MINOOKA — Several Minooka-area families are finally beginning to enjoy the fruits of their labor this summer, harvesting the summer crops of vegetables they planted last spring in Minooka Community High School FFA Community Garden.
It’s the first year of the garden plots, and they were immediately popular.
“There were 16 plots, and I only had one left,” MCHS junior and garden organizer Andrew Parton said, “and I took that one. I’m going to donate what I grow in my plot to a local food pantry.”
Andrew’s family has plenty of fresh produce from their own home garden, but not a lot of people have that opportunity, he said. So when he was brainstorming FFA projects last year, developing a community garden came to mind.
“It’s for my FFA project and for community service,” he said. “When I started thinking of ideas, I thought, ‘What can I do to make my community better?’ The community garden is for people who don’t have a backyard space.”
After talking the idea over with his mother, he ran it by the high school superintendent, then the district’s grounds committee, then he appeared before the full school board with his idea. He wasn’t nervous at meeting with so many officials and boards, though, he said.
“The scary part was if they said no,” he said with a laugh.
His excitement at establishing a community garden stemmed in part from his ultimate career goal.
Andrew hopes to be a farmer someday. He has experience in the field with family on his father’s side in downstate Illinois. He spends a week there each summer, in addition to making it down whenever he can in the spring and fall.
“That’s what I want to do when I get older,” he said. “It’s just a dream that I’ve had.”
When the school board approved his plan for a community garden, they also asked him to come up with a rules sheet and a sign-up sheet, which he did. The plan was for the garden to be located at the north end of the school, just off the cafeteria. Before anything could be done to start the garden, money had to be raised for the mulch and to install a water line.
The high school’s food service company, Quest, donated most of the money to install a water line. The district’s maintenance department put a pump in the school pond, and the line was brought to the garden plots where it ends in a spigot and hose.
The maintenance department also tilled the soil for the 16 five-by-12 foot plots. They had to till it twice, Andrew said, as grass was growing up through the soil after the first till.
His FFA friends helped Andrew distribute the mulch when it arrived to form the paths between the plots. Then he advertised to rent out the plots for $10 each. All kinds of people took out plots, he said, and they planted whatever they wanted in the spring.
There are tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, lettuce, and watermelon, among other fruits and veggies.
Each gardener is responsible for weeding his own plot and keeping the plants healthy. Andrew has had to crack down on a couple, he said, who have let the weeds in their plots overgrow, endangering neighboring gardens. He contacts the offenders, and they have a certain period of time to make their gardens healthy again or they get tilled under.
The heat and drought have taken their toll on the plants this summer.
“Some are looking better than others,” he said. “The heat and the atmosphere right now make it really dry.”
One of the gardeners told him she had come to water twice one day when things seemed to be getting on the crisp side.
“But she said she loves it,” he said.
That’s what Andrew said he enjoys the most – seeing community members take advantage of the space and making it productive.
“It helps the community members who don’t have the space,” he said, “and they can put community land to a good use.”
The produce in the MCHS FFA Community Garden is organic, too, as high school rules prohibit the use of pesticides or weed killers on school property.