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Kane County Master Gardeners earn state honors

Elgin-based project and resident recognized for ‘Helping Others Learn to Grow’

ELGIN, Ill. –The Kane County Master Gardener team at Sherman Natural Prairie and Community Garden, and volunteer Marty Yochum of Elgin, earned honors for their outstanding leadership and service efforts from the Illinois Master Gardener program.

The 2022 state award recipients were announced during a special ceremony at the annual Illinois Master Gardener Conference, which this year was held in Tinley Park. The state awards celebrate University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners around the state, annually recognizing only 1 to 2 percent of active volunteers. Nominees must demonstrate leadership, initiative, and follow-through; collaborate well with other volunteers or organizations; and keep up with continuing education.

“These hard-working volunteers exemplify the leadership and qualities of Master Gardener excellence,” said Danielle Stojan, the new Kane County Master Gardener program coordinator. “We are proud to have them part of our amazing team of volunteers who serve our communities and help others learn to grow.”

Sherman Natural Prairie & Community Garden: Teamwork Award

The Sherman Natural Prairie & Community Garden (SNPCG) earned a 2022 State Master Gardener Teamwork Award. The Elgin-based project’s goal is to “reconnect people with nature while promoting better health through gardening,” said volunteer Patsy Hirsch.

“We provide university-based research to gardeners and naturalists of all experience levels,” she said. “Gardeners are taught to grow their own food and better health, while being surrounded by a restored prairie. They also are taught to be recyclers of their own plant material through the program’s composting system.”

Started in 2011, the SNPCG project has served 916 community gardeners and donated more than 3,000 pounds of fresh produce to local food pantries. In addition to the community garden plots and the prairie, the program features a composting system, beehives, and raised bed gardens. The Master Gardeners provide information from growing and preparing food to protecting bees and native plants. They also conduct evaluations to see how they can continue to improve the project for participants.

The Master Gardener team also has helped mentor or establish six other community gardens with an additional 167 beds total. In addition to the strong partnership with Advocate Sherman Hospital and other medical centers, the group has built many community collaborations including with the City of Elgin, Conservation Foundation, Elgin Area Men’s Shed, Elgin Boys and Girls Club, Elgin Community College, Kane County Wild Ones, Northern Illinois Beekeepers Association and the local YWCA.

This Master Gardener project also earned a State Teamwork Award in 2014. Since then, the team grew and restructured, going from one team with a leader to seven committees with different responsibilities. The current award-winning Master Gardener team consists of Kim Corbo, Monica Daily, Colleen Haas, Patsy Hirsch, Teddi Jones, Marcia Koenen, Linda Lood, Carol Lussky, Kelly Miller, Peggy Ramirez, Jim Stendler, Cherryl Strathmann, Sue Styer, Susan Swing, Deborah Walters-Kaske, Debbie Wollenberg, and Marty Yochum.

Marty Yochum: Outstanding Master Gardener Award

One of the SNPCG team also was nominated for an individual award. Marty Yochum of Elgin was named a 2022 Outstanding Master Gardener for her leadership and organization.

“Sharing her enthusiasm for growing food is Marty’s goal as a Master Gardener,” said nominator and fellow volunteer Colleen Haas. “She makes connections with every gardener fostering a passion for learning to grow.”

Since 2017, Yochum has shared her time and expertise at the SNPCG project, serving as a member of the team, as well as co-coordinator, garden team co-leader, outreach team community garden advisor, and a gardener mentor. She develops materials, welcomes new gardeners, mentors all levels of gardeners, organizes events, presents and teaches, builds relationships, and spearheads various garden efforts. She also was instrumental in the produce donation program, which has grown to include mentoring students from Elgin Community College who operate the Spartan Food Pantry.

“She created a team of eager gardeners who shared their yields with others in need,” said Haas. “In the process, Marty not only grew vegetables and gardeners, but she also grew leaders who then pass it on.”

Learn more about University of Illinois Extension in Kane County at