Glen Ellyn's Tina Koral Launches GardenWorks to Help Families in Need

GardenWorks is a grassroots program in its second year in DuPage County. The program will help families in need grow their own fresh vegetables.

The ground is hard as a rock and planting season is months away, but for one Glen Ellyn resident, gardening season can’t arrive soon enough.

Tina Koral, owner of landscape design firm Tina Koral Gardens, is not thinking about her own garden. Rather, she is planning how to help others throughout the area learn to grow and cultivate their own food.

Koral founded GardenWorks DuPage, a grassroots project with the goal of eliminating hunger and providing fresh, healthy produce to families in need. Families who participate in GardenWorks will have a vegetable garden planted at their home and receive instruction on how to maintain the plot.

The GardenWorks project helped four families last year. Koral and her husband funded the project, she said. This year, she hopes to help the original four families and add 10 more.

To fulfill funding needs for the project, Koral posted it on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo. To date the project has received $1,950 in funding, with the goal of raising $2,000. If the project surpasses its goal, more families will be helped.

“Many people don’t have access to high-quality organic produce because of financial reasons, lack of transportation or disabilities,” Koral said. “Many food pantries don’t have the facilities to obtain, store or distribute produce. There is a real need for people to grow their own food, but sadly, many families in need do not. I want to change that. We all should be growing some of our food. It’s just better for our health and the health of our planet.”

The project will build 10 gardens for new families and refresh the gardens of the four families who participated last year, she said. The gardens are planted at the families’ homes. For those who may live in an apartment, it is possible to plant container gardens.

In the future, Koral said she is hoping to gain nonprofit status so the group can accept tax-free donations from individuals, foundations and companies.

Raised garden beds will be planted sometime in May and the plots will be 4-feet by 8-feet, she said. The project uses raised beds because vegetables grow best in elevated plots.

“Raised beds allow the water to drain better. Also, in many urban areas, soils can be contaminated, especially with lead,” she said. “Our gardens are filled with fresh soil, so that is not an issue. You can also plant more plants per square foot in a raised bed because the roots grow more vertically than horizontally.”

The new participants will receive the garden beds, soil and compost, vegetable plants and seeds, and gardening tools, she said. The garden recipients from last year will get fresh compost, plants and seeds.

“We ask the recipients what vegetables they like to eat and what they want to grow, and plan the gardens from there,” Koral said. “It’s pointless to grow what we want. To ensure success of the garden, the recipient must grow the food they enjoy.”

Volunteers are also being sought to help with garden installation and to “adopt” a family to check in with over the course of the growing season, answering questions and offering advice, whether by phone or in person, she said. Volunteers are sought for the DuPage area, including Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Winfield, Lombard, Carol Stream and Glendale Heights.

GardenWorks is a family project, and along with the volunteers and recipient family, Koral said her husband helps build the raised beds and deliver the soil and install the beds at the homes. Her children will help fill the beds, along with volunteers and the participating families.

“My kids are still little, 5 and 3, but they are already learning that there are people that are hungry, and those people could be kids you see at the park or in school, and we have to help them,” she said. “Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?’”

Despite working many late nights to get all of her work, family and volunteer time in, Koral said it was well worth the time spent.

“When you volunteer, you really do get a lot of joy out of helping others. I loved teaching the families from last year the best way to grow, and learning about their life. I also got a lot of satisfaction out of rallying my family around a common cause. I want volunteering to be something that we always do as a family.

To learn more about GardenWorks or to donate to the project, visit the Indiegogo site. http://www.indiegogo.com/GardenWorks

Read more about the project in Tina Koral's blog on Glen Ellyn Patch.

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