Fresh tomato sauce, butternut squash soup, green peppers for stir fry, strawberry rhubarb pie – there are so many recipe possibilities when you have fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the garden.
Even if that garden isn’t in your backyard.
Since the 1970s residents have rented community garden plots from the St. Charles Park District. Today there are more than 450 plots available at two locations: James O. Breen Community Park and Primrose Farm Park.
Registration for new gardeners opens in March.
The plots vary in size, from 4 feet-by-10-feet to 30-feet-by 30-feet, but both locations offer perennial and annual gardening opportunities for a fee. And new this year are six raised planter beds with wider accessible pathways to accommodate gardeners with special needs. Also, the new beds are in close proximity to a water spigot.
Whether you have a green thumb or are just beginning the gardening journey, Registration Supervisor Cori Hedlund said the garden plots provide a sense of community.
“New gardeners learn from experienced residents, retirees share the hobby with one another, families teach younger ones about healthy food choices – it truly is a community experience,” Hedlund said.
“And everyone reaps the reward of fresh fruits and vegetables after putting in the time and commitment of tending to a seed and watching it grow,” she added.
Many of the gardeners also give back to the community by donating the food they grow to local food pantries. Some garden for the sole purpose of donating, while others will give a row or two. The park district donates on average about 2,000 pounds of food each year, according to Pam Otto, outreach ambassador.
While open registration for garden plots begins in March, if there are unrented plots by June 1, the park district will waive the fee for those who want to garden solely for donating food to charities. For the past few years, Otto said the park district has donated to the Salvation Army.
“Many times, the produce fresh out of the garden doesn’t look as ‘pretty’ as something bought from the grocery store, so the staff at Salvation Army make sure clients know how to incorporate the fruits and vegetables into recipes, so they don’t go to waste.”
While the community gardens are self-sustaining, the parks department does provide tilling twice a year; hydrants throughout the area; weekly mowing of walkways; stakes to indicate boundaries; compost and trash cans; and security.
To fill out a reservation form for a garden plot, visit https://www.stcparks.org/garden-plots/
For more information about the community gardens, call Cori Hedlund at 630-513-4332.