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Community gardening season opens at NIU

Campus, community organizations partner to grow food

DeKALB – In his gray, knee-length garden boots, Northern Illinois University junior Carson Cross was ready to plant some sunflower seeds Thursday.

Cross, a community leadership and civic engagement major, was one of many people Thursday who planted seeds at NIU’s newest garden.

“I love the outdoors,” Cross said. “I grew up in gardens.”

To mark the start of a a partnership between DeKalb County Community Gardens and NIU’s Communiversity Gardens organization the two groups held a groundbreaking for the first “communiversity garden” near Anderson Hall.

Participants planted seeds at the 22,000 square-foot area on the east side of the building for the garden. The event included remarks from officials including DeKalb Mayor John Rey and NIU President Doug Baker.

Dan Kenney, president of DeKalb County Community Gardens, said the garden is currently in its first phase, which includes completing an overall design and beginning the planting process.

Communiversity Gardens hopes to cultivate 2,000 pounds of organic vegetables and herbs and donate 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to DeKalb food pantries by the end of the summer.

“What better way to start boldly forward with the future than to plant a garden in the present?” Kenney said.

According to a pamphlet, communiversity gardens will include a composting area, medicinal garden, edible wild garden, children’s garden, native and edible shrubs, educational workshops, wheelchair accessibility, community events and international garden sections.

Raymond Alden, NIU’s vice president of international affairs, and Deborah Pierce, associate vice president, spoke about the importance of having the gardens available to international students.

Many international students travel as far as Schaumburg to find the fresh ingredients that are staples of their diet in their native countries, Alden said.

“Part of having a welcoming campus is understanding the culture and expectation of all of our students,” Alden said.

Baker said many people who participated in the Bold Futures workshops last fall, which asked locals how the university could better improve its image, talked about having a garden on campus.

“This is an amazing start on an amazing project,” Baker said.

During the event, NIU freshman Emela Puskar was making dandelion crowns for her friends to wear on their heads.

Puskar, who is part of a Communiversity Gardens task force, said she became involved with the organization after seeing a notice written in chalk on the sidewalk on campus.

“This was something I was planning on doing before,” she said. “It was great. It was already in motion for me.”

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