In 2011, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Ron Ory, a Naperville resident, initiated a new project for the volunteer program to run. Now, Ory and a crew of 28 Master Gardeners (MGs) raise vegetables, teach classes and extend the knowledge of the University through their work at the Community Garden Plots in Naperville. The Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry, also in Naperville, receives all of the produce.
At the garden site is a collection bin where anyone may donate produce. In 2012, about 4,000 pounds of vegetables went to the Pantry.
“An exciting program initiated by the MGs is called Gleaning Day,” said Jan Gricus, a MG and Naperville resident who plays a key role in this program. “With the help of the Park District, MGs and other volunteers collect all ‘abandoned’ produce from the gardens at the end of the season and get it to Loaves & Fishes.”
Last year, this added 900 pounds to the total amount of produce sent to the Pantry.
The MG’s outreach extends further into the community when these volunteers teach Beginning Gardeners Workshops each March at a Park District building near the plots.
“These informal two-hour classes provide information on soil preparation, seed selection, timing of plantings, watering, harvesting and pest scouting,” explained Gricus.
The classes are advertised in the Park District program guide and also to all plot renters.
”Residents and gardeners are invited to attend and at no charge. We have had great success with up to 60 participants each year,” Ory said.
The MGs are on site at 811 S. West Street on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
“We offer help to gardeners on site,” said Ory. “We walk throughout the plots, visit with the gardeners, let them know about our garden location and in general are available to answer gardening questions.”
Additional garden demonstration areas have been added each year. A Native Plants garden went in first and now a Rain garden is near completion. It shows how rain run off can be diverted on a property to a holding area filled with plants that are able to withstand a wet site for a longer time than others. Right next to this garden is the rain barrel exhibit area. Ory and his MG team hope to develop a composting demonstration area in the future.
Email your home garden and lawn questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone the Master Gardener Helpline at 630-955-1123.
Julie Moore is a Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Illinois Extension in DuPage County.