Friday, November 5, 2010

Why Candy on Halloween?

This year, I asked myself, “Why candy on Halloween?” as I set out to buy Halloween goodies for the eager little ones that were prepared to go from door-to-door asking for a treat.

At a time in our country where we are faced with rates of obesity among children as high as 17% and with the reality that our children will be less healthy than we are, why are we giving our children more empty calories to solidify their fate?

This year, I vowed to think outside of the box on this and try a little social experiment of my own. From what I can tell, Halloween’s early beginnings didn’t just involve children getting candy, but required some responsible action on their part as well.

In Scotland and Ireland, children trade candy for a poem or a joke. In Canada, the treat was literally an effort to keep the children responsible by not doing tricks. “Why then, can’t I have a requirement for my treats?” I thought. So this year, my husband and I decided that every piece of candy we gave came with an apple, pretzels or a 100-calorie popcorn ball. I liked to call it my own social experiment.

Although, I definitely got some strange looks as I passed out treats at my trunk (my kids are part of the generation that does trunk-or-treating which involves decorating your car and passing out candy to kids from your trunk), I was pleasantly surprised by the number of kids who on both days of trunk-or-treating (we did it on Saturday at our son’s karate school and on Sunday at our church) were not just excited about their shiny new apple, but told their friends who then came over and asked, “are you the lady giving away apples?”

I can’t tell you how proud I felt to see that all was not lost.

The reality for me was that if Halloween treats originated as apples and oranges and other healthy snacks, today’s kids might be as excited receiving these treats as the kids that dropped by my trunk. It solidified for me how critical the choices I make as a parent are to the level of excitement my own children will have about healthy food. In this case, just “an apple that day” may have made an impact. At the very least, it was one less piece of candy in the already overfilled sacks for every child that dropped by to visit the car dressed up like Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Renique Kersh, author of this post, may be reached directly here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Eating Healthy and Organically on Budget... Yes, You Can!

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Well, I was ready.

Jacqueline Hannah, general manager of Common Ground Food Co-Op in Urbana, appeared.  She's the one in pink in the photo below.

I had just completed a week of voluntarily eating on $4.50 a day as part of Feeding Illinois'  Snap Hunger Challenge for Hunger Action Month.  It took a lot of pre-planning and mining of my friends' experiences with healthy eating to survive on such a small daily food budget. I was hungry and pre-occupied with food the entire week.  And I ate as healthfully as I could.

Some of my most valuable resources were recipes from the Co-Op's Food for All program.  These recipes, created by Jacqueline and freely available as red recipes sheets for the taking, show you how to feed yourself and your family an all-organic meal for less than $2 per serving. Some of the recipes include meat and you can add meat to most of them but that will increase the price per serving.

To deepen my knowledge about how to spend less on food, eat healthier and more organically, I attended a free class Saturday afternoon offered by the Co-Op called "Eating Healthy on a Budget."  The class happens every month and is taught by Jacqueline.  (For this and other offerings at the Co-Op, visit their classes and events page on their website.)

The class included myself and seven others: four students, a mother of two young children, and two people in their 50s.  During our two-hour class we were given all of the Food for All recipes,  hand-outs on grains and beans and breads and lots of tips.

The big theme for the class was:  buy in bulk, cook in bulk and freeze in bulk and you will save lots of time and money and will eat better, healthier food.  I learned this a long time ago and somehow I had gotten out of practice.  The class inspired  me enough to act on what I had re-learned.

I bought a bunch of organic bulk grains and beans. I saved a ton of money.  The key is to avoid food that is processed, not just frozen dinners, but canned and boxed anything.  You will pay 2-4 times more to buy organic canned beans than you will to buy organic dry beans and cook them yourself.

Armed with knowledge from my Eating Healthy on a Budget class, I pre-soaked my beans in a big bowl of water overnight.  Jacqueline told us that pre-soaking the beans releases nutrients and breaks down enzymes for easy digestion.  If you want to save time and avoid the pre-soak, you can add a clove of garlic or kombu seaweed to each cup of dry beans and you will achieve the same result.  Pretty cool!

After the beans have soaked, you can cook them in a pressure cooker, a crock pot or in a pot on the stove.  I tried the pressure cooker and stop pot methods.  Of course, the actual cooking time in the pressure cooker was a lot less than on the stove top, but it took a lot of time for the cold water in the pressure cooker to get hot and up to 15 lbs. of pressure.  And, I found that I had a harder time controlling the texture of the cooked beans in the pressure cooker.

 The kidney beans cooked in the pressure cooker were overcooked and mushy even though I cooked them per the instructions. Maybe that's because after they are done cooking, they sit in the hot water while the pressure in the cooker goes down.  This has to happen before you can open the pressure cooker and get the beans out.

The navy beans I cooked on a pot on the stovetop (after soaking overnight) turned out perfectly!  They look just like they do when I buy them in a can in the store.

I didn't mind figuring out what worked best for me.  I'll eat both batches of beans.

In all, my Sunday cook-fest yielded 12 cups of kidney beans, 11 cups of navy beans and 11 cups of pinto beans.  After cooking, I drained the beans, cooled them and put them in 1 1/2-cup portions in ziplock bags and froze them.

I saved a lot of money, too!  For example, the 2.14 lbs. of organic dried kidney beans cost me $6.23 and made the equivalent of 8, 15oz.-cans of organic kidney beans.  Those canned beans would have cost me $15.12.

My grandmothers, both of whom canned and froze and cooked from scratch, would have been proud.  And so would my mother, who taught me to can and freeze when I was in junior high school.

And, thanks to the sharing, caring and innovation of the people in this community, I was given the tools that inspired me to pick-up where my mom and grandmoms left off.

I am grateful!

Kimberlie Kranich, author of this post, is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media (WILL and may be reached here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Solution for Messy Fruit Trees

If I get hungry in the summer, I don't have to go further than my yard to find something tasty to eat. When my husband and I bought our house seven years ago, it came equipped with an acre lot full of mature fruit trees, grapevines and a garden plot for growing vegetables. Over the years, we've added strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, and thanks to the rich soil of central Illinois we always have an abundance of fresh, nutritious food to share with family and friends.

