A Great Use Of Land

Gardens tended by the crew at the Algonquin (Ill.) Wastewater Treatment Plant produced more than 900 pounds of vegetables for a local pantry.
A Great Use Of Land
Shown with the fruits of their labors are, from left, Randall Frake, Dalton Wall, Tom Hall, and Rahat Quader. They’re holding a cucuzza — an Italian summer squash.

The operating team at the Algonquin (Ill.) Wastewater Treatment Plant found a great use for part of the plant property: raising food for charity.

Last year they grew more than 900 pounds of vegetables for the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Interfaith Food Pantry — the same amount produced in 2012, the garden’s first year. The harvest included tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, eggplant, peppers, sweet corn, cucumbers, cantaloupe, squash, radishes, basil, kale, Swiss chard and sunflowers.

The garden was a cooperative effort involving the treatment plant team, the food pantry, the Jacobs High School Green Eagles garden club (advised by science teacher Terry Stroh) and community volunteers.

Part of the landscape

the garden grew out of a landscaping project: Appearance is important to the plant because it sits along a major road at the entry to the village. The plant has a biological nutrient removal system bordered by a concrete wall 200 feet long and 10 feet high.

The village decided to “soften” the wall by building a trellis-like fence next to it and planting vines. Robert Fulton, an Eagle Scout candidate, completed the fence as his service project. Then Jim Stiegert, a village trustee who is involved with the food pantry, made a connection between the pantry and village employees.

The food pantry has its own produce garden run by volunteer Laurie Selpien with help from volunteers who include Andy Warmus, Algonquin utilities superintendent; Ed Hartman, water operator; and other village staff members. Selpien gave advice on what to grow in the treatment plant garden and how to tend it.

Many hands

The 4-foot-wide garden lines both sides of the BNR wall, totaling 1,600 square feet. Green Eagles club members gave the crops a boost by starting tomato and pepper seedlings in the high school greenhouse. Village employee Vince Kilcullen delivered horse manure to enrich the garden soil. Green Eagles members, a Cub Scout pack and assorted volunteers did the planting.

“After that it was up to the crew at the wastewater treatment plant to weed the beds, water and harvest,” says Ed Brown, chief wastewater operator. “Everyone had a hand in it. The food pantry is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We’d harvest on those mornings and deliver the produce to the pantry.”
Team members who helped work the garden were Warmus and Brown; Tom Hall and Randall Frake, wastewater operators; Rahat Quader, lab technician; and Dalton Wall, maintenance specialist.

Keeping it going

The team tried a space-saving trick with some tomato and potato plants. “In one section we paired those two plants by coring a hole in the potato, placing the tomato plant through the hole, and planting them together,” says Brown. “That way we were able to grow two plants in the same spot. It seemed to work out well, although the potatoes didn’t produce as well as those we grew on the other side of the BNR tanks.”

The garden will be back next year. “The public relations value for the village has been fantastic,” says Brown. “The village board and administration have been more than supportive. It sheds a great light on the village. In the end, we’re helping some of our residents have foods they may not get otherwise.”   



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