With a shared love of gardening, giving back to the community is equally important to a group of Coles County Master Gardeners.
The volunteers are especially proud to donate fresh produce grown in its “Plant A Row for the Hungry” garden to the food pantries in Mattoon and Charleston. “We’re really proud of what we’ve done. We’ve donated more than 4,000 pounds of vegetables for the last two years,” retired physician and devoted “Plant A Row” gardener Stan Huffman, MD, said.
The garden is located on the grounds of Sarah Bush Lincoln, which has provided growing plots for the community garden since the idea was proposed in 1999. In addition, the Health Center provides a greenhouse, unlimited water access, permission for and assistance tiling to enhance drainage and a storage shed. “We’re very thankful for the support and for everything Sarah Bush Lincoln provides,” Dr. Huffman said.
Dr. Huffman has been tending to the “Plant A Row” garden since becoming a Master Gardener in 2002, just one year after retiring from his medical practice. “This community was so good to me when I came here in 1979. This is my way of giving back,” he said. He toils in the garden almost daily, along with wife, Maggie, and fellow Master Gardeners Janet Clark, Martha Brown and others.
As director of the Mattoon Community Food Center, Clark said, “I’m very well aware of hunger in this county and it’s staggering. The Center is currently feeding up to 600 families a month, but fresh produce is very rare. This is what we need more of.”
She adds, “When we’re out here at our hottest, sweatiest and dirtiest – it’s because we’re on a mission -- it’s because we care. We don’t want anyone to go without food, especially kids.”
Since its first harvest in 2001, the Plant A Row garden has produced approximately 55,000 pounds of vegetables for food pantries in Charleston and Mattoon, Coles County Master Gardner President Diana Glosser estimated. Glosser, along with representatives from the University of Illinois School of Agriculture and Cooperative Extensive took a tour of the Plant A Row garden on July 6.
The Master Gardeners will soon harvest a broad variety of vegetables and fruits this year including tomatoes, potatoes, squash, peppers, onions, cucumbers, zucchinis, cabbages, cantaloupe, watermelon and more. Dr. Huffman takes great pride in nurturing the tomatoes. “Stan’s been out here tying them up in the heat because they’re growing in every direction.” Clark said. “That will be one of the most sought after and most productive crops this year. There’s definitely a need and we are happy that we can supply families with what we have.”
The gardeners are currently fighting the weeds and have been working tirelessly to control them. They encourage others to volunteer in the garden or to donate garden produce surpluses to the Mattoon Community Food Center and the Charleston Food Center.
For questions, feel free to contact a Master Gardener volunteer at the University of Illinois Extension office in Charleston at 217-345-7034.
Coles County Master Gardeners Janet Clark, Martha Brown and Stan Huffman, MD