St. Helena garden serves area’s needy
The scarecrow "Rosa Vegetables" has her arms around volunteers Mellie Duffy of Hinsdale, and Chris Cordin-Blitstein of Burr Ridge, as they display handfuls of fresh radishes from the garden. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 13, 2012 1:46AM
This year’s warm spring was a welcome surprise to the gardeners at Vacant2Vegetables. Before school was out for the summer, they already had harvested the first vegetables of the season.
The garden, in front of St. Helena’s Episcopal Church on Wolf Road in Burr Ridge, is run by volunteers who grow healthy produce, all of which goes home in the grocery bags of people who use the Peoples Resource Center in Westmont.
Chris Cordin-Blitstein of Burr Ridge said nearly 3,000 families are served by the resource center — families who without the Vacant2Vegetables garden might not have access to fresh herbs and vegetables.
The gardeners don’t stop at providing the ingredients for a healthy diet. They teach families to use the vegetables.
“We try to tie in what we’re harvesting that month with what is available at the pantry,” Mellie Duffy of Hinsdale said.
Every month, Duffy helps organize a cooking class that uses seasonal produce from the garden.
“They get all the recipes,” Duffy said.
If the harvest is successful, this summer’s recipes could include eggplant — a new crop this year. The volunteer gardeners also have planted a variety of peppers, lots of tomatoes, bunches of basil, lettuces, zucchini and Swiss chard.
By the time school was out for the summer, the gardeners had pulled 14 pounds of radishes from the Vacant2Vegetables patch and were ready to prepare the newly vacant ground for another crop. Cordin-Blitstein and her fellow gardeners hope that will continue.
Last year’s chilly summer turned into a lukewarm harvest.
“We harvested just under a ton,” Cordin-Blitstein said. “We’re hoping for a much better year.”
Local companies have provided almost everything, from a sprinkler system to the plants themselves, to help the gardeners reach that goal.
All they really need, Cordin-Blitstein said, is more volunteers.
“We always need more help,” she said.
Vacant2Vegetables welcomes anyone willing to get a little dirty. No green thumbs are required.
To volunteer, send Cordin-Blitstein a message via Facebook at Vacant2Vegetables.