I had such a good time volunteering at the Chicago Botanic Garden my first summer that I decided to go back the next year. This time I volunteered in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden. It was an entirely different experience.
All the Fruit & Vegetable volunteers, usually about four of us, would arrive early in the morning, before the garden officially opened, and meet in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden Office. The staff would tell us all about the plant we would be giving away that day. They would also prep us so we could answer basic questions about its care, use and how to cook it.
Then we’d go into the garden to the carts. One cart was parked just at the entrance to the Fruit & Vegetable Garden. The other was somewhere in the middle. One volunteer would staff each cart and the other two volunteers would walk through the garden greeting people and answering their questions. We’d change jobs every hour.
The carts were made of wood and painted brown. There was plenty of room on the inside to keep all the plants we would be giving away that day. On the shelf at the top we would display a few plants to create interest. We’d also put our information sheets there. On one side, the sheet would tell all about the plant, its history and how to take care of it. On the other side, the sheet would have one or two recipes telling how to cook it.
I always tried to get the cart at the entrance. I met more people that way. I’d approach them as they entered the garden, saying, “Good morning! How are you?” Usually they’d respond back.
I’d continue, “Would you like a plant to take home today? They’re free and it’s a lot of fun growing them once they start producing peppers (tomatoes, basil, etc.). We also have a sheet that tells how to grow it and there are some recipes on the back.”
Most people said yes. Usually each person in the group wanted their own plant, especially the children. Sometimes people would stop and talk. They’d share how their gardens were coming along at home or how the last plant they’d gotten from us had done.
I always saw lots of smiles. Everyone likes to get something for free, especially when it’s something they can take home, grow for themselves and then actually eat.
The summer passed before I knew it and I had to go back to work. Next time I’ll tell you what I did my third summer at the Garden!