Community Gardens to grow in two locations by BETH ALTENA If you don’t have a spot for a plot on your lot, your site isn’t sunny or you just have a bad case of black thumb, Rockford Public Schools (RPS) has just the fix. RPS unveiled last week plans for two community gardens, open to individuals, businesses or groups, complete with help from multiple master gardeners. “Apparently great minds think alike,” said Lisa Jacobs, director of RPS Community Services. A local restaurant sous chef, a group of environmentally minded middle school students and RPS staff all began thinking of the possibilities of a community garden and how one organized by the school might happen. Michael Farrell, sous chef at Reds on the River, approached RPS to talk about starting such an endeavor and found out the school was already putting together a tentative proposal for a community garden system. That was a year ago, and plans have blossomed into a new way for the community to partner with the schools and grow their own flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs. “We are so out-of-our minds excited,” said Meredith Gremel, of Gremel Communications, who is helping organize the gardens along with Jacobs. A kick-off meeting was held Tuesday, Feb. 15 at the Rockford Freshman Center, and the public turnout showed the strong interest in sharing ground for growing at two locations. The Community Gardens are planned for the administration building at 330 North Main Street in downtown Rockford and East Rockford Middle School at 8615 9 Mile Road. Students at East Rockford Middle School (ERMS) participate in Earthkeepers, a magnet focused on environmental and nature studies (see related story, page 8). As they used nature-related ideas to learn language arts, math, science, social studies and more, the idea of creating a garden on the property of the school came up. Principal Mike Ramm saw the possibilities. “Earthkeepers is about getting your hands dirty while learning,” Ramm said. “That gave ERMS the idea of a garden.” He said the possibilities of skills needed in gardening, architectural and structural, healthy living and foods, math and budgeting, all can be used in planning and growing a garden. According to Ramm, one extremely enthusiastic student, John Wiley, really pushed for the […]
The first Heirloom tomato festival drew crowds and helped pack downtown Rockford on Saturday, August 22. In the parking lot of the Promenade, the festival included a salsa contest that tried the taste buds of judges, who had to sample a whopping 34 salsas. Some caused sweat to break out on judges’ faces, but no one dropped out before the tasting was done. “We expected maybe eight entries,” said organizer Meredith Gremel. She said of the judges “I kind of feel sorry for them.” The event featured tomatoes, games and music, and was a kick-off to fundraising by the Rockford High School Youth Initiative, who provided the volunteers for the children’s activities at the festival. Initiative president Shelby Denhof said this year’s project for the community group is to build a Habitat for Humanity home. The undertaking will require raising an amazing $75,000. Denhof said the group hopes to rehab or build from scratch a house right here in Rockford. Prior to the festival, the organization had already raised $850 by holding pop can drives. “We hope to have half raised by January, begin building by February or March and be done by June, “ Denhof stated. Youth Initiative volunteers helped youngsters with a bag toss, painted faces and helped kids decorate their own heirloom tomatoes to take home. Under a tent Reds offered samples of tomato-based salad, salsa and soup for $2 each. Ingraberg Farm highlighted many varieties of heirloom tomatoes and Earthkeeper Farms was also present with tomatoes. The event was well-attended and organizers were pleased with the turnout. Downtown merchants joined in the fun by offering discounts and deals for those who showed up with tomato-related items. It is planned for the festival to be a yearly event.