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