Growing food for yourself or for others? You can do both even if you lack your own garden
Snow piles still dot our parking lots, and trees stand bare without a hint of green foliage, but many in the Midwest are already dreaming about starting a garden.
If planting and tending a garden sounds like a good idea, but you just don’t have the space for one, don’t throw away those dreams just yet.
Champaign-Urbana has several locations with garden plots that are available for public use. You just need to reach out — sooner rather than later — to reserve your spot or otherwise get involved.
Your personal gardening goals will help determine where you go to satisfy your urge to work the soil:
- Are there plots located where you live, where you will be totally in charge of what you grow?
- Can you get a plot subsidized by a park district, where you may make some gardening friends with those working on adjacent plots?
- Do you view gardening as a way to improve a specific neighborhood, whether by providing food, involving kids, or strengthening community?
- Or is gardening the means through which you want to give back to the community at large?
Read on for details about public gardening options in Champaign-Urbana. We do our best to ensure that the information in this post is accurate at the time of publication; please email us to let us know of any updates or corrections.
These Champaign Park District plots are located in Dodds Park between Parkland College and North Mattis Avenue.
The gardening season begins during the first week of April. Water is turned on by mid-April. Plots are available on a year-round or season-by-season basis. Plots that are rented year-round do not need to be cleared by any particular time of year and are the year-round responsibility of the renter. Plots that are rented season-by-season must be cleared by November 1.
Registration is at the Leonhard Recreation Center only. Plots are available year-round in a 20′ x 20′ size or season-by-season in a 20′ x 20′ or 20′ x 30′ size. Elevated plots are available for gardeners with disabilities. Registration for those who had gardens in 2020 began in November; New gardeners may still enroll. LIMIT 2 PER HOUSEHOLD.
- 20′ x 20′ Seasonal Plots (April – October) are $30 for residents or $45 for nonresidents
- 20′ x 30′ Seasonal Plots (April – October) are $40 for residents or $60 for nonresidents
- 20′ x 20′ Year-Round Plots (1/1 – 12/31) are $40 for residents or $60 for nonresidents
Located on N. Randolph St. north of Stratton Elementary School and south of Bradley Ave., Randolph Street Community Gardens is a place for residents to grow their own food in North Champaign. It is also a place for people to come together as a community and be a part of a long term movement towards eating healthy and being connected with the sources of the food we eat. Engaging with children and youth is an integral part of this vision.
Short term goals at Randolph St. include building and caring for the garden space. Long term vision includes developing infrastructure for youth programs, training workshops and organizing a community kitchen.
611 W. Healey
Royse + Brinkmeyer apartments are working with U of I Extension and the College of ACES Metropolitan Food and Environmental Systems (MFST) program to create an urban garden outside their building at 611 W. Healey in Champaign.
Residents will receive help in many areas such as the following: picking out what to grow, when to plant, how to use the gardening space, how to grow in balcony or indoor containers. Contact Royse + Brinkmeyer for more information.
Since 1975, the Meadowbrook Organic Garden Program has supported healthy people and a healthy community. “We provide space, water, hoses and wheelbarrows. You supply tools, plants, labor, and optional fencing.” During the growing season (May-October), a garden supervisor can be contacted with any questions or concerns. Garden plots are rented in “as is” condition and participation is at your own risk. This is a community garden and interaction with the general public is expected and encouraged.
For more information, call the Urbana Park District’s Anita Purves Nature Center at 217-384-4062 or see the Meadowbrook Garden Manual. Tips on the basics of organic gardening are available in the supplemental guide.
To register for a Meadowbrook garden plot:
- Register by calling 217-367-1544 or come in-person to the Phillips Recreation Center. Online registration is not available.
- In addition to the plot rental fee, gardeners pay a $30 deposit. The deposit is returned at the end of the growing season if the gardener abides by the Urbana Park District’s published guidelines. Returning gardeners in good standing earn a discounted deposit.
- New gardeners will receive an orientation email once they are registered. This is when plot selection will take place.
Raised Plot (ADA accessible) 11’ x 3’- $20 resident/$30 non-resident
Half Plot 17’ x 15’- $30 resident/$45 non-resident
Full Plot 17’ x 30’- $50 resident/$75 non-resident
Victory Park, at 1000 E. Green St. in Urbana, was first established in 1920. Records indicate the park was named in recognition of the victory gardens that were planted at the parks location during World War I and in tribute to the successful outcome to the war, which ended just two years before the park’s establishment.
In homage to the victory garden concept, Victory Park features neighborhood community gardening from April-November. Gardens can be reserved by neighbors by contacting the Urbana Park District at 217-384-4062.
Orchard Downs Garden is part of the Orchard Downs graduate student housing complex on the University of Illinois campus. Garden plots are located south of the Orchard Downs apartments. Plots are 10′ x 10′ yards; they rent for $40 for residents of Family and Graduate Housing and $70 for non-residents. Water is on site to use. Interested gardeners can email for more information or contact the Orchard Downs Family Housing Council. The FHC is responsible for assigning garden plots, collecting garden plot rental fees, and managing the garden.
The Lierman Neighborhood Community Garden is a project of the Lierman Neighborhood Action Committee (LNAC) aiming to provide free produce and sliding scale plot rental to combat the food desert of East Urbana.
The garden is located at the corner of Lierman Avenue and Washington Street in Urbana. LNAC leases the land for $1 per year from the City of Urbana. The garden was dedicated on September 8, 2012.
Volunteers grow produce for the community and distribute it for free on Saturdays during the growing season. Additionally, community members may rent plots at the garden on a sliding scale of $7 to $25; some raised beds also are available. For more info see their Facebook page.
Solidarity Gardens C-U
Solidarity Gardens C-U was launched in June of 2020 by Cunningham Township in collaboration with Sola Gratia Farm, Channing Murray Foundation, Urbana Free Library, Urbana Park District, and other community partners. According to its website, “By providing seeds, tools, knowledge, and redistribution, we intend to address current and worsening food insecurity by supporting local residents in growing food for themselves as well as our neighbors in need. We encourage individuals and organizations to work with us to create gardens throughout the Champaign-Urbana area and to donate seeds, garden supplies, and expertise.”
In other words, Solidarity Gardens wants people in Champaign-Urbana to grow food, and they want to help. They will help you get garden space/supplies (at some of the locations listed above, as well as at gardens they own); they will support you starting your own garden at home; they will help get the food you grow to people who need it; and they welcome volunteers and/or donations at all steps of this process.
One of the many community partners involved in Solidarity Gardens C-U is The Urbana Free Library, which this spring has launched a free seed lending library.
See the Solidarity Gardens Facebook page for information on how to get involved. We can’t wait to see what they accomplish in 2021!
More Garden Volunteer Opportunities
Prosperity Gardens, headquartered on N. 1st St. in Champaign, is a program of the City of Champaign Township offering employment opportunities to homeless individuals through the CU@Work Program. The urban farm sells its affordable produce at the Champaign Farmers Market and makes food donations to the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen and the Carle Mobile Market. For information about volunteering, send email, use Facebook, or call 217.419.2855.
Give Back Garden is a project of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD), located at 201 W. Kenyon Rd. in Champaign. Volunteers supervised by CUPHD staff grow produce to supplement CUPHD’s food pantry, so all produce is free of charge, available in their lobby when it is harvested. For volunteer information, contact them through email or Facebook.
Did we miss a gardening opportunity in your community? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.