You look in the mirror with a confident smile – every day this week, you chose to eat healthy salads and other delicious fruits and vegetables, and you even made it to the gym! Slowly but surely, your commitment to eating well and exercising is paying off.
For many, a transition to a healthier lifestyle is a struggle well worth the extra trip to the grocery store for fresh fruits and veggies. But for those struggling to make ends meet at the end of the month, a healthy lifestyle seems out of reach when you’re faced with the choice between an inexpensive yet unhealthy meal or a more costly, nutritious option.
Due to the expensive cost of produce, our hungry neighbors struggle to access nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables essential to a healthy body and mind. To address this prevalent issue, the Food Bank’s AmeriCorps VISTA alum Shelbi Ball did not hesitate to take action.
In 2016, the Food Bank introduced the Garden Connect Program to 10 member agencies across Northern Illinois. Modeled on research Shelbi collected while exploring methods used in well-known community gardens at various food banks and member agencies, Garden Connect encourages our hungry neighbors to participate in growing their own fresh fruits and vegetables within a community garden setting. Since its introduction, over 70 families have participated in the program at the participating agencies, growing an ample supply of the fresh produce they previously did not have access to.
“There is more to community gardens than just gardening,” Shelbi explains. “Gardening is something that can improve your health both physically and mentally.”
Food Pantry recipients receive instruction and tips on gardening from experts. In fact, the University of Illinois has an Extension Master Gardener Program from which the Food Bank has benefited. These Master Gardeners are volunteers that are trained in the science and art of gardening and have been tasked with advising and educating the public. Volunteers and community members are welcome to learn and help tend the garden that provides produce to their hungry neighbors.
The Garden Connect Program also empowers those in need by teaching them how to grow their own gardens at home, which some use for personal consumption or as a generous donation back their local member agency. Truly, we are solving hunger together by giving back when we are fortunate enough to do so.
The Garden Connect Program is an initiative under the Food Bank’s Building Healthy Communities pathway, led by the Nutrition Team. Encouraging healthy and sustainable gardening will continue to be the focus as the program grows.
We invite you to get involved with the Food Bank’s Garden Connect program! To learn how to get involved with a community garden or to start your own community garden with one of our member agencies, contact Jennifer Lamplough – email or call (630) 443-6910 ext. 150