Day care center's garden will give kids a chance to plant

Terry Bibo

Okra. Green beans. Tomatoes. Potatoes . . .

"Kids will plant these," Crittenton Centers volunteer and special events coordinator Jennifer Simmons said Tuesday.

Collard greens. Herbs. Marigolds. Swiss chard . . .

An antique tractor roared next to the crisis nursery and day care center on John Gwynn Jr. Avenue as she spoke. Working with the University of Illinois Extension in Peoria County and a $2,000 grant from United Way, Crittenton is planting a community garden. Families and volunteers suggested some of the crops, since they will be working alongside the kids.

"The third planting will be cukes and zukes and maybe watermelon . . ." said Janet Hart of Hart's Honey in rural Brimfield.

It seems like a lot to ask of a 15-foot by 30-foot plot of ground, but Hart has a finely detailed diagram in her hand. She knows it will look a lot bigger in the heat of July.

"We wanted to start small, so as not to overwhelm people," she said. "Next year, we could triple the size."

As it is, there already are a lot of people involved in this particular plot. Hart is part of the extension's master gardener program. When she dreamed of a community garden last winter, she approached extension executive director Roger Larson. He connected Hart and Crittenton. Three Sisters Antique Tractor Club of Chillicothe agreed to plow and till the ground; Better Earth kicked in a truckload of compost.

"It's all a big partnership," said Larson, adding that the garden would complement a nutrition program already in place at Crittenton. "It's all woven together."

Dozens of children watched Paul McKim of Edwards tidily turn up turf with a 1950 Farmall Super A Demo tractor, then till in the compost with a 1983 International 284. Along with Gary Sutton of Chillicothe, McKim represented the antique tractor group. They had three more gardens to prepare when they finished at Crittenton.

"To not only have fun, but to help the community," Sutton said.

As the garden grows, so will the project. Hart said she would like to get some of the vegetables for the children to plant on Friday, if the weather permits. Simmons said there will be a field trip to Hart's "bee farm" later in the spring. Photographs are being taken throughout the season in hopes of creating a children's garden book. Larson said it all goes back to the possibilities of partnerships.

"I'm always one for shameless marketing," he said. "Give the kids something to enjoy and make it an event."

Terry Bibo can be reached at tbibo@pjstar.com or (309) 686-3189.