Vegetable gardens form a community for Evanston’s Levy Senior Center and Garden Club Vegetable gardens form a community for Evanston’s Levy Senior Center and Garden Club

Nonna’s Marinara Bed: teeming with tomato, basil, thyme, onion and garlic.

The Three Sisters Gtegan: Corn in the middle, with pole beans twisting up the cornstalks, and squash at the base.

These crops were featured among the four themed vegetable gardens at the Levy Senior Center last year, organized by the Levy Senior Center Foundation and the Garden Club of Evanston.

Organizer and GCE member Cie Bond said the garden will be expanded this spring with several new beds, an irrigation system and more volunteers from Levy members. This will be the garden’s second year and as it continues to attract seniors to Evanston, garden volunteers from GCE and Levy are focusing on growing enough vegetables to donate to community fridges.

“I felt like[the garden project]was the most amazing community building activity,” Bond said. “I didn’t realize the impact that was having on people.”

Bond said four new beds will be added to the garden, including “Grandma’s Root Cellar” with horseradish, onions, carrots and potatoes, and “American Soul Food” which will feature okra, collards and cowpeas. Unlike last year’s four beds, these beds will be closer to the ground to allow for deep root vegetables like tomatoes and eggplant to grow.

Bond said this year’s garden will also feature a new irrigation system, installed by the city, which will automatically water the beds every day.

The gardens, tended and cared for several times a week by Levy members under the guidance of GCE members, last year produced enough vegetables for volunteers and other Levy members and staff to take produce home – and then some.

“We’d have six pickles to give away, or six pumpkins, or a bunch of lettuce,” Bond said. “We put it in plastic bags and put it on a bench just south of the beds.”

However, there wasn’t enough food left over to donate substantially to community fridges, which Bond said she wants to change this year.

GCE President Anne Berkeley said the Collective Impact Organization Evanston Grows will be working with the center’s gardening team this year to help distribute the vegetables grown. Evanston Grows is working with local gardens to help tackle food insecurity and intends to donate 3,000 pounds of vegetables to all of its partners this year, she said.

So far, all community members involved in the garden said that the involvement of GCE volunteers in the gardens at Levy Senior Center over the past year has helped build a community for all involved.

Becky Santos Anderson, a Levy member who has volunteered in the gardens many times over the past year, said she recalls meeting up with a neighbor who was out for a walk and stopped in the gardens.

“I found out that she was also from the Philippines and grew vegetables that we didn’t have,” Anderson said.

Her neighbor gave her a basket of hard-to-find vegetables from the Philippines, like bitter melon, Anderson said. The neighbor also donates seeds for a new bed, “LaoLaos Asian Garden”.

For the Levy members, the gardens have provided both gardening instruction and purpose. GCE members attended the volunteer sessions each week to mentor Levy members in planting seeds, watering and trimming plants.

Last year about 15 seniors from Levy Senior Center expressed an interest in volunteering and six often came to work in the gardens, Bond said.

This year, 41 members of the Levy Senior Center have expressed an interest in the center’s staff working in the garden, Bond said. An information session for those interested will be held on May 14th and gardening will begin on May 16th.

Anderson said the gardens provided her with a safe place to leave the house.

“It’s the only time I go out because of COVID,” Anderson said. “I’m just so scared to go anywhere. But it’s outside, so I go as often as I can because it’s the only thing I’m comfortable with.”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @kelly_cloonan

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