Green Scene: Garden represents community, NIU partnership

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on May 8 to mark the beginning of construction of the NIU Communiversity Gardens. This partnership with Northern Illinois University and the DeKalb County Community Gardens (DCCG) will stress the importance of locally grown food and be an educational tool for the community.

Dan Kenney, director of DCCG, pointed out that the 22,000-square-foot garden on the east side of Anderson Hall is appropriately located near a bridge over the Kishwaukee River. It is symbolic of bridging the university with the community of DeKalb.

Speakers at the ceremony included DeKalb Mayor John Rey and NIU President Doug Baker.

“I think growing to nearly 40 community gardens this year, countywide, represents the impact that the community gardens are having on our local sustainable initiative,” Rey said.

“This project got a little wind in its sails in the Bold Futures workshop this fall. A lot of people talked about it at that time, and said let’s quit talking about it, let’s go. And so here we are today, isn’t that great?” Baker said.

“This is a part of a F.O.O.D.S. [Food Operations, Opportunities, Development, and Strategies] initiative that will look at composting and [creating] a food hub,” said Melissa Burlingame, Outreach & Communications Coordinator for Environmental Studies at the university.

The garden will be completed in several phases, beginning with the International garden, which represents the diversity of the students at NIU.

“The international garden is divided into four quarters,” garden designer Michaela Holtz said. “Each quarter will contain vegetable plants from their continent of origin. The quarters will represent the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia, and Africa.”

Other phases will include a wild edible garden, a children’s garden, a wheelchair-accessible garden, an urban container garden, medicinal garden, herb garden and an heirloom vegetables section.

“This isn’t just our project, it is your project as well. It’s the community’s project,” said Jacob Lawrence, president of the Communiversity Gardens student group. “This is a dream come true, personally.”

The student group began working with Dan Kenney and DCCG in January of this year.

“Dan did all the coordinating and signing of the contract with NIU. DCCG is a very important partner,” Lawrence said.

Master gardeners Heath Johnson and Nathan Dettman invited all attendees to plant an onion bulb in honor of the inauguration of the Communiversity gardens.

For more information and to volunteer or donate, visit

Green Scene is written by Renee Kopulos and Linda Yates, members of a citizens group working with the City of DeKalb Citizens Environmental Commission. Contact them at, with “Green Scene” in the subject line.

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