ROCHELLE — To become an Ogle County Master Gardener, you have to undergo training and complete 60 volunteer hours as an intern over two years. Then, you do 10 hours of continuing education each year along with volunteer hours.
That’s a designation Sarah Pohl has achieved. She’s putting her skills to work at The Kitchen Table just outside Rochelle on a new project that aims to provide fresh produce to local food pantries and those in need.
The Master Gardeners applied for and received funding through a Growing Together Illinois Grant that was made available through SNAP-Ed. David Kennedy provided the garden beds as his Eagle Scout project.
The horticulture department at Kishwaukee Community College started plants for the gardens. Along with the Master Gardeners, the local 4-H club members will be working on taking care of the garden beds.
“It's really exciting to have this many players helping us with it because we could never do it on our own,” Pohl said. “Everybody has a really big part in it.”
The master gardeners are a volunteer organization with the University of Illinois Extension service. The group aims to increase access to healthy food for low-income or disadvantaged individuals.
Both the Master Gardeners and The Kitchen Table have their own planting beds at the site. Anybody who is at The Kitchen Table for dinner on Tuesdays or Thursdays can take produce home free of charge.
"I don't have a firm handle on numbers,” Pohl said. “But some nights The Kitchen Table is serving 180-200 meals. That's a combination of delivery and carryout and in-person. Anyone in person can grab produce and take it with them. We're small right now, four beds doesn't produce a whole lot. But we're trying to be an educational demonstration type of thing, too.”
On top of growing the food, Pohl wants to show people how to do it themselves. The master gardeners are utilizing some self-watering beds and grow bags which they have instructions for.
“We're trying to show people you don't need a big thing like this,” Pohl said. “You could have something small on a patio or deck and raise some of your own food. That's how you make more healthy produce available for people, teach them to do it themselves.”
The master gardeners do educational programming throughout the year to teach people about gardening aspects like raising food, utilizing containers and saving seeds.
Pohl said the purpose of the grant the Master Gardeners received for the project is to make it sustainable. Her hope is that it comes to be thanks to groups that will eventually come out to volunteer and maybe even expand the garden for more items that The Kitchen Table and area food pantries need.
“There's a lot of space here,” Pohl said. “We'd have more room for more beds if people want to make it grow. The need is great. It really is."
The garden currently includes tomatoes, onions, peas, lettuce, carrots, radishes, spinach, broccoli and more.
Those interested in volunteering to help with the garden can email Pohl at [email protected].
“If any group wants to schedule a time to see if they're interested in coming out, I'd be happy to do that,” Pohl said. “We really need to spread the word if this is going to be sustainable. I think it's a really cool thing.”