Students win grant to build local garden

Douglass Park in North Champaign will soon have a new addition: a neighborhood garden, thanks to a project which hopes to improve community relations between North Champaign and the University campus.

The project was started last spring as a result of a competition for business and engineering students, said Steve Heiss, sophomore in Business and philanthropy chair of Alpha Chi Rho, one of the student groups that has gotten involved with the project. The object of the competition was to create a community service project that involved a combination of environmental sustainability, education and entrepreneurship.

The accounting firm Ernst & Young sponsored the competition, offering a reward of $10,000 toward funding the project of the winning team. The University of Illinois won first place at the University level, as well as the national level and received the $10,000 grant to begin building the community garden.

In North Champaign, 40 percent of children live below the poverty line. The Champaign Park District plans to use the garden for summer camps and after-school programs, as the park is located next to Booker T. Washington Elementary School. The garden will also teach the children about eating healthy, and will provide local shelters with a supply of fresh produce.

The garden will also serve as a location for public classes on topics such as: composting, basic botany, cooking and preservations, nutrition, rain water sequestration, pest control and garden design. Additionally, one section of the garden will be available for community members to rent and maintain. Fees from plot leasing and the classes will together help the community generate some revenue.

While support is being gathered from local, state and national leaders, the project cannot be a success without the support of the actual gardeners.

“We currently have two and a half raisebeds built, with tomatoes, peppers, squash, and pumpkins growing,” said Diana Rechenmacher, sophomore in business and one of the creators of the project, in an e-mail interview. “We are excited to get the community and schools more involved next semester, as that will be when these community members can start renting plots.”

Alpha Chi Rho members understand the meaning of the project. As students living on campus, “we haven’t been taking care of [our campus’s] backyard as well as we should,” Heiss said.

“The project helps to keep kids out of trouble and provides a nutritious food source for the community,” Heiss said. “Not everyone can afford to buy food, and the garden gives people the option of growing their own.”

Other members of Alpha Chi Rho also recoginize the importance of contributing to a neighborhood effort.

“[The community garden project] is a good way for us to get our philanthropy hours and help out the community at the same time,” said Jonathan Wright, sophomore in FAA and public relations chair of Alpha Chi Rho.

Last Saturday marked the first day of Alpha Chi Rho volunteering at the garden, and they will continue to help out at Douglass Park this Saturday and next Saturday as well.

Students can find more information about getting involved with the project at or on the group’s facebook page.