Members Area

Founders Fund Current Recipient

Sowing and Growing: Evanston Grows

Proposed by Garden Club of Evanston, Zone XI

Seconded by Cedar Rapids Garden Club, Zone XI

The Garden Club of America’s (GCA) Founders Fund was established in 1934 to provide financial support, through a competitive grant program, to projects proposed by GCA member clubs. The projects are designed to restore, improve, and protect the quality of the environment through educational programs and action in the fields of conservation and civic improvement. This year the $30,000 winning grant was awarded to Sowing and Growing Evanston Grows: Urban Gardens and Community in Evanston, Illinois.

Founded in 2021, Evanston Grows is a non-profit collective of community organizations and individuals that aims to reduce food insecurity in a city where one of every six residents is at risk. 

Evanston Grows currently cultivates 18 edible gardens that provide free, fresh organic produce to Evanston’s most underserved neighborhoods. Evanston Grows directly manages three of these gardens, and partners with 15 neighborhood gardens farmed by, and for, local residents. This year, Evanston Grows shared 4,000 pounds of fresh, organic food at its two farm stands in the 5th and 8th Wards, areas where many food insecure residents live and which are majority BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color). In addition, Evanston Grows organizes internships and educational opportunities for all residents of Evanston to learn more about gardening, cooking, and nutrition.

The Garden Club of Evanston, alongside its community partner, Evanston Grows will use the Founders Funds grant to grow more food to share in 2023, extend educational programming, and show how gardening by, and for, the community can advance health equity. 

Because demand at its farm stands always far exceeds its supplies, this is a critical time for the organization as inflation continues to increase food insecurity in Evanston. To do this, Evanston Grows plans to establish a large urban food garden on an undeveloped 50 x 50 ft plot in the 8th ward. The church that owns this plot has agreed to allow use of the land for this purpose, and distribution will be seamless at the USDA-approved food pantry that is already located on site. This pantry currently serves over 110 families weekly but lacks fresh produce. Evanston Grows has secured other funding sources to pay the staff needed to maintain this new garden. In addition, they require additional funding to improve the Eggleston food garden developed in 2022. Productivity and efficiency at this garden will be significantly increased by the addition of a washing stand and large shed, as well as the enhancement of its soil, irrigation and fencing systems.

The new garden, like Eggleston and all the gardens and farm stands that are part of Evanston Grows, will quickly become community spaces where volunteers and local residents come together to garden, learn to garden, share cooking ideas or simply share their stories. 

Making gardening accessible to everyone is central to the mission of Evanston Grows, Garden Club of Evanston and the GCA. 

A portion of the Founders Grant will be used for educational programs in its gardens and elsewhere – including the installation of a native pollinator garden and a butterfly garden that can be used for this purpose. By funding all these complementary initiatives, the Founders Fund grant would go far to demonstrate how stimulating the growth of urban, community food gardens – and the gardening skills needed to maintain them – not only provides a short-term answer to food insecurity and health inequity in our cities, but also a longer-term model that can be sustained.

Two additional grants of $10,000 each have been awarded by The Garden Club of America. 

The St. George’s Garden Club in Zone VI will use the funds to rehabilitate a historic carriage house and a stable on the grounds of The Cylburn Arboretum Friends Nature Center in Baltimore, MD. 

The new Nature Education Center is now under construction, including designs for an adjacent Garden classroom. The Garden will introduce visitors to the Arboretum’s world of trees. The Founders Funds grant will be dedicated to providing regionally appropriate, native plant material and trees for the Garden. For kids who may have only seen “street trees” this garden will serve as a sort of launch pad before they enter the “wild wood.” It will include benches made from recycled Arboretum wood and hammocks designed to encourage looking up at the tree canopy beneath a large existing Catalpa tree. 

Glenview Garden Club in Zone VII plans to use Founders Fund grant funds to build a butterfly and bee pollinator meadow at Chickasaw Park in honor of Muhammad Ali. 

Special and worthy of this new development, Chickasaw is the only park in the country designed specifically for the Black community by The Olmsted Brothers Firm during the era of segregation.

This pollinator meadow will not only benefit park users but also the environment. The Chickasaw neighborhood suffers from a disproportionate amount of air pollution from nearby chemical plants. The meadow will become a resource for the community that helps mitigate effects of pollution and climate change, improves educational and recreational opportunities, and invokes the spirit of its most famous user through the countless butterflies and bees who float and sting, just like The Greatest. Glenview Garden Club has already raised over $12,000 in addition to the Founders Fund to help realize this goal.

The first Founders Fund award of $700 was presented in 1936 to the Amateur Gardeners Club for an English-language publication of the oldest known American herbal, the 1552 Badianus Manuscript, Johns Hopkins Press. Since then, two-hundred seventy-two Founders Fund winners and runners-up have received more than $1.5 million to save thousands of acres of land and innumerable trees, to restore historic landmarks, to establish civic plantings, and to conduct research and educational projects across the country.