Home grown: Master Gardeners provide fresh produce to Salvation Army Food Pantry

The DeKalb County Master Gardeners first started gardening in a plot that is now part of the DeKalb County History Center in 2010. The garden was started by Master Gardeners Rod McQueen and Ron Johnson.

Through the years, the gardeners took the produce grown to various food pantries in the area.

“About two years ago, we decided to stick to one pantry, and we chose the DeKalb Salvation Army,” said Master Gardener Cathy Anderson. “Last year, we grew between 800 and 900 pounds of produce throughout the year.”

The gardeners grow a variety of produce, including peppers, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, mustard, radish, beets, Swiss chard, collard greens, raspberries and squash. All of the produce is grown organically, without chemical herbicides or pesticides.

The project is funded through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed), in partnership with the University of Illinois Master Gardeners and 4-H. The garden project received a $4,000 grant to continue growing produce for the Salvation Army.

The project’s goal is to use team-specific expertise, community education and research-based intervention strategies to improve access to fruits and vegetables, improve food utilization at donation sites and increase community capacity to sustain the donation garden food system in food insecure communities throughout the state.

The gardeners take turns watering and tending the garden throughout the week, and they all work together and harvest produce every Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to noon.

Erin Andrews, social services coordinator with the DeKalb Salvation Army, said the produce donated by the Master Gardeners “always goes very quickly.”

“The fresh produce is a nice supplement to our food pantry, and all of our clients love how fresh it is,” she said. “Fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are very expensive to buy. Whenever we have any in our food pantry, it is very popular.”

Andrews said the donation of the produce “helps everyone in the community have access to fresh, healthy food.”

“It’s also a great collaboration with another organization,” she said. “They are really helping the community.”

Anderson said she enjoys volunteering at the garden and making a difference.

“Last year, we had five volunteers, and our youngest was 54,” Anderson said. “We worry about the sustainability of the project. We need scouting groups or a church organization to help us, so we know the garden will continue when we’re not able to do it anymore. We’re hoping somebody will take an interest and help us continue the garden.”

Master Gardener John Prendergast has been volunteering in the garden for about seven years after his neighbor told him about the project.

“It’s a great volunteering opportunity, and I get to socialize,” he said. “It’s also a way to help out families in need in the area, giving them fresh produce.”

For more information or to volunteer with the Master Gardeners, call 815-758-8194.

The Salvation Army’s food pantry at 830 Grove St. in DeKalb is open from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday and 5 to 6:45 p.m. Thursday. No sign up is necessary, just bring an ID. The food pantry is no longer drive-thru, clients can pick and choose the items they receive. Families can visit the food pantry once a week. For more information or to volunteer with the DeKalb Salvation Army, call 815-756-4308.

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.