But even our fresh food paradise has its drawbacks. Every August the branches of our pear tree become laden with fruit, and much of it rots before we can enjoy it. The pears fall to the ground in messy piles that have to be scooped up and tossed in the compost. It always makes me sad to see the fruit go to waste, but with the help of Eastern Illinois Foodbank, I think I finally found a solution.

Last year my Rotary Club (C-U Sunrise) recruited volunteers for a food repack at the foodbank, and I spent an evening sorting canned goods. That night I learned about the demand for food in our local community and how it has risen dramatically due to the poor economy. Stories about first-time pantry users really troubled me and made me aware that my family could be next.

Since that night, I have become more familiar with the foodbank and the work they do to distribute food to pantries in 14 counties in the eastern part of our state. During a recent conversation with one of their staff I learned that while the demand for food has gone up, the nutritional quality of corporate food donations has gone down. Eastern Illinios Foodbank would like to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables for their clients, but they don't receive enough donations to accomodate the need.

After that conversation I began to wonder if my messy pear tree could serve a new purpose. I asked Cheryl Precious, director of marketing and development at the foodbank, if they could distribute my pears to a local pantry. The next thing I knew, one of their staff was helping me load empty cardboard boxes into the back of my van.

The following Saturday, with the help of my three daughters, we picked our pear tree clean.

Three of us picked while one sorted, cleaned and inspected the harvest. In a couple of hours, three large cases of fruit were sitting on my kitchen table ready to go to the foodbank.
Now I know my three cases of pears won't make a dent in the overall hunger needs of my community, but it's a start. If you have messy fruit trees in your yard, I encourage you to call Eastern Illinois Foodbank to see how you can help. In the meantime, I'll be waiting for my apples to turn red.

Molly Delaney (the author of this post) is a concerned parent as well as educational outreach director for Illinois Public Media and a member of C-U Fit Families and C-U Sunrise Rotary.
For more information on Eastern Illinois Foodbank, call 217-328-3663.

Will Work for Food

We started picking corn at 7:30 on a hot, humid Saturday morning in July. It was the kind of day where weather forecasters talk about dew points and heat indexes and "corn sweat." Within minutes everyone in our group had disappeared and was making their way through the weeds to the back of the field. It took about a half an hour to fill the two duffle bags that were strapped across my back, and when they were full I could hardly stand. I made my way back to the truck, bumping my bags against the tall stalks that stood on either side. When I finally stumbled out of the cornfield, I caught a glimpse of something that made me smile.

Standing next to my destination--an enormous cardboard box where I could dump my corn--was a man wearing a T-shrit that said, "Will work for food." That man was Jim Hires, executive director of Eastern Illinois Foodbank.

Jim greeted me with a water bottle and a smile and quickly emptied my bags. As I headed back into the corn I was reminded of the events that brought me to this field on a sunny summer morning.
It all started last February when my co-worker Dave Dickey invited me to a meeting to discuss the creation of a community garden that would serve the foodbank. The goal was to use land donated by Provena to create a garden that could provide fresh produce for the community--encouraging healthy eating habits and reducing childhood obesity. Since part of my job as educational outreach director at Illinois Public Media is to facilitate meetings for C-U Fit Families, a local coalition to prevent childhood obesity, I was eager to learn more.

After that first meeting a plan began to take shape. Provena would donate the land and seed. University of Illinois Extension would provide agricultural expertise. A local farmer would sow the seed. And several of us would recruit volunteers when it came time to harvest. Although the first meeting took place on a cold day in February. I was warmed by the thought of this garden and the impact it could have on the community. You might have read about plans for the garden in a blog post back in March.
Over the next few months I learned more about the foodbank and the work they do in central Illinois. In February and April my Rotary (C-U Sunrise) organized volunteers for food repacking events at the foodbank, and I participated. Then in March, Illinois Public Media partnered with Common Ground Food Coop and Busey to raise awareness and support for the foodbank during our spring TV pledge drive. The more I learned about Eastern Illinois Foodbank, the more impressed I became with their mission and their staff.

As spring turned into summer, I occasionally thought about the garden. When I noticed corn  growing in the fields around my house, I wondered if the sweet corn in the Provena garden was as tall. Then in mid-July I received an email letting me know the sweet corn was almost ready. I forwarded the email to members of my Rotary and organized volunteers into shifts. As a joke, I asked my teenage daughter if she wanted to get up early to help and, to my surprise, she said, "Sure." (She helped with one of the food repacks back in February, and I guess she was as impressed with the foodbank as I was.)

About fifteen of us descended on the cornfields that morning, and before noon we had picked 2,700 lbs. of sweet corn. Added to the 2,700 lbs. picked by volunteers the weekend before, I would say that's a pretty good haul.
On the drive home, my daughter and I were smiling. Although the conditions weren't pleasant, both of us agreed it was a very satisfying experience. Working side-by-side with other people who care about issues like hunger and health was energizing. In spite of the heat we left the fields feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Our time in the corn had given us a new understanding of the phrase, "Will work for food."

Molly Delaney (the author of this post) is educational outreach director for Illinois Public Media and a member of C-U Fit Families and C-U Sunrise Rotary. She encourages others to explore volunteer opportunities at Eastern lllinois Foodbank.
Molly can be reached at or 217-333-7300.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sprouting Kids' Interest in Healthy Food and Food Production

Among the rows of the farmer’s “Market at the Square” of Urbana, pictures of a small chicken – a chick – peer out on shoulder-high signs. The tables near these chicks offer a variety of foods for tasting and display information for learning about foods and farming.

To a Market shopper wandering through, these tables may briefly pique their interest but are eventually passed by. However, these tables attract the kids participating in the “Sprouts at the Market” program, as well as their accompanying parents.

