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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Revolution in Food Boost Garden Projects

Gardening trends have an underlying theme of bettering the community, improving health and developing an appreciation for the environment and can be seen in statistics for the country as well as our backyards in Central Illinois.

According to the National Gardening Association, about 35 million households in the United States are growing food in their gardens, up 17 percent in the last five years. This "food revolution" is driven by the desire to have vegetables that are higher quality and have better taste. Quite simply, tomatoes from the grocery store do not compare to a fresh, sun-ripened tomato. The cost of produce can be a large portion of the grocery bill, and a 100-square-foot backyard garden can yield up to $500 of produce.

Younger gardeners are on the rise, whether the motivation is a stronger connection to nature and land or the need to teach their children about food sources. We have learned that when a child grows a vegetable, they are more likely to eat it.

In addition, 2 million U.S. households participated in community garden projects. Community gardens contribute to the health of the community by providing free healthy foods, outdoor activities and social bonding.

Pollinator and butterfly gardens are on the rise. Gone are the days of non-native ornamentals that do not provide wildlife value to the backyard garden. Instead, gardeners are opting for nectar-producing native plants that will lure the ruby-throated hummingbird, monarch butterflies, white-line sphinx moths and insects that feed Illinois birds.

Many of these gardening trends can be seen throughout the Bloomington-Normal area through local University of Illinois Master Gardener projects. From the raised beds of vegetables grown in front of Second Presbyterian Church used to teach food preparation to the pollinator and butterfly habitats of the Illinois State University Horticulture Center, these garden volunteers are doing more than beautifying the city. At the Unity Community Center in Normal, Master Gardener volunteers are not only growing vegetables alongside the children but teaching them how to prepare and cook vegetables and herbs.

The University of Illinois is looking for volunteers with a desire to learn and share their knowledge and talents through the McLean County Master Gardener program. The University of Illinois Extension provides a training program that will start Feb. 4. For more information about the training offered in McLean County this winter, please contact the McLean County Extension office at (309) 663-8306 or email at