VISTA workers growing hope

VISTA workers attend part of their community garden crops at 1st Presbyterian Church in Shelbyville. Pictured left to right are: volunteer Kierra Hybarger, VISTA worker Liz Carswell, and VISTA worker Wyatt Moon.

The Shelbyville Community Gardens had sprouted, but now are thriving with the help of VISTA workers Wyatt Moon and Liz Carswell.

Several people applied, but Shelby County's own were picked as VISTA workers to help alleviate food insecurity for low income families in the Shelbyville Area.

AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program designed to alleviate poverty. President John F. Kennedy originated the idea for VISTA, which was founded as Volunteers in Service to America in 1965, and incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs in 1993.

Moon grew up in Cowden and Carswell in Shelbyville. Moon brings his horticulture skills to the community garden project and Carswell more administrative know-how. Moon is a student at Lake Land College in horticulture and Carswell is attended Eastern Illinois University with a goal of being earning a Phd in Spanish Literature.

The two operate out of the 1st Presbyterian Church office, outside of which is located one of the 3 community garden plots. Another plot is located near HSHS Good Shepherd Hospital and the third near the Visitor's Center at Lake Shelbyville. All of the vegetables that are grown in the Community Garden are taken fresh to the food pantry at the 1st United Methodist Church in Shelbyville.

Moon, Carswell, and volunteer Kierra Hybarger tend the gardens plots, under Moon's direction, then wash the ripe produce and package it and deliver it to the food bank.

They also provide class at Shelby County Community Services and help in a luncheon program at the Presbyterian Church the last Saturday of the month.

Moon, 20, was in FFA and 4-H growing up and is studying horticulture.

"I'm going into my 2nd year and I am getting credit at Lake Land for my work this summer," Moon said. "Its very rewarding growing these plants and then taking the food over to the food pantry."

Moon started the plants in his own greenhouse at home and then brought them over to the community garden. He was also able to graft in disease resistant roots to Heirloom tomatoes and strengthen the plants at the community garden for a better crop.

"The roots are pretty happy," Moon said. "We don't use any chemicals on the plants. The only thing we use is a little baking soda and water in a sprayer."

They are growing peppers, zucchini, squash, corn, watermelon, beets, turnips. radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, beans, cabbage, lettuce, eggplant, broccoli, and basil. They do the planting, pruning, pest management, training and feeding the plants.

Carswell, 20, arrived straight from a 4-month educational trip to Spain to join in at the Community Garden. She has 2 years left at Eastern and will graduate in 2021. She already had some experience working in organizing with the EIU Department of World Languages.

"I care about the community and when this opportunity came up I wanted to do it," Carswell said. 'I've learned how to write grants and to interact with people. The community really works together on this project, HSHS Good Shepherd Hospital, the Corps of Engineers and are other partners. We can always use more partners, financially, providing land, labor, and donations."

She said they can use volunteers, like when the Cub Scout Pack #51 and HSHS helped with planting. She also praised Mary Beth Massey from the University of Illinois Extension Office.

"She's been incredible, donating her time and getting a major grant for the planter boxes, soil, and plants," Carswell said. "Brenda Elder has been involved even though she is retired. She helps with inventory, harvest, accumulating "in kind" donations and developing future plans. She doesn't get paid."

In addition to the garden work, Moon and Carswell also spent time painting at the Windsor school, which provides a lunch program for kids and even adults throughout the summer. Food insecurity is an issue in Shelbyville and the area with over half the children in the school system qualifying for free or reduced lunch.

Moon is serving a 8-week term, and will then return to school for a class. After that he still plans to come back and stay involved in the garden and finish the job. Carswell is working for 10 weeks and then fall semester will start for her.

Hybarger, who studied criminal justice, is Moon's girlfriend and her father is also in horticulture. She is volunteering alongside the VISTAs and is also concerned with the growing process.

Moon and Carswell recievs a subsitance wage and most of their effort is rewarded in scholarships towards their schooling costs, the equivalent of about $10 an hour.