Success Story - Sharing the Tomato – A People’s Garden
Illinois Success Story
Sharing the Tomato – A People’s Garden
By: Jody Christiansen
Date: November 2012
Champaign, IL - It all began with Abe Lincoln, the tomato that is. As
the Illinois NRCS point of contact for People’s Garden initiative, I wanted to
share the tomato with a local organization here in Champaign. After visiting
with fellow employees, we discovered an unofficial People’s Garden just up the
road from the office. Their garden was designed to help people help themselves.
The Restoration Urban Ministries is home for individuals and families who have
come across tough times. To help them learn new skills and confidence, what
better lesson than to plant a garden? Gardening offers many opportunities to
teach individuals to care for plants, responsibility for watering and weeding,
and enjoying the fruits of their labor.
Christiansen, NRCS PAS and PG coordinator,
and Jeff Zimprich, former acting State Conservationist,
plant Abraham Lincoln seeds.
My colleague, Cara Clark and I met with Restoration employees Linda Cramer
and Judy Stoll and talked about the People’s Garden, 150 years of USDA and the
Abraham Lincoln tomato. Both were delighted to become an official People’s
Garden. They accepted the few small tomato plants that I had started from seed,
even though they had plenty of other tomatoes growing at that time. Cramer took
a few plants home where several of the Restoration workers help with her garden.
However, with the drought and late planting, the plants did not produce enough
tomatoes to share.
Cara Clark, IL NRCS VIS, (f) with Judy Stoll and
Linda Cramer in front of the Restoration’s garden.
James Lawson, a Restoration staff worker, and his wife Cheryl, are both
passionate about the garden. Together they organized the plantings and tended
the garden for the past two years. They also encourage the residents to get
involved and found a shining star in one 14-year-old. “He has really taken to
working the garden,” says Cheryl. “He’s out there learning about planting,
harvesting and maintaining the garden.” The 20 x 60 foot garden grows a variety
of vegetables and the residents enjoy the harvest. During high volume harvest,
excess tomatoes are boxed and shared with the community.
Cheryl and James plant an Abe Lincoln
tomato plant in Linda Cramer’s garden.
After visiting the garden a few times this summer, I noticed that rain
barrels would really help with watering this large area. Early this fall, NRCS
engineer Matt Robert contacted a friend at the local Kraft Foods plant and asked
if they would like to donate a couple barrels which they gladly did. Then Robert
converted two 60-gallon barrels into rain barrels. Robert and I delivered the
barrels where Lawson and Mike Kingery, another
employee, greeted us. There was discussion on how they would install the barrels
in their rain gutter system and agreed that the barrels would help solve several
watering issues. After experiencing this year’s drought,” said Cramer, “having
water stored for later use should prove to be a bonus--not to mention helping
with the water bill.”
James Lawson, Matt Robert (NRCS engineer),
and Mike Kingery talk over some ideas for
setting up the rain barrels.
With some great local people and a few Abe Lincoln Heirloom tomato seeds,
this People’s Garden continues to be productive and has a promising future. This
has been a fun project to be a part of and it really demonstrates just how much
USDA can touch the lives of so many in a real and valuable way. I also saved
some Abe Lincoln seeds and we’ll do it again next year.
The Restoration Urban Ministries residents have planted several flower
gardens on the grounds with plans to create more. These gardens vary with native
plants and herbs to roses and lilies. The first flower garden was called the
Heart Garden, named for the shape. The current vegetable garden is named the
Restoration residents help with weeding the garden.
Tomato (PDF, 1,045kb)