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Woodstock prairie grows community through gardening program

Published: Thursday, April 10, 2014 1:48 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, April 11, 2014 12:02 a.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – The owner of a Woodstock prairie site hopes a sense of community grows from her program to provide locals their own plots of land to garden.

Linda Bruce started the Grow and Share Gardens program at Soulful Prairies, 4706 Alden Road, Woodstock, last year. Individuals, schools, social service agencies and other groups are invited to take on a 30x30 plot for the growing season and make a commitment to share a portion of their produce with those in need.

Those who take on a plot – which are free for not-for-profits but otherwise $25 for the season – are encouraged to provide about 20 percent of their produce to a local food pantry or non-profit organization.

"I said 20 or 25 percent, but I really just wanted it to be about people thinking about giving back," Bruce said.

Bruce said the idea hit her when brainstorming about other ways to use a large space near the road at Soulful Prairies, her conservation land, which is home to restored wetlands and prairies in addition to a farm for the family's horses.

The family had previously grown pumpkins in their unused space near the road, and then donated money made from selling them. Grow and Share Gardens was an idea Bruce felt would add a community aspect to her desire to give back, she said.

"When I searched around, there wasn't anything like that up and running," she said.

About 20 to 25 plots were taken out in the garden's inaugural year. Bruce had originally planned to organize large donation days, where all gardeners would come together, pick their produce and then deliver it to a food pantry.

But she found that many who came to the prairie had their own beneficiaries in mind – a freedom that Bruce encourages. One group came from the Barrington area, gardened a large plot that yielded about 800 pounds of squash and pumpkins, and then took the crop back for distribution in their home community.

Just as important as the end result is the program's ability to foster a sense of community – both at the prairie among growers, and outwardly toward those who end up consuming the produce, Bruce said.

"I want people to really know that they're welcome," she said. "We would love anyone who's interested in this sort of thing."

Soulful Prairies provides gardening tools and a shed, hosts a well with five hydrants and has drive-up access to each plot.

Weather permitting, Bruce will host a kick-off meeting Saturday, May 3. Those interested can sign up at www.soulfulprairies.com or by contacting Bruce at 847-366-6743 or soulfulprairies@yahoo.com.

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