CARBONDALE, Ill.— What once sat as an empty, vacant plot of land behind the Good Samaritan House in Carbondale is now filled with fresh vegetables in a newly built community garden.

Terry Foster, a local resident and University of Illinois Extension master gardener and master naturalist, has been contributing to the Good Samaritan House for the past several years. Each time she would stop by, she noticed this big open space in the back yard. After attending an Illinois master gardener conference, she was inspired by what others were doing in their communities. She saw a need and wanted to fill it. 

A partnership was formed with master gardeners and master naturalists, Good Samaritan House staff and members of the Carbondale Garden Study Club this April to build raised beds and establish the garden. The funding and resources were already in place but they needed the manpower and recommendations on how to build raised beds. Within the next month, the community garden became a reality.

The garden was planted in late May and it has flourished, more so than they expected for its first year. Over the summer, they raised a variety of tomatoes, melons and cucumbers. A pop of color is seen throughout the raised beds as marigolds are planted as companion plants to the produce. Austin Little, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, explained that companion planting is a great way to maximize garden productivity. For nearly every vegetable grown, there is likely to be a beneficial companion plant that will help increase soil nutrients and repel insects.

Aaron Barnett is the soup kitchen coordinator for the Good Samaritan House. He has been incorporating the harvested produce into recipes such as cucumber and tomato salad, chili, soups and sauces. The produce that is raised in their backyard has supplemented their food orders. “We used to place weekly produce orders and that has cut back significantly since we started raising our own produce,” stated Barnett.

In addition to their raised beds, they also have an herb garden on the front side of the building that is filled with thyme, dill, basil, rosemary and sage. They are currently planting cool season plants such as onions, kale, rutabaga and bok choy that will survive into December. Staff members and volunteers help maintain the gardens.

“Since this garden started, I noticed people come out to sit at the picnic table and socialize more. Many have shared stories about how they had a parent or grandparent that gardened. When I’m out here working, someone will come up to me and say ‘I watered the garden today’ or ‘I just picked the best cucumber.’ They have taken pride and ownership in this,” said Foster.

Foster is hoping that this community garden will continue to thrive each year. She stated, “There is so much we can be doing in the communities around here—this is a good place to start.”

News source: Austin Little, 618-687-1727, little84@illinois.edu

News writer: Heather Willis, 618-357-2126, hdwillis@illinois.edu