"Sprouts at the Market is a nutrition and farm linkage program for kids 3-8," said program coordinator and University of Illinois graduate, Jen Hewitt.  "Its goals are to teach kids about fruits and vegetables and about where food comes from.”

Notably, younger and older children often participate.

Blossoming Sprouts
“Sprouts at the Market” began as a joint project between Lisa Bralts, Economic Development Specialist/Director for Urbana’s “Market at the Square” and  Hewitt.

In 2008, Bralts was looking to develop a program at the Market that would educate children. She observed that, “apart from a few holiday-themed events, there wasn’t much around the idea of teaching kids about fruits and vegetables and nutrition or about seasonality and the farmers that grow the food at the Market.”

Hewitt approached Bralts about creating a project around nutrition as part of volunteering for her dietetics major, and, after coordinating ideas, “Sprouts at the Market” was created.

Sprouts through the Year
Sprouts activities are held once a month from May through October beginning around 9 AM.

Hewitt coordinates the Sprouts activities June through September. Her events focus on the tables around the Market at the Square that display a theme along with related food tastings and information, known as “Sprouts Facts”.

For example, the June event discussed Organic, Local, and Seasonal foods, along with the importance of Eating Here (eating foods from the farmer’s market, that is). Participating kids searched for each of four tables scattered around the Market to learn about the topics and tasted food samples ranging from green pea pods to kohlrabi, a vegetable that looks similar to a turnip.

After visiting all the tables, the kids returned to the main Sprouts tent near the Market entrance to receive a certificate of participation, as well a food seasonality chart and a coupon for a free apple courtesy of the Common Ground Co-op next door.

Bralts manages the “extra” May and October events that “introduce kids to different parts of the food system.” The activity in May this year was a seed-planting workshop.

While topics for Sprout” events have varied year to year, they always center around the importance of foods, nutrition, and farming. Past topics have included “Spring Produce” and “Meet the Farmer.”

 The remaining topics this year will be “Corn” in August, and “Fall Produce” for the month of September. For the “extra” activity in October, Bralts is partnering with the Eastern Illinois Foodbank to develop a lesson on giving and donating food.

Looking into the future, Bralts would like to plan activities such as composting food waste, opening a discussion on food distribution, and helping kids understand “food miles,” a look at how far food travels from farm to plate.

Supporting Sprouts
To support Sprouts activities, Market food vendors, volunteers, and other partners are crucial. Hewitt extols the importance of the vendors “without whom we could not hold our events.” She noted that, “we rely on (the vendors) to provide samples of foods for participants to taste, and getting kids to try new things is one of our primary goals.”

Volunteers also help run the program and are often responsible for talking about the information related to the month’s theme at each table. Although June’s event was mostly about food production and the benefits of local and seasonal foods, past events have had more information related to nutrition. Considering the volunteers are students in dietetics or nutritional sciences, they can be a wealth of information about the food and nutrition topics.

The Sprouts program has also had support from Common Ground Co-op and 88 Broadway. The Co-op provided the coupon for a free apple distributed to the kids who completed the Sprouts program for the June event.

Sprouts' Success
Participation in Sprouts has steadily grown, and it hosts a range of 30-80 children at each month’s event. This is encouraging to Hewitt, who considered the program a success.

The adults watching their kids learn appear to agree as well. Hewitt expressed that “parent surveys (about the program) have been overwhelmingly positive.”

Halfway through its third year, Sprout's is going strong and always welcomes new participants. This is a positive opportunity to learn, taste, and appreciate the foods you eat, and even try some foods you have yet to taste.

Join Sprouts
If you are interested in participating in Sprouts, the remaining events for the summer will be:
· August 21
· September 18
· October 23

For More Information
 Sprouts at the Market Blog
 Sprouts at the Market FaceBook

Contact Information
Lisa Bralts, Economic Development Specialist/Director, Urbana’s Market at the Square
· 217-384-2319
Jen Hewitt, Sprouts Program Coordinator

About the Author
Having completed a bachelor’s degree in food, nutrition, and dietetics from Illinois State University, Caitlin Huth is interested in community programs related to food and nutrition education, such as Sprouts.

Monday, June 7, 2010

N. First Street Prosperity Garden Ready for Teen Caretakers

Raised beds of rich compost and soil line all sides of the red granite pathway on the once vacant city lot on N. First Street near downtown Champaign.  Orange and yellow marigolds decorate the newly forming garden’s perimeter and mulch is carefully laid around the flowers to keep weeds out and moisture in.

The 14 beds await the hands of teens from the JUMP program at the  Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club who, for the first time today, will make the short walk from the Club to what is now known as the N. First Street Prosperity Garden.

The teens are the keepers of the garden.  JUMP, which stands for Juvenile Upward Mobility Program, is a program of the Club that works with at-risk youth ages 13-18.   The teens will plant the garden, harvest the produce, learn how to cook it and sell some of it at the Farmer's Market on Historic N. First Street which begins its new season on Thursday.

HOBY teens at the N. First Street Prosperity Garden on Saturday.

To get the garden infrastructure in place, Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, one of the project partners, solicited the help of 50 teens from HOBY, the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership project, and organized a work party this past weekend.

“Every muscle in my body is aching today,” Valerie McWilliams told me in a follow-up email.  McWilliams is the managing attorney at Land of Lincoln.

Her sore muscles and the muscles of 70 or so volunteers this weekend were how the compost and soil got from huge piles in the city’s parking lot to the garden.  The HOBY teens, all sophomores from high schools throughout Illinois, were there before the rectangular wooden planks arrived that make up the beds.  There was plenty to do while they waited.

Some teens weeded the rain garden near Land of Lincoln. Others spread newspaper rolls on the grass alongside the path before the mulch was scattered. 

The project has been two years in the making. It was just last week, June 1, that Champaign City Council approved a license agreement between the city and the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club for free use of the land.

