On-the-Job Rewards: WIU Ag Student Helps Out with Garden Renovation Project at Eisenhower Tower
July 23, 2014
MACOMB, IL — For Grace Foster, a senior studying agricultural education in the Western Illinois University School of Agriculture, this summer has been filled with lessons in agronomy, mostly from her work at WIU's Allison Organic Research and Demonstration Farm. The New Lenox, IL, native has been working under Joel Gruver, assistant professor in the School of Ag and director of Western's Organic Research Program, this season. Foster, who wants to teach agriculture when she finishes her degree, said she specifically was interested in the job because she wanted to grow her agronomy knowledge and experience.
"Most of my ag background has been on the livestock side of the industry. I raised cattle and sheep and used to show them at county fairs. That's why I kind of feel like I needed the crop experience," Foster said. "So far this summer, we've finished planting, and we've done a lot of cultivating. I have also been able to help out with the research stuff going on at the Allison Farm," she added.
As part of her job this summer, Foster helps Gruver with tasks he needs done on and off the Allison Farm. So, last week, when he double-booked a couple of events, Gruver appointed her to lead a garden-renovation project with the residents of the Housing Authority of McDonough County's Eisenhower Tower. Although Foster hadn't previously worked on the wading-pool garden project (which Gruver and other WIU faculty members have been involved with over the years in Macomb), the activity turned out to be a valuable experience for her both personally and professionally.
"It was a really rewarding experience. As part of the project, we were helping one of the residents there, Barb F., renovate her garden, which she had planted to honor her deceased parents. You could tell it meant a lot to her. Because she's in a wheelchair, she couldn't do it by herself, so we were there to help," Foster explained. "And then we had a few kids, who are part of the First Presbyterian Church's Food for Thought gardening program, helping us, too. Being able to work with them enabled me to gain some experience teaching kids how to garden, which goes into my ag education career path," she added.
Rachel Lester, resident services manager at the Housing Authority of McDonough County (HAMC), said projects like the wading-pool garden at Eisenhower Tower provide the residents with therapeutic recreation time that improves the quality of their lives overall.
"We are glad that Joel has continued to be a community volunteer with us, with his wonderful agricultural knowledge, to help our residents maintain and support their garden projects. When you talk to the residents after they have participated in such a project, I think it's clear it's therapeutic for them," she noted. "Because of physical limitations or chronic illnesses that may keep them from being able to maintain the garden spaces on their own, we rely on community volunteers who help support our residents. And that is really where Joel comes in. He and his students have been wonderful supporters of us, showing us what to plant, how to plant and when to plant. They helped us with the idea of using the wading pools as inexpensive, raised garden beds for folks who have physical limitations or disabilities that prevent them from being able to get down and work the ground."
Other current Western students involved with garden-renovation project include C.L. Tarantola, a graduate student studying recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA) in Western's Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development (Tarantola is currently serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer with the HAMC as part of her program at WIU), as well as Brittany Doyle (Milan, IL), a senior double majoring in biology and chemistry (who is also a VISTA volunteer for the First Presbyterian Church's Food for Thought program).
"It has been a great experience for all those involved over the years," said Gruver—who first started setting up wading pool gardens in Macomb in 2009 and the first pools at Eisenhower Tower in 2010.
For more information, contact Gruver at (309) 298-1215 or via email at J-Gruver@wiu.edu.