Building Gardens for Needy Families

Gardens will be built for needy families this spring. You can help.

It was about this time last year that I really had to assess my sanity. Not only was I working to get my fledgling landscape design business geared up for the hectic spring 2012 season, but I was also finishing my horticulture degree and juggling the daily demands of a busy household, two young kids, and a husband. And now I was considering starting a nonprofit project for the needy? Surely, I needed to have my head examined.

It all started on a routine trip to the library with the kids, when I came across the book Reclaiming Our Food, by Tanya Denckla Cobb. I had taken the kids upstairs with me to the adult area to grab a landscape graphics book. While heading back to the staircase to the children's area, we passed a shelf housing new arrivals and Reclaiming Our Food jumped out at me. I grabbed it and checked it out without reading anything more than the title.

It proved to be a serendipitous find, because it changed my life.

In the last few years, I've found my calling career-wise in the field of landscape design. I love designing gardens and have met some incredible people since I started Tina Koral Gardens. But I want to do more. So when I opened this book and read the very first section, "Giving Gardens to People in Need," I was inspired to do just that. I talked to the hubby and he agreed that it was a good idea, because we believe everyone deserves access to organic, fresh vegetables. And this project would combine my love of gardening and growing vegetables with his interest in carpentry.

Although we live in one of the wealthiest areas in the country, there is still hunger and poverty in DuPage County. According to the West Suburban Community Pantry, "Over 95,000 people in DuPage County go to bed hungry every night. Of those, over 45,000 are children." Over 45,000 are children. 

I was overcome with sadness thinking about little kids going without even the most basic human need – food – and wanted to do anything I could to help families put food on their tables. Since food pantries often have difficulty obtaining and storing fresh produce, we knew that building gardens was a good place to start. We committed to building five 4x8’ raised bed vegetable gardens and providing the soil, plants, and support the families might need to get started. We approached the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry to ask if they would help us to identify needy individuals or families, and they were enthusiastic to help. We called the project GardenWorks.

When the summer was through, we had built four gardens (we could not reach one of the families) emptied eighty bags of soil and compost, planted thirty vegetable seedlings, and taught seven adults and seventeen children how to grow their own food. I was able to step outside of my busy life, which I admit was focused mainly on my little family, and do some good for someone else. Someone I’ve never even met, but who I know needs my help. And that has given my life balance and satisfaction in a way that I’ve never experienced before.

This year, we will refresh those four gardens with new compost and seedlings, and give ten more gardens to people who need food and want to grow their own food at home. We are working with the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry again, and also Bridge Communities of Glen Ellyn and People’s Resource Center of Wheaton to identify families who are food insecure and want to grow. People from the community have volunteered to help, including one of the garden recipients from last year. We are fundraising through crowd-sourcing and t-shirt sales to cover the costs of building materials, soil, and plants. Volunteers will offer garden coaching to each family throughout the year. More families will grow their own healthy, organic vegetables where they live in ways that are affordable, promote self-reliance, strengthen communities, and protect our natural resources.

For more information about GardenWorks DuPage, including funding and volunteer opportunities, please visit: www.gardenworksdupage.org

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Jamie Martin January 17, 2013 at 07:11 PM
This is a wonderful idea Tina. I hope it takes off and helps other families consider taking on a vegetable garden themselves. I read about this in the paper a couple of weeks ago too. Good press! I may be able to volunteer as a garden mentor.


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