TJ Blakeman, city planner in the advanced planning division of the city of Champaign, who was lifting dirt along with the rest this weekend, explained how the project came to be.

“It started with the Land of Lincoln and Valerie McWilliams and other businesses along N. First Street and we started having this conversation about putting a garden, a flower garden and vegetable garden on 1st Street to kind of tie-in with the farmer’s market but also just kind of beautify the street,” Blakeman said.  “So we worked on that for about a year.  Each organization that was pulled in – the Park District, the U of I Extension, the city, the N. First Street Business Association – none of us had the resources to really tackle the issue.  It kind of lagged for a little while but then the Boys and Girls Club stepped forward and Sonya Lynch (JUMP program coordinator) said that she could get a grant to get a coordinator to manage the garden which is exactly what we needed. “

On Saturday Lynch said that things were “fantastic” and moving right along. 

"I hope that some of the children will become interested in gardening and nutrition as well as their families," Lynch said. "Maybe they'll even grow food at home when they realize it's not too hard. They can even grow it in a pot."

Sonya Lynch (l) and HOBY volunteer at the N. First Street Prosperity Garden on Saturday, June 5, 2010.

To learn more about the evolution of this garden, please visit N. First Street Community Garden Aims to Feed Spirits, Minds and Bodies.

Kimberlie Kranich, author of this blog post, is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media and may be reached at kranich@illinois or 217-244-5072.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nature Playscapes: Magic Included at No Extra Cost

How did you like to play when you were a kid - did you climb, jump, dig holes, play hide-and-seek, dream of adventures, solve clues and puzzles, play make-believe, make a fort, tell stories, dam up water, dig in sand, jump in leaves, create art, catch bugs? Was nature the setting for any of these activities? Chances are it was!

If I asked you right now, many of you could give a detailed description of the magical moments you had as a child creating your own world in a special spot in your backyard, or playing with friends to build and defend a fort. The memories of those times often bring back the innate excitement of childhood.

Today, children have fewer opportunities than we may have had to experience play of this sort. The Champaign County Forest Preserve recognizes this and is eager to develop a Nature Playscape. Still in the planning stage, this project will provide a unique place where children can experience the wonder of nature play.

What is a Nature Playscape?

In a word, it is a landscape designed for play. Nature Playscapes use natural materials like sand, water, plants, boulders, earth mounds and more to create a dynamic, interactive play experience. They might avoid plastics, metals, concrete and other artificial materials.

Nature Playscapes are a cutting edge concept in the spirit of Leave No Child Inside initiatives and the book “Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv. They are play places that provide kids, families and adults the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world.

Some examples of nature playscapes include the Fontelle Nature Association in Nebraska and the Jester Park Natural Playscape in Iowa.

What are the Benefits of Playing Out in Nature?

The benefits of nature play are many and varied, building healthy individuals in mind, body and spirit. These benefits have been demonstrated through research:

· A foundation for environmental stewardship
· More creative play
· Improved motor coordination
· Enhanced emotional coping and reduced stress
· Increased concentration and impulse control
· Reduced symptoms of ADD and ADHD

For more details about these benefits, along with the research cited, please see research here.

Perhaps the most significant outcome is stewardship. As Ken Finch, President of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood says, “Among conservationists, the experience of childhood nature play is nearly ubiquitous.” Research has shown that “… participation with “wild” nature before age 11 is a particularly potent pathway toward shaping both environmental attitudes and behaviors in adulthood . . . the experience is likely to stay with them in a powerful way—shaping their subsequent environmental path.”*

What Will Homer Lake's Nature Playscape Look Like?

The Nature Playscape, to be sited at Homer Lake Forest Preserve, will provide a safe place for children of all ages and abilities to experience nature play.  Children will also encounter the flora and fauna that are representative of the Grand Prairie region in a learning atmosphere that engages the whole person.

Public input has been sought on this project, and response has been very enthusiastic. On March 30, 15 people met at Homer Lake to tour potential sites and to brainstorm ideas for the playscape. We are also planning to solicit input from children and from local experts and advocates of those with disabilities to make the playscape as accessible as possible. Input from these various groups will inform the development of a conceptual plan, slated for this summer.

 The Champaign County Forest Preserve District values natural experiences for children and the lifelong benefits those confer.  The Nature Playscape will be an important avenue to facilitate those experiences.

Pam Leiter, Coordinator of Environmental Education and Interpretation at the Champaign County Forest Preserve, is the author of this post and may be reached at or (217) 896-2455.

*Source: Nature and the Life Course: Pathways from Childhood Nature Experiences, Nancy M. Wells and Kristi S. Lekies, Cornell University, in Children, Youth and Environments, 2006

Thursday, April 15, 2010

N. First Street Community Garden Aims to Feed Spirits, Minds and Bodies

Sonya Lynch, program director at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, and her son stand in front of a vacant city lot in Champaign that will feed minds, spirits and bodies of area youth this summer.

Lynch, an avid gardener, is part of a new collaborative community garden effort that's part of an even larger plan to revitalize N. First Street in downtown Champaign and promote development -- all kinds of development.

Access to local food is one issue the North First Street Association and the city of Champaign have worked together to address, including the formation of a farmer's market last year on N. First Street.

In an arrangement between the city and the North First Street Association, the vacant lot across from Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation on north First Street is about to be turned into the N. First Street Prosperity Garden and it will be cared for by the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club.

One of those deeply involved in the project is Valerie McWilliams who is the managing attorney at Land of Lincoln. McWilliams said her organization got involved because it wants "to be a good neighbor and this seems like an obvious tool to promote good childhood nutrition and teach kids valuable lessons that will serve them the rest of their lives."

McWilliams needed the right person to work with the youth on gardening.  Someone who is "very passionate about getting this garden up and running." 

Enter Lynch.

"I like to expose my youth to as many things as possible that are not the normal types of things," said Lynch. "They would not normally think of gardening as a way to become an entrepreneur."

