Connecting Communities With Plants: NIU's 'Communiversity' Gardens

May 9, 2014

It has been a big week for DeKalb County Community Gardens: the three year old not-for-profit won a 20-thousand dollar grant from the organics company Seeds for Change. And Thursday, they broke ground on the “Communiversity Garden,” a collaboration with Northern Illinois University.

It was the hottest day of the year so far as students, local dignitaries, and community members lined up to drop a few ceremonial onion starts and sunflower seeds into furrows in the new International Garden.  Jacob Lawrence is founder and president of Communiversity Gardens, the NIU student group behind the huge new garden going in behind Anderson Hall. He says students are more interested in growing their own food than you’d think :

“Rather than being on the couch playing call of duty, they would rather come out there with a wheelbarrow with a shovel and start doing soil. So I tell them it’s like a work out, you get to be in the sun, you get to have fun talking to people. “

Misty Haji-Sheik is one of the founders of DeKalb County Community Gardens. She says last year, the group donated eight tons of produce to local food banks, and expects an even bigger harvest this year from their sites throughout the county.

They’re also going to add a community orchard and what’s called a “food forest.”  DeKalb Mayor John Rey says the new gardens on campus are another way NIU is connecting to the entire community:

“I can see our farmer’s market  thriving from produce from those community gardens, but also bringing the community together”

The “Communiversity Garden’s” first phase is a spoked wheel shaped international garden, where hard-to-get plants from many cultures will be grown. It will eventually include accessible raised beds, an outdoor classroom, and native plantings to attract bees and other pollinators. Food will be shared between volunteers and food programs.