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Growing community in the urban gardens

By Spencer Ellsworth, Urban Farm Manager, Roots & Wings

One fine June Thursday in Rockford, a group of people met early in the morning to talk about squash. 

“If we put them in the Northeast quadrant, they’ll be able to vine up the fence.”

“Plus, they’ll be farthest away from that fat groundhog.”  The groundhog had already come around, looking for a feast, despite the fence’s bottom edge having been sunk a foot into the earth. 

“Gotta dig the beds first, though.” 

“Good thing we have help today!”  This convention of strategic minds was the twice-weekly Blackhawk Courts Farm & Garden (BCFG) management meeting, a time to plan the day’s work by farm staff and volunteers. Before long, the farm was filling with smiling faces and active bodies. 

          Leon, Jay, and Janice divvied up tasks and got right to weeding, sod removal, and watering cover crop.  Poe and her family rode in on bicycles to begin preparing the space for that squash, a New England Pie Pumpkin variety.  Lord of Life Church youth, all the way from Minnesota, got off their bus and made a beeline for the shovels, eager to finish filling in the fence trench.  Youth Leaders, the participants in Rockford’s summer urban farming program (under the Roots & Wings Network with BCFG), were on hand, even before their shift began, to facilitate younger children’s involvement in growing activities. Angie and Brian, farm and Blackhawk Buddy House coordinators, kept everyone on task and put in an edible-flowers welcome garden. Angelic Organics Learning Center staff arrived around lunchtime to plant and dig, too, while Rockford Housing Authority representatives dropped in to show solidarity and offer us a much-needed refrigeration unit for harvested produce. 

            Our diverse and vigorous crew for that day was united in one purpose: to bring a local community together around safe, healthy food.  The vegetables and fruit we all helped grow are destined for the 15th Avenue Farmstand (15th Avenue and Meadow Court), which will eventually accept all forms of currency including WIC/SNAP cards, as well as feed residents of Blackhawk Courts with limited access to nutritional quality food. Surplus will go to the Youth Leader’s 10-week CSA, a produce subscription service open to the Rockford public.  Additional surplus will be donated to the food pantry.  Initiatives such as these serve to reconnect us with each other and with the land that supports us.  Plus, we get the best-tasting treats, grown economically and ecologically in our collective backyard!  Stay tuned this summer to hear how our harvest progresses – assuming we foil our wily groundhog friend…

The BCFG Farmstand is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5 - 7 p.m., starting this week.  The Youth Farm CSA begins this week as well, and will be available each summer.