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Conservation@Home Program Expands to School Gardens

Students at Morton Freshman Center preparing their garden.

Just two years since launching the Cook County Conservation@Home program, the Forest Preserves of Cook County and University of Illinois Extension have over 80 members who have certified home gardens or are working on certification. Conservation@Home gardens provide critical habitat for birds, insects and other wildlife. Now, the program is expanding to encourage schools to adopt environmentally friendly practices, as well.

“Not only do school gardens provide an aesthetic value to the school, but these gardens can also be a meeting place for students to learn, be social and be active,” explains Nina Baki of the Forest Preserves.

In 2018, a handful of schools went through a pilot program. Feedback from teachers, Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists was considered to create the Conservation@Home for schools. A big component of the school program is to involve the students in the garden planning, design and maintenance. Teachers will also be required to incorporate their classroom curriculum in the garden area. Other criteria includes:

  • Property features native plants
  • Active removal and management of invasive species
  • Plantings and management practices that attract wildlife
  • Water conservation practices
  • Limiting turf area and/or natural lawn care with minimal inputs

The administration of Cicero’s Morton Freshmen Center, one of the schools that piloted Conservation@Home, launched efforts to participate in the program from the ground up, engaging staff and students to plan, implement and nurture an impressive 5,000-square-foot garden with the support of public programming offered by the Forest Preserves and University of Illinois Extension

Using the garden as an educational tool, the school implemented a year-long community science project that hit all four STEM learning areas. Because of the success of the garden, Morton Freshmen Center will be featured at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. with the “Age of Humans” exhibit starting in June 2019.

“Home is where your community is. We encourage all Cook County community members, including home gardeners, schools, organizations and even businesses, to consider protecting and creating landscaping that is environmentally friendly. Even a small garden can have a big impact in helping native species thrive,” explains Val Kehoe of University of Illinois Extension.

Interested in learning how to join the Conservation@Home program? Call University of Illinois Extension’s Conservation@Home Hotline at 773-233-2900 or visit the Conservation@Home website. A program representative will help determine if a garden meets criteria or offer advice to help gardeners implement more sustainable landscape practices.

Conservation@Home is a program of The Conservation Foundation. The Forest Preserves of Cook County and University of Illinois Extension are pleased to be a partner.

The Forest Preserve Foundation received a $4,500 grant from the Warren G. Lavey Family Charitable Fund to support the Conservation@Home program. The generosity and recommendation of Mr. Warren Lavey and Dr. Holly Rosencranz made the grant possible. Under the direction of the Forest Preserves’ Conservation and Experiential Program Department, the grant funding will support the expansion of the Conservation@Home program to schools where nine pollinator gardens will be installed and expanded.