Lynch coordinates a program called JUMP (Juvenile Upward Mobility Program) that works with at-risk youth ages 13-18. The youth from JUMP and three other groups will plant the garden, harvest the produce, learn how to cook it and sell some of it at the Historic North First Street Farmer's Market this summer.

"I hope that some of the children will become interested in gardening and nutrition as well as their families," Lynch said. "Maybe they'll even grow food at home when they realize it's not too hard. They can even grow it in a pot."

Master gardener Sandra Mason of the U of I Extension Master Gardeners, one of the project initiators, will help develop the curriculum with Lynch, and work alongside the kids.  "Kids don't really understand where their food comes from," said Mason.  "People just see the end of the process. There are life lessons in gardening including delayed gratification, teamwork and entrepreneurship."

[Left: Sandy Mason, U of I Extension Master Gardeners and TJ Blakeman, city of Champaign, stand on vacant land that will be turned into a community garden]

As currently envisioned, the garden will be planted in two-foot raised beds with plenty of walkways for children to get up close and personal with the earth and eventually their plants. 

"We do a lot of good projects," Mason said, "but to me this one feels like things are really coming together.  This is one of the best things we do.  We're not just making the world pretty, but growing produce and improving lives."

The land, which is right next to railroad tracks, used to be owned by Texas Oil, according to TJ Blakeman, city planner in the advanced planning division of the city of Champaign, as well as one of the project initiators along with Mason and David Freeman, also a master gardener.   Raised beds will avoid disturbing the soil, which according to a 1991 report found by the city, contained no harmful substances.  Just to be sure, the city will do more sampling at three feet and six feet depths, according to Blakeman. 

The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, also involved in the project, serves many low-income people including people with disabilities, seniors and families. Darlene Kloeppel, social services director at the Commission, regularly assesses community needs and one of the things Kloeppel found is that "a lot of things are pointing to the fact that people do need basic needs taken care of," she said.  "Money for transportation, housing and food." 

Kloeppel secured a grant to pay for a project coordinator to work under Lynch and for stipends to pay the youth for their gardening.   Eventually, the youth will sell their produce at the farmer's market on N. First Street.

For more information on this project, contact McWilliams at or 217-356-1351.

Kimberlie Kranich, author of this blog post, is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media and may be reached at kranich@illinois or 217-244-5072.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Family Gardens: A Lesson in Sustainability

As soon as the weather warms up, and the birds start singing, my mind immediately wanders to thoughts of planting my vegetable garden. The pleasant association between spring and garden has been with me since childhood. I have many wonderful memories of working in the garden with my parents and my grandparents. Many, happy hours were spent curled up with my grandma or mom during the cold winter days looking through seed and plant catalogs, and talking about all of the delicious things we would make with the fruits and vegetables we grew. As I grew older, I would spend winter days mapping our garden with colored pencils on construction paper. I would also use great care and what artistic skill I had to make little garden markers to show us what plants lied dormant in the seeds we planted.

When I had a family of my own it was natural to do the same things with my children. When my oldest daughter was only two, she was given the important task of placing earthworms on her tiny plastic trowel and moving them to a safe area during planting. As she grew older, she helped pick out seeds, water the plants, pull weeds, harvest the crops, and prepare the meals. Our gardens are never large, just small spaces in our back yard. Over the years they changed shapes, sizes, and locations. We have grown tomatoes in pots, strawberries from a hanging basket, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, all types of peppers, squash, carrots, radishes, and onions in the main garden. We have grown cilantro, oregano, mint, parsley, chives, and dill in the flower beds. We even planted a peanut plant just for the fun of it! Each plant, each seed, each harvest, each meal from our garden is a chance to connect with my children and instill in them the love for fruits and vegetables and the sense of accomplishment and empowerment that comes from growing your own food.

What I have learned as an adult is that my experience with gardening is rare. Everyday I meet more and more people who do not have these experiences as part of their past. For many people, especially those who grew up in larger cities, apartments, or in poverty, vegetables are identified with cans, not gardens. I find this not only heartbreaking, but a disturbing and dangerous trend.

As the administrator of Champaign-Urbana Public Health District I find myself faced with an epidemic that is unique to our time and our culture. While Public Health has steadily increased life expectancies in the developed world through sanitation and vaccination, we now find ourselves faced with an epidemic caused not by an infectious disease but by a lifestyle. The epidemic of obesity is killing hundreds of thousands of people through diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. For the first time in history, children born now can expect to live 10-20 years less than the generation before them. Our healthcare system is overwhelmed with fighting the diseases and conditions that are caused by obesity. This epidemic is not something that can be fixed with a vaccination or a pill. This epidemic is going to require changes in the way we think about food and our future. It is going to require us all to search our souls and decide if we are comfortable with lowering the life expectancy of our children. We need to ask ourselves if it is ok to feed our children highly processed foods filled with salt, sugar and fat that are killing them.

What we need is a cultural shift away from “convenience” and back toward “sustainable”. Increasingly our lifestyles have focused on fast, more, easier, cheaper. This is not sustainable for our health, our psyche, our economy, or our planet. In central Illinois we are fortunate to live in a place that has some of the best soil in the entire world. What do we do with that resource? We cover it in grass and feed it a steady diet of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer so we can cut it and throw the clippings into landfills. What if we decide to change that? What if we slowly start turning the soil over and planting fruits and vegetables where the grass was? What if those of us who know how to garden help those who don’t? What if we share our seeds and our plants and our tools and our time? What if we invite others to garden with us? What if we share our surplus fruits and vegetables with our friends, co-workers, neighbors and schools? What if they love the taste of the fresh food? What if we then mentor and encourage our friends, co-workers, neighbors and schools to plant their own gardens? Could it be that we could change the culture? Could it be that addressing the epidemic of obesity could start with gardens? I believe it could!

