Growing food for yourself or for others? You can do both even if you lack your own garden
Though the weather outdoors may have taken a chilly turn, many of us 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 (like the Royse + Brinkmeyer apartments at 611 W. Healey), 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.
University of Illinois
Illini Urban Farmers provides UIUC students with hands-on experiences in sustainable urban agriculture. Academically, these students could be affiliated with the Metropolitan Food & Environmental Systems (MFST) major or the Food and Environmental Systems minor in ACES. You may find these students involved in planning or volunteering at many of these garden sites and projects listed here.
Orchard Downs is a graduate student housing complex on the University of Illinois campus. Garden plots are located south of the Orchard Downs apartments and are accessible from April through October. In 2022, 10-yard by 10-yard plots rented for $40 to residents of Family and Graduate Housing and $70 to non-residents. Interested gardeners can watch Orchard Downs social media for further garden information.
The Sustainable Student Farm is a 5-acre educational farm where U of I students can learn about growing and selling fresh food — at a weekly campus farm stand as well as to the university’s Dining Services. It grows an array of vegetables and fruit using organic practices and are a space for all kinds of hands-on learning: agriculture, engineering, architecture, native plants, art, and more. The farm hires regular employees as well as summer interns (for credit!), accepts volunteers, and even offers a six-month non-degree small farm certificate from the University of Illinois.
The Champaign Park District’s community garden plots are for everyone, from the experienced gardener to the beginner. Plots are available in two locations in several sizes, with elevated plots for participants with disabilities. The gardening season officially begins on April 1. Water will be turned on in mid-April. All seasonal plots must be cleared by October 29. Spring till is the responsibility of the plot renter.
The Eddie Albert Community Garden plots are located in Dodds Park (between Parkland College and North Mattis Avenue), and the Human Kinetics plots are features of the brand new Martens Center at Human Kinetics Park.
Eddie Albert Community Gardens (sign up in person at Leonhard Rec Center, call 217-398-2550 with questions)
- 11′ x 3′ Raised Seasonal Plots (April-October): $20 residents / $30 nonresidents
- 20′ x 20′ Seasonal Plots (April – October): $40 residents / $60 nonresidents
- 20′ x 30′ Seasonal Plots (April – October): $50 residents / $75 nonresidents
- 20′ x 20′ Year-Round Plots (Jan. 1-Dec. 31): $50 residents / $75 nonresidents
Human Kinetics Garden Plots (sign up in person at Martens Center, call 217-819-3843 with questions)
- 7′ x 3′ Seasonal Plots (April – October): $15 residents / $22.50 nonresidents
- 11′ x 3′ Seasonal Plots (April – October): $20 residents / $30 nonresidents
Randolph Street Community Garden
Located on North Randolph Street north of Stratton Elementary School and south of Bradley Avenue, Randolph Street Community Garden is a place for residents to grow their own food in North Champaign, in partnership with Champaign’s Church of the Brethren. 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 Street include building and caring for the garden space. Long term vision includes developing infrastructure for youth programs, training workshops and organizing a community kitchen and greenhouse.
Dawn Mosley Blackman Sr. is the steward of the Randolph Street Garden. At the 2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Countywide Celebration, she was awarded the James R. Burgess Jr./Susan Freiburg Humanitarian Award, given to someone who makes the community a better place.
Headquartered on North First Street in Champaign, Prosperity Gardens 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 how to get involved, see its Facebook page.
The Give Back Garden is a project of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD), located at 201 W. Kenyon Road in Champaign. It is an opportunity for people from Champaign County to discuss their gardens, offer suggestions and advice to new gardeners, promote local Farmer’s Markets and gardening events, encourage the use of LINK cards to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, and as a resource for donating excess produce to local food pantries.
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, use email or Facebook.
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.
To register for a Meadowbrook garden plot:
- Register by calling (217) 367-1544 or in-person at 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
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 has gained many additional community partners along the way. By providing seeds, tools, knowledge, and redistribution, Solidarity Gardens addresses current and worsening food insecurity by supporting local residents in growing food for itself as well as its neighbors in need. It encourages individuals and organizations to work together and create gardens throughout the Urbana-Champaign area and to donate seeds, garden supplies, labor and expertise.
In other words, Solidarity Gardens wants people in Champaign-Urbana to grow food, and it wants to help. Solidarity Gardens will help you get garden space and supplies (at some of the locations listed above, as well as at gardens it owns); it will support you starting your own garden at home; it will help get the food you grow to people who need it; and it welcomes volunteers or donations at all steps of this process.
If you or your group is interested in volunteering, Solidarity Gardens CU is looking for a variety of help: caretakers of individual gardens, workers willing to tackle jobs at various garden sites, cooks, and more. If you get on its volunteer list, organizers will no doubt find a way for you to contribute.
One of the many community partners involved in Solidarity Gardens C-U is The Urbana Free Library, which runs a free seed lending library.
See the Solidarity Gardens Facebook page for more information on how to get involved.
Victory Park, at 1000 E. Green Street 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.
Started in 2012 and located on Philo Road in Urbana, Sola Gratia Farm is a ministry of St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Sola Gratia is a community-based farm dedicated to producing locally-grown, high-quality, natural produce, of which it donates a minimum of 10 percent to support regional hunger programs.
It encourage community involvement in the farm, not just through CSA membership (or buying the produce each week at area farmers markets) but also through volunteer opportunities, special events and educational programming. No doubt 2023 will bring a multitude of additional volunteer opportunities as part of Sola Gratia Farm’s exciting expansion project onto 29 newly purchased acres.
Did we miss a gardening opportunity in your community? Email us and let us know.