“We are pleased to partner with DeKalb County Community Gardens on this project,” said Joseph P. Matty, associate vice president of university advancement and executive director of the NIU Alumni Association. “We’re proud to be part of a collaboration that will benefit both NIU students and the community.”
DCCG is in its fourth growing season, and has more than 50 garden plots scattered throughout the county.
The organization was founded by NIU alumnus Dan Kenney, ’78, to address local hunger. Produce grown in the gardens is donated to local food pantries, day care centers, schools, community meal locations, senior citizen centers and housing units, and to the Meals on Wheels program.
“The food from the gardens on campus helps the NIU Huskie food pantry as well as several community food pantries,” Kenney said.
The Communiversity Gardens began in 2014 with three gardens – the Huskie Service Scholar Gardens, the Native Plant Garden and the Sandra Streed Memorial Garden. In their first growing season, the gardens raised about 500 pounds of food to donate, said Amy Stratton, volunteer and community outreach coordinator for DCCG.
“So far, we’re already up to about 50 pounds of spinach alone, so I think we’re going to smash that 500 pounds this year,” she said.
The Communiversity Gardens are unique among DCCG plots in that DCCG provides ongoing support, but NIU students and staff take the lead in maintaining the gardens.
“We have a fair number of resources at NIU – people in anthropology, history, nutrition, environmental studies – who have expressed an interest in food,” said Melissa Burlingame, NIU environmental studies outreach and communications coordinator. “Our students are coming in asking if we have anything [about] local food.”
In addition to offering students the chance to volunteer, the gardens will provide a curriculum opportunity, Burlingame said.
This fall, students can take ENVS 491: Introduction to Local Sustainable Food Systems, with a lab section taught in the gardens. This new course will teach basic gardening, project management and community organizing. Despite its 400-level designation, Burlingame stressed that it will be open to all students, freshmen through seniors. In fall 2016, she said, the university plans to offer a certificate of study in sustainable food systems.
“I’ve been vegetable-gardening since 2008, and I’m always surprised by the number of people who have never gardened and never experienced the benefits of gardening, like being close to the earth and connecting with where their food comes from,” Burlingame said.
The Communiversity Gardens have three volunteer work days each week, Stratton said: 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and 2 to 4 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays. Volunteers can sign up online.