JOLIET – Up until recently, Kay Bolden had never grown a plant in her life. But she’s started off batting a 1.000.
The microgreens she planted in a tray last week were about 3 inches tall and visitors to the Warren-Sharpe Community Center on Saturday were encouraged to pinch a bud off the top and imagine how good a whole salad would taste from everything that will be grown across the street.
Volunteers turned a vacant lot donated by the city into the first “youth-run urban farm on the south side of Joliet,” said Bolden, the center’s executive director.
About 50 volunteers from ComEd, the United Way, Sodexo, the Northern Illinois Food Bank, the Joliet Police Department and the Will County Community Foundation moved dirt and mulch to build 10 raised beds of vegetables.
Bolden said a farmstand will be set up to sell some vegetables to benefit the center and others will be provided with the food pantry items the center gives monthly to about 700 households. The Warren-Sharpe Center also daily provides 100 meals to low-income children from the neighborhood.
“This is a food desert. You can walk around the neighborhood and buy all the crack cocaine you want, but you can’t find a head of lettuce,” Bolden said.
One of the goals of the garden, which will be tended by children in programs at the center, is to promote healthy eating for families struggling to provide meals.
Lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, collared greens, mustard greens and cucumbers are planned for the beds.
“We’re also growing worms. I didn’t know that’s how you make dirt,” Bolden said. The front of the lot will be exposed to sunlight while a few trees were left at the back for shade-tolerant plants.
A little patch has also been cleared and a compost box set up on the side of the center so preschool students also can work the garden without having to cross Joliet Street.
Volunteers spent Saturday morning moving wheelbarrows of dirt and mulch to the beds, which will be fenced in a few weeks from now. They also made a walkway with mulch and benches.
“This beautifies the neighborhood, generates income, teaches the children, provides healthy food. There are so many benefits from this,” Bolden said.