Daily Herald
Itasca Giving Garden having its best year yet
By Eileen O. Daday | Daily Herald Correspondent
Published: 7/17/2010 12:00 AM

From the trading pit at the Board of Trade to the community garden plots in Itasca. That's how far Marty Lundeen has come since walking away from his career as a bond trader. And he couldn't be happier.

Lundeen is at the root, so to speak, of a Giving Garden that he helped to grow with members of the Itasca Garden Club, with the intention of donating all of its harvest to the Itasca Food Pantry.

Now a stay-at-home dad, shepherding his two young daughters to their swimming lessons and other activities, he finds himself thinking back to his own childhood days, when he grew up on a farm in Iowa.

"I quickly learned that there's a big difference between tractor gardening and gardening with your hands," Lundeen says. "It was kind of a difficult learning curve."

But a satisfying one. Now in their second year of growing a Giving Garden, Lundeen and other members of the garden club have gotten better at it, they concede. This summer's extreme weather conditions have helped.

"It's our best year yet for the garden," Lundeen says. "Our tomato plants last year weren't as tall as these are, already. We're thrilled."

Lundeen and his family live near the Itasca Food Pantry and they see the line of cars that form every Saturday morning of families waiting to pick up food.

"There are definitely more cars this year," Lundeen says. "It's seeing the children who get out of the car in the pajamas, that get you. They must live in their car."

Megan Sheridan, who coordinates the Itasca Food Pantry, confirms his suspicions.

"It's been a really rough year for so many families," Sheridan says. "Our numbers continue to increase."

As an agency of the Northern Illinois Food Bank, the pantry stocks mostly nonperishable canned goods.

"Getting fresh produce like this, is pure gold," Sheridan says. "These are things people can't afford, but it helps us offer a more balanced, nutritious meal."

Lundeen and the garden club members tend three community plots, or a garden measuring 20-by-60 feet. In it, they have planted more than 70 tomato plants, all started from seed, as well as zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, as well as different varieties of beans, sugar snap peas, and peppers.

Jennifer Swets of Itasca and her three young children, Sophie, Maddie and Larry, regularly come out to help maintain the plots.

"I wanted to do something active in the community, but I didn't know a thing about gardening," Swets says. "This has gotten me immersed in it, and I have this great feeling of satisfaction, of being able to give back to the community."

Her children enjoy coming out, but not for the more mundane tasks of weeding and cutting crops back.

"I like picking the stuff," says Maddie, 71/2, simply.

Her classmates at New Morning Montessori School in Itasca helped plant the garden this year. After Lundeen had tilled the soil and built the trellises for the tomato and pea vines, they arrived to work in assembly line fashion

Each child dropped in the seeds or placed the plant in the soil before covering and watering it.

"Turning kids on to gardening fires up their curiosity and drives their hunger to try new things, which is really cool to see," Lundeen says. "But I love teaching the concept of working hard to help other families. It shows them that you really can make a difference in the world."

To find out more about their work, visit ItascaGarden.com.