Reposted with permission of WMBD

By Darronté Matthews

BLOOMINGTON  — Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton made a trip to Bloomington, Friday, as a part of a recent tour throughout the state.

One of the stops on Stratton’s tour was to Sunnyside Community Garden & Food Forest. The garden started in 2016 as a high school project with the vision of addressing the food desert in West Bloomington.

“I’m here at Sunnyside Community Garden to get a better sense of what’s happening in the community as it relates to food and security,” Stratton said. “But also the community partnerships that are needed right now.”

Janice Turner, one of the founders, said the garden serves multiple purposes in providing fresh food to those who need it the most.

“It’s a community garden, and we have a farm manager who grows the vegetables and gives them to the food pantries,” Turner said. “We were giving vegetables to the Boys & Girls Club, but since COVID, that has stopped. We have a low-income CSA [community supported agriculture], and we were having a free market where on Wednesday nights, we just put them out, and anyone can come in.”

Turner said these gardens could be the future for areas with food deserts.

“It could be the way to go having a community garden and then growing vegetables for the neighbors,” Turner said.

Stratton agreed with these sentiments as she walked around the garden, witnessing the growth of the garden’s fruits and vegetables.

“It’s not only just growing nutritious foods,” Statton said. “They’re working with co-ops. It’s not only just growing nutritious foods,” Statton said. “They’re working with co-ops, they’re working with the Boys and Girls Club, they’re working with places that are working with people who are homeless and church communities all to make sure that people have the nutrients that they need.”

Stratton said she wants to get the message out of the importance of agriculture going forward.

“We focus on all the time where are areas of food deserts,” Stratton said. “People need to understand it’s not just in urban communities; they’re in rural communities, including some of our farming communities. I always say ag connects us all.”

Turner said their garden had been spared significant hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have seen an increase in the need for fresh produce over the past few months.

Stratton said she wants to continue working with the garden and expose young people to the benefits of agriculture.

“There are many young people who are never exposed to agriculture or gardening or farming,” Stratton said. “And how do we make sure that all across the state, as we think about the food supply, that there are young people who recognize that agriculture is the No. 1 industry in the state of Illinois.”

Illinois Prairie Community Foundation serves as fiscal sponsor for the Sunnyside Community Garden & Food Forest. If you would like to support this effort to reduce the food desert in West Bloomington, please donate online. If you prefer to make a donation in another manner, click here for information.