NORMAL, Ill. — Illinois State University Horticulture Center staff and students got creative with Christmas bobbles and greenery to raise the green to pay for tractor repairs.
Staff and students give their Kubota tractor a good workout at the center’s land in northern Normal. Some students are new to working with such equipment, said Jessica Chambers, director of the Horticulture Center.
In the past, staff and students who are part of the agriculture department at the university have held a “make and take” holiday wreath event to raise funds for equipment repair.
This year, the team made the wreaths in November and buyers came to pick them up, following COVID-19 pandemic protocol.
“We raised more than $1,000, and that’s enough to fix the tractor,” Chambers said.
The tractor is used on the center’s 23 acres of land, which includes an outdoor laboratory. It features various themed gardens, with the largest a children’s garden.
The center, located across the road from the Corn Crib baseball stadium, is designed as a learning area for fine arts, biology and other disciplines as well as the horticulture and agriculture programs. Herbs, native plants, vegetables, native grains, production grains and formal gardens are all at the center.
The center also serves as outreach to the community, said Chambers, a 1993 graduate of the Illinois State horticulture program.
The largest fundraiser for the 15-year-old center is its annual Autumnal Festival which draws the community in to see the newest gardens, witness unveiling of new artwork, find bargains in the autumnal market, see scarecrows on parade or navigate a giant sunflower maze.
Some visitors are entirely new to seeing how things grow.
“I had a student in the fruit garden look up at an apple tree and ask if it was tomatoes growing there. I was in shock. But this is what we do,” Chambers said. She quickly made it a teaching moment, taking the student over to the area of the garden where tomatoes were growing.
The outdoor center was very popular this year, with more than 100 visitors a day in August and September. That’s a big change from its first year when very few people were aware of it. Only 27 people visited the entire first year.
“Almost all of those were lost,” Chambers said, joking about the humble beginnings of the gardens in 2005.