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GALESBURG, IL (AP)

Backyard Harvest, an initiative created to get residents out into the community gardening has grown its way into the hearts of locals.

Mark Rasmussen, a Master Gardener, said the idea came when he was growing fruit tree orchards around town locally and he heard from Bambi Strom.

Strom, in charge of marketing for the project, was looking to do something similar for the community and they had a common goal and decided to work together.

Grace Anglican Church had the space to offer for the project — 76,000 square feet of backyard.

Andy Ainley, the pastor of the church, said if he had it his way, the entire backyard of the church would be used for the garden.

Currently, 15,000 square feet of the backyard is used for the garden, which is taken care of by about 15 volunteers and some who have their own plot in the garden.

'When you're working together and you got your hands in the dirt, you just can't help but be nice to one another,' said Ainley

The goal of the project is to have a garden within a mile of every home in town, which means they're hoping to have around 14 gardens over the next few years.

The plot is meant for the community, as 100 percent of its growth and produce will be for locals and grown by Galesburg residents.

Rasmussen said the garden will have a mix of perennial plants and even some fruits; residents also will be able to use a section of the garden to plant whatever they want.

One of the reasons the backyard for the church is a great spot for the location for the garden is it was once farmland, so the area is already ripe and used to vegetation.

Strom said all they are looking for in volunteers is someone with the willingness to do what it takes to care for the garden.

She added many of those volunteering have gardens of their home and love the hobby.

Both Strom and Rasmussen said the project is relying on donations. The biggest cost is acquiring the land, so what they have done is bid on Knox County lots or those owned by the city of Galesburg.

Rasmussen said the costs can vary, but for an orchard, it could cost $1,800 and for gardens, $1,000 for the first year and $300 for yearly upkeep.

However, for Rasmussen, the project is a passion, as he enjoys teaching and sharing his craft and love of gardening with others.

Rasmussen said when he was younger his father taught him how to garden and it was natural for him to always be around one.

'Every time I water a garden, he is right there with me,' said Rasmussen.

The same could be said for Strom as she helped her grandmother when she was a child, and now whenever she toils away in a yard it brings those memories back to her.

Strom said if anyone is interested in joining the initiative for the garden, to join their Facebook page Backyard Harvest.

'There is a good segment of the community interested in this and (that) wants to see it succeed,' said Strom.

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