School Teacher Grows Community Through Gardens

School Teacher Grows Community Through Gardens

School Teacher Grows Community Through Gardens

Growing a Future

At the time of this project, Dan Kenney was a school teacher and coordinator of DeKalb County Community Gardens (DCCG), a nonprofit organization that helps establish school and neighborhood gardens throughout DeKalb County.

Kenney noticed that many of his students didn’t make the connection that the foods they ate were a result of the agricultural activities they saw going on around them. With approximately 14 percent of the county’s residents considered food insecure and about half of the students in the county receiving reduced or free lunches, chances were they weren’t getting much fresh food. Kenney said, “If you rely on food pantries, most of that food is going to be canned or boxed and so you don’t get a chance to have fresh, wholesome vegetables.” He believed school and community gardens would provide access to healthy food and help students learn responsibility, leadership skills, business planning, marketing, sustainable agriculture methods, and social service learning.

In 2006, Kenney started working with school gardens by enlisting the help of middle school students who were in an in-school suspension program. Together they built three 10 ft. x 10 ft. raised garden beds behind the school. More recently, Kenney and a class of fourth graders built a 5 ft. x 10 ft. raised bed. The next year, with the help of another teacher, the garden was expanded to eleven beds so that each classroom had their own raised bed. The kids took home some of the produce, and donated the rest to local food pantries. The idea took off. Kenney started an afterschool program for fourth and fifth grade students called the Green Club.

In 2012, the grant project started when two area farmers spoke to Green Club members about sustainable agriculture and how it differs from much of the agriculture practiced throughout the county. They helped students with a seed starting activity, and the seedlings were later transplanted to  the school garden.

Next, Kenney organized a community seed starting event. Adults, young adults, teens, and small children worked together to make seed blocks. The seeded trays were taken to the local high school for the FFA students to tend in the greenhouse. The plants were planted in a community garden.

Larger efforts began. DCCG partnered with the DeKalb County Community Services Department and the County WIC program to create 30 garden beds with the help of 50 volunteers ages 3 to 80 plus. Northern Illinois University students will use the gardens to help provide educational and leadership skill opportunities for many young people.

There are many other efforts and the project has expanded to include over 36 school and community garden sites, totaling 10 acres. DCCG works with over 70 partners and sponsors throughout the county. Partners include Live Healthy DeKalb County, Kishwaukee Family YMCA, Kish Health Systems, and numerous other organizations, nonprofits, businesses, and municipalities.

Kenney is now managing director and president of the board of DeKalb County Community Gardens.


View Dan's presentation on this project, from the 2012 Farmers Forum, through NCR-SARE's YouTube playlist. Visit for this and other videos.

Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) YENC12-050, Growing a Future .

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Location: Illinois | North Central
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This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.