incorporating the gardens into our curriculum, we were able to create) the Introduction to Sustainable Food Systems course along with the certificate of undergraduate study in sustainable food systems,” Burlingame said. “(Several) students have since completed the certificate and countless students have taken the introduction course, served in an internship, or volunteered with the gardens.” 

The gardens initially started as a project to “end food insecurity, promote sustainability and educate,” according to the project’s webpage. To reach their goal of ending food insecurity, the Communiversity Gardens partners with the Huskie Food Pantry by donating the fresh produce grown in the gardens to help those in need.  

A wide variety of produce is grown in the gardens including radishes, beets, peas, bush beans, spinach, Swiss chard, tatsoi, asparagus, kale, cabbage, collard greens, leeks, chives, tomatoes, various kinds of peppers, a wide variety of herbs, sunflowers, strawberries and raspberries,” Engel said. 

Community members will have the opportunity to buy vegetable, herb and flower plants from the garden at a fundraising plant sale early next month. Already-planted seeds will be available for purchase for $3 per plant. 

The fundraiser will help fund the Communiversity Gardens and the NIU Biological Sciences Greenhouse, according to the event calendar. Funds will go directly towards supporting these operations by paying for tools and gardening materials.