There’s a very simple philosophy behind Sunnyside Community Garden & Food Forest—Eat Good, Do Good. The garden works to provide fresh and organic produce to the neighborhoods in West Bloomington, Illinois. It’s a non-profit founded on the belief that even the small sprout can influence the community.
Now, thanks to a partnership with Market Wagon, even greater influence can be found in the lives of teens in the neighborhood who are working at Sunnyside this summer.
Sunnyside’s director and garden manager is Caleb Phillips who joined the community garden in 2019. The rest, as they say, is history. He’s got a Master's degree in Community Development and a doctorate degree in leadership, focused on how to train and grow leaders from impoverished neighborhoods. He's even worked in far-flung places like Thailand training local residents about sustainable food sources and clean energy.
Sunnyside or SCGFF began in May 2016 with a variety of vegetable beds as well as raspberries and strawberries. It’s only grown in size, with a clear focus to grow fruits like peaches and vegetables like asparagus which are not usually found in community food pantries, the destination for much of what is harvested.
For years, Sunnyside has worked with the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal to educate youth with a variety of hands-on activities during both summer and after-school programs.
An important next step was taken in the summer of 2021. Caleb initiated a pilot program in which he employed two teens from the neighborhood to work in the garden, both earning a paycheck as well as learning important life skills at the same time. The teens even got to shadow a few different worksites in the community to help them gain better insight to a career they might enjoy after high school.
The revenue from Market Wagon was enough to pay the entire summer’s wages for one of the teens—helping stop the cycle of poverty in the neighborhood. This year, Caleb hopes that sales on Market Wagon can pay for at least two teens as the program expands to eight young adults in the summer of 2022.
“Buy a lettuce or a peach and know that you are helping pay for one at-risk teen to have a job and receive skills and training that can help them from becoming another statistic,” Caleb said.
For Sunnyside, the arrangement on Market Wagon is perfect. The small urban nonprofit doesn’t have the manpower or the resources to be able to do their own delivery routes. But thanks to the online platform, SCGFF can sell to people as far away as Springfield, Decatur, Champaign and Peoria without having to make the trip themselves.
With a mission like ‘Eat Good, Do Good,’ it’s really impossible to make a bad choice with Sunnyside’s fresh produce on Market Wagon. Caleb says the fresh strawberries are absolutely excellent this year, even if they took a little longer than usual thanks to the cooler weather in the spring. He also highly recommends the asparagus, which like everything else, is organically produced even if Sunnyside doesn't pay for it to be certified organic.
There are also plenty of other items to create an amazing salad like the fresh heads of romaine lettuce. Caleb also really likes to recommend the freshley harvested green kale to customers. Items are constantly changing throughout the growing season so be sure to make Sunnyside one of your favorite vendors to stay updated on the latest offerings.