A movement by members of a Palatine church to incorporate green practices into their lives has resulted in a more concerted effort in their garden.
For the last few years, worshippers at the Countryside Unitarian Universalist Church have tried their hand at growing vegetables on some empty fields behind their church.
Admittedly, it was a challenge. These same fields were the dumping ground during their construction of their new addition, so the soil was filled with rocks and debris.
"We've been adding to the soil as we go," says Donna Calwas of Palatine, the unofficial leader of the garden, "and it's beginning to do really well."
This year, in particular, their efforts are taking root, and their harvest has yielded enough that they have been able to donate fresh produce to the Palatine Township Food Pantry.
"It's not a lot, but it's enough to make the trip," Calwas adds.
She points to the zucchini, peppers and cherry tomatoes that they have collected, and all in anticipation of a strong tomato crop this year.
Calwas is a member of the church's Green Sanctuary Committee, which is working to be certified through the Sanctuary program of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, Congregational Stewardship Services.
As they work to strengthen their connection between their spiritual practices and their consciousness of the Earth, she says, they realized their gardening fit right in with that renewed focus.
In some ways, she says, the adults were taking their lead from children in the congregation. As part of their religious education classes, the children already had planted a vegetable garden with the sole intention of donating their produce to the food pantry.
Karen Greenland of Palatine, another church gardener, says one of their goals was to educate their adult and child members about the benefits of organic gardening.
"This means that the vegetables in the garden are grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides," Greenland says.
Twice a week, members of the church work in the garden to keep pace with the weeds and tend to the watering. They have begun recruiting volunteers for their harvesting on Sundays after their church services, and have had no trouble drawing helpers, they say.
"That's the fun part," Calwas says.
They also have drawn helpers from the nearby Bridge Youth & Family Services in Palatine, where one of their church members works with teens as an adult mentor. She has brought out some of the teens to have them experience the benefits of working the land and harvesting fresh vegetables for needy families.
Officials at the Palatine Township Food Pantry, say business has been brisk this year, with the slow recovery of the economy. Two years ago, they moved their food pantry upstairs, in search of expanded space, and a new look.
They now offer clients the ability to "shop" as they go through the pantry, picking and choosing what they'd like, instead of handing them pre-filled grocery bags. They save the fresh produce for the end of the aisle, just before check out.
"It's wonderful to be able to offer them fresh vegetables from a garden," says Laura Hoover, pantry coordinator, "and with so much variety."
The pantry serves residents from several communities, including parts of Rolling Meadows, Inverness, Arlington Heights, Hoffman Estates, Barrington, South Barrington and Schaumburg.