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Finding inspiration at Troy Gardens

By Deb Crockett, Senior Program Director


This year in Rockford we expanded the farm operation at Blackhawk Courts Farm and Garden significantly, increasing both productivity and community activity.  As the season winds down, we will soon enter a planning and visioning process with Blackhawk leadership to collectively envision the future of the farm. 


I wanted our team to visit Community GroundWorks in Madison, and its centerpiece, the 31-acre Troy Gardens.  Goals at Blackhawk are very similar to those at Troy: community engagement around issues of food and farming, food production, enterprise development, and ecological stewardship, but Troy has the advantages of time: over 10 years as a production farm, and much longer as a community garden space. 


Last week, despite rainy weather, the volunteer and staff leadership from Blackhawk traveled north to visit Troy.  We were first wowed by the children’s garden, with creative and interactive elements, such as a sweet and sour patch, a pizza garden, and a living stage.  As Blackhawk is home to hundreds of children, such a play area caught our collective imagination, which invites peace, free play and interaction with the natural world.


The adjacent outdoor kitchen was perfectly integrated with the children’s garden, and included stainless steel countertops with plenty of workspace, a play-style farm stand, and a newly finished earth oven for baking. 


We enjoyed the greenhouse (and recognized the architectural style of Roald Gundersen, who recently completed the Learning Center’s whole tree bridge over Kinnickinnick Creek).  Besides some nifty green technology (vents powered by wax that melts when the temperature rises above a critical level!), we discussed some of the production potential for season extension, plant starts, and proper storage of vegetables. 


Next, we passed through the community garden, a botanical testimony to both the diversity of the community and the creativity of the gardeners. 


Finally, we visited the five-acre CSA farm (which feeds 200 families, plus generates extra for a farm stand and wholesale), and learned about production systems, labor, and their impressive income from such a small land base. 


Over the next few months, we will work with residents and leadership at Blackhawk Courts to envision the unfolding of the project over the next few years.  In 10 years, we hope many people will take similar journeys to Blackhawk Courts to see Rockford’s own outstanding, comprehensive and dynamic urban farm.      


Photos by Kathleen Townsend