A West Chicago-based nonprofit is working to help residents get more fresh vegetables into their diet.
The GardenWorks Project has helped more than 1,000 clients with food sustainability since 2016.
However, the agency just doesn’t dole out produce, it helps residents set up their own gardens at home as part of a three-year program.
“We don’t expect everyone to do more than one year, but 50 percent of the people do come back for year 2 and year 3,” said Jeannie Iseman, executive director of The GardenWorks Project. “We promote an active and healthy lifestyle. We want to increase their amount of fruits and vegetables.
We talk with them about nutrition. The gardens help them supplement and change their habits.
“We ask clients about their reliance on food pantries after the gardens, and they say that they worry less about food at home because of the gardens.”
The GardenWorks Project will conduct a fundraiser at 5 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 29) at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. The “Harvest Against Hunger” event will feature a harvest-themed dinner with food from Mighty Greens Farm in Elburn and prepared by the COD culinary department, and signature drinks made out of fresh produce.
Students from COD who received support from The GardenWorks Project in 2017 for their community garden will present their work and progress on supplying their on-site pantry. Tours will be provided of the COD sustainable urban agriculture program’s rooftop garden and learning facilities.
Tickets are $50 per person and can be obtained at www.gardenworksproject.org/harvest_against_hunger.
The non-profit agency, with the help of 175 volunteers including crews from Home Depot, created 93 home gardens this spring and summer, impacting 369 individuals – 179 of whom where children.
“We follow a grassroots approach,” said Iseman, who noted that funding for the agency goes directly into programming and that she is only part time at 20 hours per week.
Next year will be GardenWorks’ eighth year and possibly time to shift gears, Iseman said.
“At this point, I would really like to concentrate on health promotion,” Iseman said. “We are looking to add a nutritional component. We want people to preserve the food they have for as long as possible. We want them to know how to cook with it.”
She said the agency is working with Loaves and Fishes Community Services in Naperville to provide comprehensive services for DuPage and Kane residents dealing with food insecurity.
“It may mean a decline in service (less gardens), Iseman said, “but we want to make it a meaningful three years with us.”
Even though people are hoped to not need the program’s help after three years, Iseman said that individuals enrolled in the effort have a lifetime membership.
“By years 2 and 3, coaches are fostering a relationship with the individuals and inviting them to classes (on nutrition and other health topics),” Iseman said. “In year 4, there are still a lot of benefits.”
GardenWorks also works with the Growers Network, providing free resources like seeds and educational events and workshops for clients.
Iseman said the success stories of the program are starting to multiply.
“A lot did the program four years ago and will call and say, ‘I have a family member who does go to pantry, they could use this program’ or they will call and say ‘Put my sister’s name down.’”
Iseman said it is rewarding to get photos from program coaches of children harvesting vegetables for the first time. She said many clients will ask coaches what a certain plant is when it begins to sprout, but by the fall, the person knows when to harvest the crop.
“It is really satisfying,” Iseman said of her work with the program. “I love what the organization does. It is such a great basic concept. It is a simple concept, but something that is very meaningful.”
If a child qualifies for free or reduced price lunches at school, the family qualifies for the program, Iseman said.
To find out more about the program, call 630-791-3033 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.