Elgin Community College’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society members are finishing up their third growing season at the Advocate Sherman Hospital Natural Prairie and Community Garden. The organically grown produce harvested at the garden is picked up every Monday and made available to students, free of charge, at the ECC Spartan Food Pantry.
The Spartan Food Pantry was founded in February of 2015. Planting first occurred in late spring in 2017 and maintenance continues through early fall each year. Since the conception of the garden, knowledgeable and certified University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners guide and educate students throughout the year, even donating food from their own garden beds to the food pantry’s cause.
Martha Yochum, a retired high-school biology teacher and master gardener for over 10 years, accredits much of the garden’s success to the generosity of the hospital, who’s hired landscaping team has been engaged, cooperative and made running water accessible to the gardeners by sponsoring an expensive underground plumbing project.
“So far the hospital had been very supportive,” Yochum said. “We [the master gardeners] do work with the volunteer coordinator at the hospital, she’s on the garden committee, and we work with their landscapers to make sure they’re not spraying pesticides anywhere near us.”
Two second-year students are co-officers for the pantry, one of whom, Seth Brophy, volunteers his time to get more involved in his community and with his fellow students. His work background as a produce clerk gives him experience he finds helpful for the position.
The food pantry requires a lot of cooperation and donations from many people to be successful. Donations from collection boxes on campus, Caputo’s grocery store and Food for Fines, a program allowing ticketed drivers to donate food in lieu of paying their traffic fine are just some of the contributors that help keep shelves stocked.
In addition to the maintenance of the canned and boxed goods, the garden requires daily supervision.
“The officers [take care of the garden], we have a schedule for when we go watering, harvesting, weeding and whatever else needs to be done,” Brophy said. “We have someone water every day.”
ECC Food Pantry Co-Officer Vanessa Solorio, shared her experiences in the garden and at the pantry. She never gardened before her time on the food pantry committee. She now has done many jobs there. Most recently Solorio harvested potatoes which are now available for the students. Other successfully grown plants include yellow onions, potatoes, mixed lettuces, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli and curly kale. While the produce does get consumed by visitors to the pantry, Solorio noted the most popular food item is the macaroni and cheese.
ECC Food Pantry Committee Member Meriyanna Santiago, starting her 5th semester at ECC, picked tomatoes and watered in the garden.
“The food pantry really means a lot to me,” Santiago said. “The food pantry helped my family when we were younger, food pantries were something that were always there. So I thought this was a way for me to give back to my community.”
According to Solorio, the best way students can show their support is simple.
“Donate,” Solorio said. “I know a lot of people do around campus by dropping random stuff in. But, it really does help us.Whenever you go shopping just buy one extra thing, and donate that one extra thing.”