If you are reading this and it brought back any happy memories for you, I encourage you to plant something today. Start some herbs in a bowl. Plant a tomato in a flower pot. Put a pepper plant next to your tulips in your flower bed. Contact a community garden and get involved. Ask you child’s school if they have ever considered a kitchen garden to supplement the food in their lunch program. Talk to your church to see if some of their land could be used to start a teaching garden. Be bold and plow up some of your own yard and turn it into the future! Make a pledge now spread the healthful benefits that can come from putting a seed into the earth. Make sure your children can tell their children of the happy memories they made with you.

Champaign County has many resources to assist persons who are interested in growing some of their own produce. U of I Champaign County Extension is a great place to start! Local nurseries offer excellent and friendly advice on what to plant how to plant it. Our libraries have many gardening books, pamphlets, and computer access. C-U Fit Families has both a web page and a Facebook page to connect those who are interested in healthier living. We can stop this epidemic of obesity, but we all must do something. Take advantage of our beautiful weather, our fertile soil and our local expertise. Put a seed in the ground and see what change you can grow!

Julie Pryde is administrator of Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and may be reached at

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Local Doctor Gives Me a New Perspective on Childhood Obesity

As someone who has worked with young children and their families for more than 25 years, I have witnesssed the increase in childhood obesity firsthand. When I started my career as an early childhood teacher back in 1982, the number of obese or overweight children in the U.S. was relatively small. But since then the number of overweight or obese preschoolers has more than doubled. And the number of overweight or obese 6-11-year-olds has tripled.

The statistics for Illinois are particularly staggering. According to a 2009 study from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one in five Illinois children is obese, giving us the fourth worst rate in the nation. These increases have led to a rise in health problems including type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and new-onset asthma.

Initially I considered this problem in terms of individual children and families. I thought about all of the kids I have known in my 25 years as a teacher and family educator. I wanted to do something. When Sesame Workshop unveiled their Healthy Habits for Life curriculum back in 2004, I felt empowered. I am the educational outreach director for a public media station (WILL), and if I could get parents, teachers and child care providers to start using this curriculum, to start exercising more and making better food choices, I could really fight childhood obesity.

It didn't take long for me to realize that obesity is a complex issue that involves more than just a single person or family and their food choices. As I talked to colleagues at local community health organizations and researchers from the University of Illinois my focus began to shift. Instead of feeling the need to ACT, I felt the need to LISTEN and LEARN.
In the last 18 months, I have learned a great deal about childhood obesity from the members of C-U Fit Families. Every member offers a different perspective on childhood wellness and obesity prevention and adds to the collective knowledge of the group. So when Dr. Napoleon Knight attended a C-U Fit Families meeting last fall, I was eager to hear what he had to say.

Dr. Knight is a physician the the VP/Assoc. Medical Director of Quality at Carle Foundation Hospital, and he looks at childhood obesity through the lens of a health care provider and administrator. At the December C-U Fit Families meeting he talked about how obesity impacts practices at the hospital. He explained how the hospital has to order larger beds, make special accomodations for imaging devices like CT scans, and install special lifts to assist in transporting overweight patients. He added that in recent years, the hospital has seen an increase in job-related injuries to staff who are transporting or moving overweight patients. As a result, the hospital has had to take additional steps to protect their staff.

Dr. Knight's comments made me think about the societal implcations of childhood obesity. In February, I sat down with him to learn more. Here are the highlights of our conversation.
I asked Dr. Knight why he was concerned about childhood obesity. He replied, "I see childhood obesity as an epidemic in our community and in the United States of America today. It is an epidemic that is starting to get attention, but it's been under recognized for far too long."

Next, I asked Dr. Knight about his vision for community health, specifically childhood health and wellness. In his opinion, what could our community do to reverse this trend and prevent childhood obesity?

In response to his comments, I asked Dr. Knight how Champaign-Urbana can achieve this vision of childhood wellness.

Dr. Knight went on to explain that supporting childhood wellness involves the entire community. He talked about new partners coming together in innovative ways.

Prior to my conversation with Dr. Knight, I hadn't considered how employers benefit from a healthy community and healthy children. Dr. Knight pointed out that parents of healthy children take less sick time and employers have lower health-care-related expenses.

Dr. Knight's insights were enlightening and renewed my conviction to childhood wellness and obesity prevention. My experiences with C-U Fit Families have taught me a great deal about shared responsibility and collective energy. As a member of a group, I know I am not alone...everyone in C-U Fit Families plays an important role. In the words of Dr. Knight, "Working together we can achieve the goal, but it is not going to be quick and fast. It won't necessarily be easy, but in the end, it will be a great thing to achieve."

Molly Delaney, Educational Outreach Director for Illinois Public Media

Learn more about what you can do to fight childhood obesity by contacting C-U Fit Families at

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fruitful Conversation

I once read that students in a major city could easily identify commercial brands when the brand name was removed from the product, but they couldn't identify the flowers that grew in their neighborhoods and around their school. I would have flunked the test, too.

Enter community organizer and graduate student, JP Goguen, and the Champaign-Urbana Fruit Map. Using Google maps, he and some friends have created a public, interactive map that aggregates edible fruit trees on the campus of the University of Illinois, and on public and private land in the twin cities.

"The idea is to get information about what is available to grow and what is growing in terms of edible fruit trees and nut trees and berries," JP says, "and get that information out there for people to inspire them to plant trees themselves, to inspire them to eat food straight off the tree and to talk to their neighbors and talk to their kids about the infrastructure that grows around us and the ways we can use it."

The public can also add fruit trees to the existing map -- a smaller version is shown below.

View Champaign-Urbana Fruit Map in a larger map

When we met today for coffee, he showed me some links he has compiled of resources that help people who want to grow their own fruit tress, such as the U of I Extension's Small Fruit Crops for the Backyard. For those who want to organize community projects, there's City Fruit , an organization in Seattle that, according to its website, "works neighborhood by neighborhood to help residential tree owners grow healthy fruit, to harvest and use what they can, and to share what they don’t need. City Fruit collaborates with others involved in local food production, climate protection, horticulture, food security and community-building to protect and optimize urban fruit trees."

