Signup is on for new community gardens in Rock Falls, Sterling

Free 4X10 plots available; master gardeners will answer questions, offer advice

Two free community gardens will be springing up this year in the Twin Cities, and signup is on – no green thumbs required.

One will be planted in the 900 block of Avenue B in Rock Falls, on land donated by the city for the use of the University of Illinois Extension Service’s Carroll-Lee-Whiteside unit, said Mary Nelson, its agriculture and natural resources program coordinator.

As promised, the other will be coming to some of the four-plus acres of land that came with Sterling Township’s new office site, at the former Fun Jump indoor playground at 505 W. Lynn Blvd., behind Kroger’s.

Gardeners are wanted for both sites, the sooner, the better, since organizers hope to start tilling the ground later this week, and would like to know how many people are interested.

Extension will run the Rock Falls site, but lend its expertise to both, via its Master Gardener program. One day a week, a master gardener will be on hand, with tools available to borrow and knowledge to share.

The free lots will be four-by-10 feet, with 10 total on the Rock Falls site – unless more people sign up – and 15 at the township.

This is our way of showing people how they can grow their own food, keep their prices low at the grocery store and eat healthier.”

—  Mary Nelson, with the University of Illinois Extension Service, Carroll-Lee-Whiteside unit

The nonprofit group Sterling Gardens is providing both the tiller and the volunteer to do the tilling, and also is helping with signup for the Rock Falls site.

Extension does have some donated seeds to share in Rock Falls, but except for master gardener days – which have yet to be scheduled – gardeners at both sites will be expected to provide their own plants, tools and weed control, organic or otherwise.

“This is our way of showing people how they can grow their own food, keep their prices low at the grocery store and eat healthier,” Nelson said.

The Master Gardener program is reserving its own space in Rock Falls, where it will grow veggies to donate to the Whiteside County Housing Authority’s Civic Plaza 1, and the township will be doing the same, for people who live at Sterling Towers.

Both offer subsidized housing to low-income and disabled residents.

Neither site has its own water source. Mayor Rod Kleckler, the driving before behind bring a community garden to Rock Falls, also is donating water containers, and the township plans to use rain barrels this season, until exterior water can be added to its office, which still is being remodeled.

The township office, in fact, likely won’t be move-in ready until December or January, but plans call for tilling both plots of land as soon as the tiller becomes available, and the weather is compliant.

Kleckler is acting on his plan to make vacant or unused city properties both useful and beneficial to the community.

He approached Extension when he learned of its plans to set up a community garden, asked organizers to come to Rock Falls and offered them several plots from which to choose, Nelson said.

Supervisor Angela Schneider also is making good on her promise to make the new consolidated township site more like a community center, available to residents, organizations and nonprofits. A community garden has been part of her vision since the property was purchased in June.

To sign up for the Rock Falls garden, call Nelson at the Extension office, 815-632-3611 or stop by the Sterling Gardens booth at the Twin Cities Farmers Market, which is open from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at 106 Ave. A in Sterling.

Sign up for the Sterling Township plot by contacting Schneider at 815-625-3990 or

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.