Giving Garden: Core group of volunteers tend to the garden

  • From left, Kathy Tabak, Dicie Hansen and Christina Chopra Nemeth weigh some vegetables on the Smart Farm inside Beese Park in Barrington.

    From left, Kathy Tabak, Dicie Hansen and Christina Chopra Nemeth weigh some vegetables on the Smart Farm inside Beese Park in Barrington. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Published: 8/28/2010 12:01 AM

Soccer moms on the sidelines of next weekend's Barrington Classic Tournament will find an unusual diversion to explore in between games: an educational garden for the Barrington area, known as the Smart Farm.

Located among the community garden plots at Ron Beese Park, and just beyond the athletic fields, the Smart Farm encompasses five plots. Already this summer it has produced enough to donate 750 pounds of vegetables to Lake County food pantries.

Their latest donations include various types of tomatoes, including Stupice, Amanda Orange, Lemon Boy and Purple Cherokee, combined with bags of cucumbers, green and wax beans, cabbage, onions, zucchini and herbs.

"We could not provide fresh produce without the Smart Farm," says Cheryl Tanaka, food pantry coordinator for Cuba Township in Barrington, which serves residents of North Barrington, Lake Barrington and parts of the village of Barrington.

Produce from the Smart Farm is so desirable, that Tanaka sets up a corner market every Friday for those families who have expressed a need for fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce comes from the Smart Farm as well as Trader Joe's and Panera Bread, Tanaka added.

Kathy Gabelman of Lake Barrington helped develop the Smart Farm two summers ago. As an avid backyard gardener herself, she saw involving the community as a way to expand her giving.

"I used to bring in fresh produce to the Cuba Township Food Pantry, and I couldn't believe there were people in this type of affluent community who needed fresh food that badly," Gabelman says.

Working with other gardeners, they set out to create a sustainable garden, steeped in education and wrapped around a central mission: learn, grow and share. The Smart Farm now has a core group of 10 volunteers who are passionate about gardening and its mission of feeding the hungry.

They now regularly donate produce to food pantries in Lake Zurich, Wauconda and one at St. Francis de Sales Church in Lake Zurich, as well as Cuba Township.

However, Smart Farm workshops, special events and library demonstrations continue to draw new supporters into the fold.

"As a new member, I had never met a group of people more dedicated to a cause than this one," says Kathy Tabak of Barrington. "But it's so gratifying to work outside, in the soil and dun for something as fundamental as fresh food for those in need."

Christina Chopra Nemeth of Barrington says she had limited gardening experience when she started, so she stepped in to be a "weeder."

Since then, she has learned enough to lead other volunteers through projects, as well as start her own vegetable garden at home, in containers.

"It's an idea I never would have thought of, had I not worked with Smart Farm," Nemeth says.

The Smart Farm's rows of vegetables cannot be missed, with its trellises, earth boxes, raised beds and tunnel hoop houses, as well as its innovative irrigation system that uses PVC pipe.

Dicie Hansen of Lake Barrington is a Master Gardener and garden coach who works with Smart Farm volunteers to try different type of strategies, all aimed at producing bumper crops. "I get to combine two of my favorite things," Hansen says, "teach the community about gardening, and reinforce our mission to feed the hungry."

Volunteers work in the garden three days a week, while offering a Family Day once a month.

"These are designed with fun ways for children and families to become familiar with gardening and where fresh food comes from," Tabak says. "I work in a preschool, and I know how important it is for young children to get outside and have experiences like these."

Upcoming Family Days are planned for Sept. 18 and Oct. 17, while their Fall Harvest festival is scheduled for Oct. 18.

Learn more about their initiatives, at