Response to the fruit tree project is growing. People JP has never heard of are starting to add fruit trees to the map. And he'd like to have planting ceremonies for those who want fruit trees. As we talked about my yard, he identified paw-paw trees and blueberries as a good match for the acid soil in my yard.

The project isn't without controversy, JP told me. Some people don't want others to know where the public fruit trees are so the fruit doesn't get eaten up. Others don't like the messy fruit that drops on sidewalks and stains them. Still others are concerned about adding private homes to a public map.

JP says he has talked to some of the people in private homes whose fruit trees have been mapped, but not all of them. He reports that fruit trees on private homes are generally located in the right-of-way or a few feet from the sidewalk on the person's lawn.

I am inspired by our fruitful conversation. If you'd like to connect with JP, his email address is:

Kimberlie Kranich is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media and may be reached at

Monday, March 15, 2010

Provena Covenant Medical Center Donates Land for Garden for Eastern Illinois Food Bank

The farmland in this picture isn't much to look at right now, but come July, dark green stalks of sweet corn will fill up 2.5 acres of this 88-acre farm. The corn will be donated to the Eastern Illinois Food Bank (EIF) for the food pantries and soup kitchens it supplies in the 14 counties it serves.

Why locally grown food for food pantries and soup kitchens?

Jim Hires, executive director of the Eastern Illinois Food Bank, explains in the video clip below.

The farmland, located on Old Church Road in Savoy, Illinois just southwest of the I-57 overpass, is owned by Provena Covenant Medical Center. For the past two years, Provena staff harvested the corn and donated it to the Food Bank. It has been difficult for Provena staff to sustain the effort themselves.

So, Doretta Herr, community benefits and missions manager at Provena, was more than willing for others to be involved. She explains in the clip below.

The Dave Dickey that Doretta mentions above is Illinois Public Media's director of agricultural programming. He explains why WILL is involved.

This year, volunteers from service groups including CU Sunrise Rotary and the Young Ag Leaders group of the Champaign County Farm Bureau will harvest the corn, according to Kirk Builta of the Farm Bureau.

The informal network of organizations and individuals working together on the Food Bank garden for the first time this year want a success. Their plan is to keep the garden simple and plant only sweet corn this first year. That's because sweet corn is hearty and doesn't need extra water to grow. The corn will be planted at two different times so it will yield two separate harvests.

This will be a learning year and a year to build an infrastructure for coordinating volunteers and gauging the possibility of obtaining a water source for year two, creating an educational component for youth and adding two additional crops next year.

Chris Wise will prepare the farmland for harvest. Connie Brand of Illinois Found Seeds in Tolono has donated the seeds. The seeds will planted by a planter and harvested by volunteers in the summer. The Eastern Illinois Food Bank will transport the harvest from the farm to its facility in Urbana.

If you are interested in this effort, please contact me at the address below.

Kimberlie Kranich is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media and may be reached at

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rural King, ACES, Community Members Meet To Organize Free Community Garden

Ten of us gathered around tables in a small banquet room at Ryan's restaurant on Thursday, drawn together by the prospect of a community garden in the grass lot owned by Rural King in north Champaign.

Doug DeLong, right, organized us all through a meeting set up by CCNET, an informal network for sustainability in Champaign County. He did a similar thing in Sullivan, Illinois. His motto is, "Conquering world hunger one block at a time." He's set up a blog for projects he helps organize called Local Victory Gardens.

In the clip below, he talks about what drives him.

Four Rural King employees were at the meeting including Rhonda Grisamore, store manager. "I'm all about community involvement," she told us.

Rural King will provide the 12' X 12' garden plots for free and the water to keep them alive. Organizers are working on a way to capture rainwater that falls from Rural King's roof into rain barrels for watering the garden. Gardeners will provide their own seed and planting tools. Rhonda, who used to live in Baytowne Apartments, which are located near Rural King, will send a special invite to apartment dwellers there encouraging them to use the garden space offered by Rural King.

Dawn Blackman, left, six-year volunteer steward of the Randolph Street Community Organic Garden, attended, too. She said people have been signing up since January for plots on Randolph St. and she may need to send people to the Rural King community garden. Seniors from Washington Square apartments share the gardening responsibilities with students from the Motherlands Culture Club -- the after school program sponsored by the Champaign Church of the Brethren. In addition to eating their homegrown favorites, the Randolph Street Garden provides food baskets to Empty Tomb and vegetable soup to the TIMES Center, a homeless shelter for men in Champaign.

Dan Anderson is with the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES)at Illinois. As an outreach ag specialist, he'll serve as the main coordinator of the Rural King Community Garden and main contact. He may be reached at 217-621-7974 or via email,

In the clip below, he tells us why he's involved.

My neighbors, Dane and Theresa, were also there. We serendipitously met at the entrance to Ryan's not knowing we were going to the same meeting. They have a big garden in their yard. Dane's interest is as a law student around the idea of a food clinic. Theresa is an architectural student and wants to help with the design of capturing the rainwater and reusing it for the gardeners.

As for me, I am pumped about the growing local foods movement and I see how it fits into the overall effort to combat obesity in our community. So I'll keep blogging about it hoping to connect people to these inspiring efforts.

Kimberlie Kranich is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media and may be reached at

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New High Tunnels at Student Farm Will Allow Year Round Growing Season

The earth was solid beneath my feet except for patches of mud that clung to my boots as I walked toward three greenhouse-like structures on farmland in the southeast corner of the intersection of Lincoln Ave. and Windsor Road in Urbana.

I was heading to the student farm to do some work. I had with me a FLIP video camera, digital still camera and eager hands and was ready for instructions. It was my furlough day and the sun was shining on this near 40-degree-and-windy morning, and I was excited to learn more about these new structures that would allow for the growing of fruits and vegetables year round. Students who eat at dining services at Illinois get to eat most of them.

This is the student farm's second year of production and first year using what's known as high tunnels.

