by Leah Mortensen – Augustana College
On Saturday, April 17, 2010, the sun shone and the breeze sighed fresh perennial smells over a small plot of land as roughly one hundred community members gathered at Franklin Field on 10th Street in Rock Island, Illinois to till the ground in preparation for a community garden. Two women, Reverend Dr. Jacqueline Cunningham-Walls of the apostolic church in Rock Island, and Alexa Ritterhoff are responsible for the garden’s anticipated fruition. When asked how these plans began, Reverend Cunningham-Walls replied, “I worked as a parent coordinator in the Rock Island school district. I tried to do what I could [to be involved in local social justice and local food efforts], but was in school at the same time.” Last year, after speaking with a city commissioner and securing a plot of land of about three-quarters of an acre, Dr. Cunningham-Walls was finally able to see her dreams take root. She came into contact with Jim Johansen of Wesley Acres Produce, and with her sister, Alexa, and another friend, planted the plots with food to give to homeless and women’s shelters.
Alexa Ritterhoff became involved with the garden because she recognized a huge need for quality food in homeless and women’s shelters in the Quad Cities, and also saw it as an opportunity to get kids involved in growing food from a young age. Last year, kids from the Martin Luther King Center came to help harvest the produce, and the women hope to see the same, and hopefully more, involvement from kids in the area with the second plot. “The best part of [this garden] is that it’s a community effort,” Ritterhoff said on Saturday. The two-acre plot on Franklin field will soon be planted with potatoes, peas, summer and winter squash, radishes, turnips, spinach, cabbage, kohlrabi, okra, green beans, and four varieties of lettuce.