Active garden changes landscape of West Bloomington

The cool September breeze rustles through the thick, green leaves.  The rich smell of soil and basil mix in the air.  Small, red tomatoes hang from thick vines, and green peppers hide between leaves.  A butterfly lands on a flower, and a bird chirps in the distance.  Five children crouch in the dirt, gently placing seeds in the moist ground.  

This blossoming garden began with two people and two acres of undeveloped land.  Just four months ago, in May 2016, Colleen Connelly with her mother, Jan Turner, opened the West Bloomington Active Garden.  

Years ago, Turner formulated the idea of creating an active garden.  As an avid gardener, she desired to share her passion with others, and offer free, fresh food to areas that lacked those resources.  Connelly, a member of the Innovative Entrepreneurs program, chose to open an active garden as her business venture.  Using the skills and tools the Innovative Entrepreneur program offered her, Connelly was able to assist her mother in creating the garden.

After only four months of planting and cultivating, their garden is blooming.  The garden began as an empty piece of two acre land at the end of Illinois Street.  

Turner states that without the generous help of the community, the garden would be nowhere near as successful.  The Prairie Earth Farms donated many of the plants currently growing the garden.  There was also a generous donor who provided a truck full of mulch, compost, and soil.  

Along with generous donations, there was a large outpouring of volunteers.  Turner states that through the entire process of creating the food forest, the overall highlight has been “all of the people wanting to help, and them being willing to give up their free time.”

The Boys and Girls Club has been a significant part of the active garden.  Children who participate in the after-school program at the Club walk over to the garden and assist in planting, weeding, and harvesting.  

“The active garden is meant to bring kids in and give them a chance to experience gardening, the outdoors, fresh food, learn different things, and maybe food preparation,” states Turner.

Though the garden has a great number of people supporting them, Turner stressed the importance of supporting others.  One of their greatest goals is to reach out to the surrounding community and teach them the importance of fresh foods.

West Bloomington is a food desert, meaning that fresh food isn’t readily accessible.  The nearest stores are gas station markets and liquor stores.  The active garden gives the surrounding community members access to fruits and vegetables.

On the West Bloomington Active Garden’s website, they state, “we believe that people have a right to fresh, local produce, no matter their socioeconomic status…  Through local partnerships and meal programs, we are planning to donate some of the food we grow directly to the people affected by the food desert.”

Though opening the garden has been almost entirely positive, there have been some challenges.  “The most difficult part is making connections with the neighbors,” Turner states.  “Hopefully the neighborhood will come and share… It has been a little hard to make friends, and to help them understand that this is theirs.”

The garden is small right now, so Turner hopes that as trees start growing and more beds are formed, neighbors will begin to understand that this is a food forest, made for them.  

“I made a friend last Friday,” Turner states.  “He came over wondering what I was doing.  I told him to take whatever he wanted; this is for you!  He was so grateful.”  

As the years pass, the children will grow up and move on.  New kids will pass through.  New trees will be planted.  The foliage will expand, and harvests will be plentiful.  More volunteers will come, community connections will form, and Turner and Connelly will get to see the fruit of their labor.