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Garden grows life lessons for local youth

CHAMPAIGN --- Beautification, nutrition, respect for environment, charity, entrepreneurship. Who would have thought so many life lessons could come from a package of seeds? 

Children from the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club, that's who.

In mid-May, they began the first phase of planting a "prosperity garden" in the 300 block of North First Street, north of the Champaign Police Department, by putting in petunias and other splashes of color.

Hopefully coming soon will be vegetables and herbs, some of which can be sold at the Farmers' Market on Historic North First Street, set to begin its second season June 10.

"I work with at-risk youth," said Sonya Lynch, program director of prevention services for the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club, 201 E. Park St., C. "I'm always trying to get them involved in new things, and I love to garden."

A number of groups are collaborating on the prosperity garden, Lynch said, including the Junior League, Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation (which is just across the street), the city of Champaign, UI Cooperative Extension, the North First Street Association, Lowe's, Carle, the Regional Planning Commission and the farmers' market.

"The overall plan is to do vegetables and herbs," Lynch said, adding that children ages 6 to 18 will care for the garden four days a week.

Lynch said she'll be following a curriculum that will teach the children about the plants, the environment, the value of the nutrition of vegetables, how to prepare them, how to market them and how to share them.

"We want to teach them about giving back to the community," she said, adding they hope to certify some of the club members as junior master gardeners. 

Plans call for 14 plant beds, 10 of which will be 16 feet by 4 feet and four of which will be 10 feet by 4 feet.

Flowers intended to add a splash of color and beauty - petunias and sweet potato vines, for example - were planted on Friday.

"We haven't gotten all the vegetables down pat," she said, adding that plans call for tomatoes, greens, green beans and turnips.

The plan for the raised vegetable beds still needs the approval of the Champaign City Council, which is supposed to take up the issue at its meeting Tuesday night, since the beds will be on city property.

"I have probably 50 packs of heirloom seeds that were donated. We're going to look at what we can grow best in the quickest amount of time so they can learn something and sell something at the farmers' market," Lynch said. "We'll be planting the second week of June."

Wendy Langacker, manager and director of the farmers' market, said the market will run from 3 to 7 p.m. every Thursday through Sept. 2.

Although she doesn't have written commitments from all the potential vendors, her sense is that many will be back.

"From the vendors who were there, they were extremely happy with how it went. When I did a survey of the vendors, they were happy and will be excited to have another year. When I talk with people and hand out literature, people are asking, 'When does it start?' That's a good judge of whether or not people are excited about the market," Langacker said.

By Mary Schenk/ The News-Gazette

¨ Copyright 2011 CU-CitizenAccess.