DECATUR — Diana Anders, 30, of Decatur and Michele Armistead, 41, of Pana each wish they could grow vegetables at their respective group homes.
That’s why they’re among 15 clients who have poured themselves into the new garden on the west lawn of Macon Resources Inc. “It’s fun,” Anders said.
“See how they’ve dug all the way to the edge of the grass to get the weeds?” asked Sandy Mickle, a training specialist. “When we come out here to work, I don’t have any problems with anybody. They love it.”
Starting out as three 40-foot garden beds, the new ReSource Farms at Macon Resources represents one of two new partnerships with Decatur Is Growing Gardeners, or DIGG, to bear fruit this year. The other is a garden tended by members of Decatur’s growing Hispanic community at the Decatur Urban Program Center of the Girl Scouts of Central Illinois.
DIGG President Sue Hemp said the new gardens further the nonprofit organization’s original mission to get more Decatur residents involved as growers and entrepreneurs.
“We now have six or seven individuals who are successfully raising vegetables, and we’re helping them to sell them at garden stands and restaurants,” Hemp said. “We may get more out from these two projects as well.”
Ralf Pansch, product and services development representative at Macon Resources, said he is thrilled to have a new vocational training option for clients, especially one as popular as this one has been.
“Some of these individuals could potentially go out into the community with these skills and get employment, either at a garden center or landscaping company,” he said.
DIGG provided seed and expertise to help ReSource Farms get started and also a hoop house donated by Kevin McSherry of From the Ground Up. That and other hoop houses would permit extension of the growing season into fall, and Pansch envisions supplying the kitchen and operating a garden stand at Macon Resources later on.
This year, ReSource Farms has been splitting the profits from produce sales with DIGG at Richland Community College’s Saturday Produce Market and at DIGG’s garden stand on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Macon County Health Department.
The harvest has included tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, arugula, along with mustard and turnip greens. Pumpkins are coming on now.
Pansch said other long-term plans include getting into composting and leasing another seven acres owned by Macon Resources to a farmer to grow alfalfa.
Decatur Is Growing Gardeners is in its fifth year, having hired its first employees, all part time, in 2012: Executive Director Diana Morrow, Garden Manager Mike Irwin and trainee Loddie Arnold.
Another change for DIGG this year was relocating its base of operations from Decatur Family Sanctuary to the Historic Decatur Foundation’s Culver House at 412 W. Prairie Ave. The new location allows DIGG an office to itself, Hemp said.
DIGG’s other gardens in 2013 included the Camp Sokkia garden at the Decatur Family YMCA, God’s Acre and OKO near God’s Shelter of Love, Toad Hill near the health department, Turtle Trail near Big Brothers Big Sisters of Macon County, Victory on North Union Street and Garman Park.
The Girl Scout garden project came together after a mutual friend, Linda Austin, introduced Hemp to Sonia Garcia, bilingual home educator for the iGrow program at Pershing Early Learning Center.
DIGG approached the Girl Scouts with the idea because its Decatur Urban Program Center at 1100 E. Pershing Road is within walking or biking distance of many Hispanic families. The 20-by-60-foot garden was tended by some of those families and produced tomatoes, peppers, yellow squash and zucchini.
Ruth Santana, who came to Decatur from Puerto Rico last year, said it’s been a great way to meet people and grow their own food the way they are used to doing.
“It’s a good way to help people feel closer to home when they are far away,” Garcia said. “We might even do a garden next year over at Pershing to teach the kids.”
The San Damiano Fund of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis provided $4,125 for the project.
Kelly Day, chief operating officer of the Girl Scouts of Central Illinois, said she’s looking forward to getting Scouts involved, too.
“We could start a troop that focuses on feeding our family and use the teaching kitchen here,” Day said. “We will also be hosting several weeks of day camp here next summer, and those girls could work in the garden.”