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A dream of planting a vegetable garden for Schaumburg Township's food pantry drew an unusual group of constituents to the table: Hoover Elementary School students and Friendship Village residents, both in Schaumburg.
Backed by a startup grant of $5,000 from the Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 Foundation, the two groups met in April to begin plotting out their first steps. Recently, they returned to the school to mount a fence around their new greenhouse.
They were among the first gardeners to commit to growing fresh produce this season as part of the Daily Herald's Giving Garden campaign. The annual summer-long harvest, when area gardeners bring in surplus fruits and vegetables to their local food pantries, began in May and runs through the end of September.
Schaumburg's intergenerational team of gardeners does not expect to donate much this season, they conceded, but the seed for giving has been planted, and they look forward to sharing their harvest.
Sixth-grader Christine Candotti of Schaumburg was so excited about the project, she came to the meeting back in April with a rendering of her dream garden, complete with rows of vegetables surrounded by flowers and even a butterfly garden.
"This is my last year (at Hoover)," Candotti said. "I want to make a statement, so that hopefully next year I'll come back to find a big garden growing."
The proposed garden is enclosed in a greenhouse outside Hoover School, at 315 N. Springinsguth Road in Schaumburg, leading Schaumburg Park District administrators to donate use of the surrounding land for the project for flowers.
Last month, the team received another donation to help with the cost of the greenhouse, this time coming from Lowe's Home Improvement in Schaumburg.
Their garden manager created a plan for the garden area, complete with vegetables, stone paths, and some perennial flower to attract pollinating insects, as well as providing starter plants, including peppers, pumpkins, tomatoes, bee balm, phlox, eggplant and corn.
On Monday, the group of students and the Master Gardeners from Friendship Village returned to Hoover to start implementing the plan, including erecting a fence around the greenhouse and enhancing it with some landscaping.
"We see this as a wonderful collaboration," said Hoover Principal Jake Chung. "We don't have a lot of gardening experience, and they have years to draw on. It's great for our students to be working with these kinds of role models."
Hoover students already have a penchant for flowers. Spring annuals surround the main entrance to their building, planted and tended each year by students. However, growing vegetables provided a new challenge.
At the outset, the group learned they would be growing their first crops using hydroponics, or without soil. Instead, they would be growing lettuce and sprouts in water, with special nutrients added.
NASA uses the system, the gardeners learned, and it can produce results in a matter of weeks.
"I don't know anything about hydroponics, but I've always loved growing things," said Tom Carroll, a 40-year Schaumburg resident, whose children attended, and now grandchildren attend Hoover School.
Their new greenhouse measures 16-by-12 feet.
"We're starting small this year, and hopefully going to be growing from there," said third-grade teacher Barb Hagenburg. "It's such a fun adventure for all of us."
Friendship Village residents concurred, adding that they enjoyed working with the students as much as they did sharing their gardening know-how.
"With the way the world's going, it's nice to be able to share what we know with these children," said Jack Garland. "It's nice knowing they're doing something constructive."
Chung added that they have an even more ambitious goal to end the project: once their garden begins producing, they plan to invite first lady Michelle Obama to visit, and do lunch.
"With her emphasis on fresh vegetables and gardening," Chung said, "we think it makes perfect sense."