The O’Fallon Garden Club is more than just a club — it’s a group of local residents who garden with a purpose of helping their community in a myriad of ways, according to past president Carolyn Sitzes.
“We are really proud of all the great things that have come from the Community Garden at the corner of State and Smiley streets since we began about six years ago. It’s just a spectacular area there,” Sitzes said.
The 4,000 square-foot Community Garden was founded in 2010 with less than 10 members, and has grown over the years to have over 90 members, and more than 20 master gardeners.
The club is a member of the National Garden Club and the Garden Clubs of Illinois, and offers a lot of opportunities for people who enjoy nature, apiary care, gardening, civic pride and volunteerism.
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During the District V Garden Clubs of Illinois meeting at the end of October, the club received two first-place awards for its Publicity/Press Book, one from the Illinois Central Region and the other from the National Garden Clubs. The awards are a reflection of the dedication of the publicity chair Harriet Baker, and historian chair Carol Schmidt, who meticulously produce the club’s press book, Baker said.
O’Fallon Mayor Gary Graham said the garden he once helped establish has grown beyond his expectations.
O’Fallon Pet Dairy, located at 610 E. State St., originally owned the parcels of land across the street that would later be known as the Community Garden at 501-599 E. State St., next to the railroad tracks, Graham said.
“We negotiated and traded, so now the parcels are city-owned property, and the Garden Club took it over from there. It opened in 2013 officially, and has become a well-known garden throughout the metro-east area now. For example, the garden has been an integral part of the University of Illinois Extension’s annual ‘Gardens In Bloom’ tour program, and won several awards from national clubs, too,” Graham said.
Prior to the negotiation, the lots had been described on the club’s website as “unsightly trailer park.”
Graham said the club is responsible for the big improvement.
Baker said four of the raised garden beds have been made handicap accessible, too, “so we may become more inclusive to all members of the community.”
Sitzes said many facets of the community have converged to bring beauty in the form of landscaping and green space, but also education, fresh vegetables and fruits for those in need and recreation for all ages.
“It touches so many people from Girl and Boy Scouts of America, who have done projects in the garden, to people walking though it and enjoying the butterflies, flowers and apiary, to 4,000-plus pounds of fresh produce we donated to the O’Fallon Food Pantry this year,” Sitzes said. “We’ve donated so much produce over the years now, and it really makes a difference in the lives of those who utilize the food pantry, especially with maintaining healthy diets.”
The O’Fallon Public Library also donates books to the food pantry. The work is done in tandem with the Garden Club’s produce donations for those who need recipes for preparing fresh produce for family meals, said Baker said, who is also on the Library Board in addition to the Garden Club Board.
“A lot of people, surprisingly, don’t know how to cook fresh vegetables, so we started providing the food pantry with cookbooks from the library to help people who were getting fresh vegetables from our garden,” Baker said. “I wish we could do more, but we do the best we can with what we have. It’s a lot of work.”
The apiary just had its second harvest of 108 pounds, and sold out of all the honey extracted and jarred, Baker said. Each 8-ounce bottle was priced at $7.
“Our beekeepers were kept very busy. It’s just wonderful for the environment. All of the honey is gone now, so those interested will have to wait until next year’s harvest,” Baker said.
More recently, the club held its annual holiday wreath making program in the beginning of December, which garners around 40 attendees, not including members, Baker said.
“It went very well this year and was a lot of fun. We made two wreaths for the O’Fallon Police Department, two for the O’Fallon Fire Department, and one for the O’Fallon Parks and Recreation Department,” Baker said.
Sitzes said the community support for the garden and all its efforts has been “overwhelming.”
“One of the things that we’re really proud of with our community garden club is all our work with the local Boy Scouts of America, who have done projects working towards their Eagle Scout awards by helping with the apiary (bee hives), putting in trails and pathways, benches and a new grape arbor,” Sitzes said.
While the garden is at rest now, Baker said, the club members are “busy as the bees” planning and organizing for upcoming 2017 projects, programs and fundraisers.
2017 goals take root
Sitzes said the club members have a slew of goals for the new year of 2017.
Plans are currently being finalized for the proposed education center to be implemented in the epicenter of the garden, Sitzes said.
“It’s going to be a pavilion-like structure with a hard roof, concrete floor but open aired for uses like an outdoor classroom, or a place for people to meet and learn more about gardening, bee keeping, butterfly gardens and lots more,” Sitzes said.
She said fundraising for that will be forthcoming this spring.
“Our goal is to have it in place in 2017, hopefully by the summer,” Sitzes said.
From bird watching, apiary education, gardening and agriculture or horticulture lessons and tips, butterfly watching and observing all the critters like lady bugs and other insects, Sitzes said, the Community Garden could provide people of all ages with new knowledge that is practical and applicable.
“It seemed like the right think to do — to have a place for people to meet, whether it be the Boy or Girl Scouts having their meetings, or a local elementary school class having a biology lesson or a field day at the community garden when weather permits,” Sitzes said.
Baker said locals should mark their calendars for the Fifth Annual Garden Club Trivia Night and Silent Auction event slated for Saturday, Feb. 4, at the Katy Cavins Community Center, located at 308 E. Fifth St. in O’Fallon.
“It is our one major fundraiser for the club, and all the proceeds go back to programs that the club provides the community, and it’s our most successful fundraiser every year, too,” Sitzes said.
With over 30 tables with eight people per table, Sitzes said, the event averages anywhere between 2-300 participants.
“We really appreciate the responsiveness from the community, and then it all goes back to the community members, so it really comes full circle,” Sitzes said.
Graham also said, with the two new roundabouts in town being constructed in 2016 off of Milburn School Road and Simmons Road, the club will have more on its plate to landscape this coming spring.
“In the very near future, the club has another garden site planned near the utility buildings out at the O’Fallon Family Sports Park,” Graham said.
Baker said the club is also finalizing details on a new internship program through the O’Fallon Parks and Recreation Department, as well.
“It’s going to be exciting working with more young people this year,” Baker said.
That’s not all, the club is also implementing a new butterfly garden bed for the State and Smiley streets Community Garden.
“We’ve already bought a lot of trees so far, and it’s really going to be something to see once it’s all done,” Baker said excitedly.
The club holds its monthly meetings, beginning at 6 p.m. for a social hour, the first Tuesday of every month at the Rock Springs Park lodge, located at 1438 E. Third St. in O’Fallon.
The first meeting of the year is slated for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 3 with a program called “Hydroponic Gardening,” focusing on earthworms.
“It should be interesting, and worms do so much to enrich soil, which is critical in gardening,” Baker said.
The program, as most are, are free to the public, and all ages are welcome.