I was first inspired by the idea of student-produced locally grown produce for students at Illinois at a CCNET sponsored panel in February on local food and blogged about it here Growing Hope!

Zachary Grant, Student Farm Coordinator at the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois, explained that these high tunnels, as they are called, are passive solar unheated greenhouses. They allow for some fruits and vegetables to be grown all year round. That's a plus for the student farm operation which sells its produce to dining services to pay for the cost of operation. Zach told me that each high tunnel cost about $12,000, including shipping. These structures are portable and the three combined are about a 1/4-acre of land.

The climate inside the high tunnel was quite temperate. We went inside for an interview. Lettuce has already been planted and is poking through. The earth was soft and crumbly to the touch, unlike the hard earth outside the tunnel. In this clip, Zach explains further the concept of high tunnels.

When I first arrived, a small group of people were attaching a plastic cover over the tunnel. I got to help guide the plastic while another group stood on the opposite side of the tunnel and pulled the plastic over the roof. The short clip below shows how that worked.

When that was done, Jeremy attached the plastic to the tunnel using wiggly wire.

If you're like me and are interested in learning more about the student farm, you can contact Zach to find out how to become more involved. And you don't have to be affiliated with the university to contribute and take home some of the harvest. Zach explains in the clip below.

If you'd like more information, you may contact Zach here:

I'm looking forward to helping out and reaping some of the produce! Maybe I'll see you there.

Kimberlie Kranich is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media and may be reached at

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Growing Hope!

Just when the winter blues and economy woes had me in a headlock, I attended a panel on local foods last night hosted by CCNET and grew a new attitude: hope!

I gave an audible affirmation when Erin Harper, a member of Engineers Without Borders at Illinois, spoke of efforts to create a community garden at Washington School in Urbana. I learned that the school board has approved a community garden curriculum at Washington and that each class will grow food and take it home and perhaps one day sell it at a local food stand.

I was blown away when I learned from Zachary Grant, Student Farm Coordinator at the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois, that they are in their second year of production and that 100% of their produce goes to campus dining services and they have a dream of becoming a teaching farm.

So when Dawn Aubrey, senior assistant director of university housing told us that she is able to use vegetables from the student farm in the 24,000 meals housing provides to students daily, I thought, "That's incredible!" But there's more: one of their future goals is to compost food waste to be used on the student farm.

Lisa Bralts, director of Market at the Square, the Urbana-based Farmer's Market, said the market has been on-going for 30 years and the city has managed it since the 1990s. The city is doing a strategic plan for the market and would like your input here Market at the Square Strategic Planning Survey.

I had remembered that I was once a member of Community Supported Agriculture after Diann Moore of Moore Family Farm in Watseka told the audience that for $400 a season you can get pesticide-free vegetables and recipes to cook 'em and instructions to store 'em. Participants pick up their vegetables once a week at a drop-off location in Urbana or Champaign.

I am glad to be a member of Common Ground in Urbana, one of 2,400 people, according to Jacqueline Hannah, general manager. She told us that the Co-op is now open to the public and 80% of their revenue comes from owners. They sell locally grown foods produced within 150 miles of Urbana.

And then there was Wes Jarrell who started Prairie Fruits Farm, in 2003. They produce milk and cheese, grow organic fruits and berries and do a lot of public education around local foods. He told us of a "100 yard dinner" they had at the farm in which everything that was eaten was grown within 100 yards of the table.

I left the panel discussion feeling good about the local foods movement in the region. And tonight I am going to call in during Illinois Gardener, to ask experts there how I might start a vegetable garden on my roof!

Hope and inspiration. They feed me, too.

Kimberlie Kranich is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media and may be reached at

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Urbana City Council Goals Promote Community Health and Wellness

The draft 2009-2013 Urbana City Council and Mayor Goals represent core principles that will guide city governance and planning over the next four years. The goals address six key areas: Public Safety, Financial Sustainability, Economic Development, Downtown Development, Environmental Sustainability, and Quality of Life.

The Council also developed strategies to help guide the community toward reaching these goals. Described below are several of the strategies that will enhance opportunities for healthy eating and active living in Urbana and help promote communitywide health and wellness.
Strategy: Become a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly community that promotes sustainable transportation modes.

a. Implement the Bicycle Master Plan and continue to incorporate bicycle facilities as the city expands or redevelops.

b. Develop community-wide bicycle safety education programs and provide appropriate enforcement, education and signage for bike routes.

c. Support the Safe Routes to School program to encourage walking and biking to school.

d. Adopt a "complete streets" policy that promotes pedestrian, bicycle and public transit.

e. Work with other agencies to develop regional recreational facilities such as the "Rails to Trails" project between Urbana and Danville.

Strategy: Promote production, accessibility and affordability of local farm and artisan products.

a. Develop a Strategic Plan and appoint an Advisory Board for the Urbana Market at the Square.

b. Implement use of Electronic Benefits Transfer cards at the Urbana Market.

c. Establish a "Friends of the Market" not-for-profit organization to raise funds for educational programming, artistic events, infrastructure improvements and other needs.

d. Establish a year-round, permanent location for the Market with a commerical kitchen that can be rented by vendors. This could expand the types of products offered, provide opportunities for small businesses, and provide space for classes in food preservation and preparation.

Strategy: Encourage sustainable landscaping and gardening.
a. Consider installation of a model community garden at the Urbana City Building.
Strategy: Promote continued intergovernmental cooperation.

a. Work with school and park district officials to ensure that recreational opportunities are available to youth in underserved neighbhorhoods, especially in east and north Urbana.

b. Explore development of community centers or meeting spaces to serve the needs of youth and adults related to education, training, guided activities and communication technologies.

c. Adopt the Mayor's Action Challenge for Children and Families sponsored by the National League of Cities.

The City Council will adopt these Goals in late January or early February, 2010. For more information, view the complete list at: Urbana City Council and Mayor Goals, 2009-2013.

Other resources:

Safe Routes to Schools
Urbana Market at the Square