- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) - Roy Senffner spends parts of four or five days a week at the Joliet Park District’s Organic Community Garden on McDonough Street.

South of Inwood Golf Course, the 9-acre parcel is home to 170 to 230 garden plots, depending on the year, including Senffner’s. The land provides space for gardeners of all experience levels who are typically seeking a place to grow their own plants.

But residents end up returning year after year for several reasons.

“We have a lot of gardeners who choose to garden here because they make a connection with people of the same beliefs and concerns for the environment,” Joliet Park District Organic Community Garden coordinator Kristen Bernier said.

Senffner doesn’t have space to garden at the condominium he and his wife live in a few blocks away. But given the choice of gardening in a backyard or a community garden, he’d choose the latter.

“It’s a big plot of land, like a small farm,” Senffner said. “And I was raised on a farm in Lockport. So I like to get out to the garden a lot. It’s nice and quiet out there.”

Holding true to its namesake, the garden provides a sense of community, too. Senffner said he and other gardeners often share advice and compare results.

Janet Erio said she and her husband began growing at the garden in 2011 when it first opened. They were exercising at the Inwood Athletic Club when they saw an advertisement for the garden.

“We garden at home, but we decided to rent a plot,” Erio said.

They’ve returned each year since. Erio said they’ve learned quite a bit from classes taught by University of Illinois Master Gardener Nancy Kuhajda through the park district, as well as from neighboring gardeners.

Senffner said people don’t have to be in the garden as often as he is, but it does take a commitment.

“You should be there at least two or three times a week,” Senffner said. “When it’s dry, you have to water the plants. You can’t just plant them and walk away.”

To keep things interesting and explore different possibilities, dedicated gardeners usually try to grow something new each year.

Senffner planted watermelon and muskmelon for the first time, though he’s not confident they’ll turn out great. Erio and her husband are once again growing flax plants, which they use to make linen. They also grow dye plants to add natural color.

“I spin wool and my husband spins cotton,” Erio said. “Then you can knit or weave with it. My favorite thing I’ve made is my own shawl.”

She said growing and developing fabric from a garden is a nice reminder of how things used to be.

“Today we buy clothes and don’t think much about where it came from,” Erio said. “I think making clothes back then meant something more than buying at a store now. There’s a lot of work that goes into (making your own clothes).”

The same could be said for growing vegetables. By the end of the year, Senffner will have yields of tomatoes, peppers, turnips, parsnips, lettuce, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, beets and rhubarb. A few of those have already made their way into soups he and his wife make.

“We are lifetime weight-watchers,” he said. “We make soups with all different things from the garden. I just did my third cutting of rhubarb and we had our first lettuce on (May 22).”

Erio said she’s become friends with some of the community gardeners. They take breaks on long days at the garden to get a bite to eat or some iced tea.

“It takes a particular type of person to be a dedicated gardener,” Senffner said.

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Source: The (Joliet) Herald-News, https://bit.ly/22ARmae

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Information from: The Herald-News, https://www.theherald-news.com/


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