CHAMPAIGN — The City of Champaign Township is making plans to take over Prosperity Gardens and put the homeless to work growing food.
The township board still needs to approve the transaction early next month, but a closing is tentatively set for Sept. 9, township Supervisor Andy Quarnstrom told News-Gazette Media on Monday.
Plans call for the township to become the owner of the former Champaign police evidence building at 303 N. First St. that Prosperity Gardens bought from the city last year for a dollar, along with the two adjacent lots that have been planted as community gardens.
The township would also take over license agreements that Prosperity Gardens has had with the city for two additional garden lots across the road to the east and a 1-acre lot in Beardsley Park.
“We’re very excited,” Quarnstrom said.
Tending the gardens would be the homeless participants in the CU@Work program, in which homeless people have been employed for $10 an hour and given a meal, Quarnstrom said.
The nonprofit organization operating Prosperity Gardens will be dissolved, according to the program’s former executive director, Nicole Musumeci.
Prosperity Gardens was launched in 2010 as an urban farming venture to provide both hands-on gardening education and locally grown produce for low-income residents of Champaign-Urbana.
Musumeci said she had to leave the organization at the end of last year after her mother became ill. She remains in Champaign and plans to help with the transition and remain involved as a volunteer, she said.
Quarnstrom said CU@Work, launched by the township and C-U at Home, has been a well-received program that’s focused mostly on city beautification to date.
When a request for proposals to take over Prosperity Gardens was issued, he said, it seemed like a good fit for both the mission of the township and the work program, he said.
Not only does this urban farming operation provide a work opportunity with dignity for the homeless, Quarnstrom said, it will continue growing nutritious food for those in the community who need it.
Also a good fit is the location of Prosperity Gardens just blocks away from two organizations serving the homeless — Daily Bread Soup Kitchen at 116 N. First St., C and C-U at Home, which operates a drop-in center for the homeless at 70 E. Washington St., C, Quarnstrom said.
Since there wasn’t any planting done on Prosperity Gardens’ lots this year, the first job for the work program participants this fall will be getting the lots cleaned up and in shape for planting next spring, he said.
Pending final approval by the township board (which is made up of Champaign City Council members), plans will call for doing spring planting next year on the lots on both sides of North First Street, with a goal of building raised beds in Beardsley Park and planting there the following year, Quarnstrom said.
“We really want to keep a lot of Prosperity Gardens’ mission and do the same things they’ve been doing,” he said.
Musumeci said she and Prosperity Gardens’ board members were sad about stepping away but proud of what has been accomplished.
Now they’re excited about seeing what comes next, she said.
“My heart is still very much with the organization,” she said.