Last year, when I heard chatter about getting a bigger garden near the clinic, my curiosity was piqued. Gardening has been a hobby of mine for several years now, starting with container gardening on my patio when I first started residency here. This evolved into raised beds with flower containers around to help with pollination. Starting something from seed and enjoying the literal fruits of your labor is a rewarding experience. We have the privilege now of expanding those fruits to our patients. The story of food deserts in Peoria is not a new one, however, the story feels amplified recently with the closure of several grocery stores in at-risk neighborhoods. The OSF Garden of Hope and Renaissance Park Community Garden have made a difference in their respective neighborhoods and I believe ours will make a difference as well. We’ll be able to help our patients, neighbors, and local students that have experienced food insecurity.
The project will have multiple phases. This spring, we’ll start by expanding on the two raised beds near the clinic, adding approximately 20 raised beds. These will primarily be used to provide produce for our patients and anyone in our clinic. Residents, faculty, and clinic staff will all have an opportunity to help maintain these beds. The second phase will be a larger undertaking and will utilize the open space across Illini Drive from our clinic. This area will have additional raised beds, fruit and nut trees, and berry bushes. In addition, native trees will be planted with the hope of bringing in more native wildlife to the area and creating a relaxing environment for the community to enjoy. We are working with other entities in the area that have similar goals of bettering the community, including Build Peoria, Ending Hunger Together, the UPH Foundation, and others. Ultimately, we envision having an area dedicated to teaching community members and students along with having several allotment beds that our local community members can use and maintain to grow produce for themselves and to sell at local markets.
None of this would be possible without the vision of two of our residents, Paulo Michelini and McKenzie Wylie, in starting this endeavor. In addition, the contributions by Dr. Grasch, Luthy Botanical Gardens, and the University of IL Extension master gardener program will ensure a successful bounty. A grant from UnityPoint Health Methodist/Proctor Foundation will allow us to get a start on the multiple phases planned. We will be reaching out to local businesses in hopes of getting materials for little or no cost to help offset the initial investment needed to set up our garden.
The result of everyone’s hard work will, with the help of some green thumbs, be a source or nutrition for our patients and community. The benefits of growing your own fruits and vegetables is seen not only in improved diets, but also the environment and community morale. Less transportation of goods from distant farms means less fossil fuel use. Fostering community through gardening has shown to improve community involvement and empower residents to create a safer living space. It may seem like a small thing, but our garden will hopefully provide a positive change in many aspects of our clinic and community and I’m excited to be a part of it.