KIRKLAND – Heather Edwards remembers her grandmother Loretta Asselborn always being busy, even in her 70s and 80s.
“She was very active, and I don’t even know how she kept track of her schedule,” Edwards said. “One day she was like, ‘Well I can’t tomorrow, Heather, because I’m going over to read to a woman who can no longer see.’ And I just remember thinking to myself how I wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives just like my grandma did.”
It’s been five years since Edwards got involved in DeKalb County Community Gardens; and while many know of its founder, Dan Kenney, Edwards’ family also was instrumental in the gardens’ growth. Edwards, now the associate director of DCCG and program director for Kirkland’s Walnut Grove Vocational Farm, grew up in Hinckley and lives in Kingston, so she’s always been deeply connected to DeKalb County’s rural roots. She’s a longtime volunteer of the former Genoa-Kingston Food Pantry (that now has a home in the Genoa Area Community Food Hub) and a former instructor of greenhouse management at Kishwaukee College.
She’s also a small-business owner who merged her love for plants with her love for giving. Before joining DeKalb County Community Gardens, Edwards founded One Seed, One Plant, a small online business where she’d ship plants to buyers all across the country, from Pennsylvania to Florida.
With every purchase, she’d look up the buyers’ address, find the nearest food pantry in their neighborhood and donate a portion of the sale to the pantry.
When she was a teacher at Kishwaukee College, she remembers watching a documentary on the California-based shoe company TOMS, and how they employ a “one for one” business model, where they donate one pair of shoes to a child in need around the world for every pair of shoes sold.
“I was just very inspired by that,” Edwards said.
Edwards’ passion for agriculture and food insecurity was born as a product of her grandmother’s example, her work volunteering at the food pantry and her parents’ greenhouse business, Ozzie’s Greenhouse.
On her first day as a volunteer at the pantry, she saw a man there who she described as looking more hopeless than she’s ever seen anyone look.
“I’ve never forgotten that moment,” Edwards said. “It’s just one of those things where I may be having a bad day like, ‘Oh, why am I doing this?’ and I go back and I think about my grandma and the G-K food pantry and it gets me going again.”
In 2015, her parents decided they wanted to retire from the greenhouse business, and were looking to sell the business and their paths crossed with, who else, but Kenney.
“My parents were tired from their greenhouse business and Dan had been working with my parents in purchasing plants for the gardens,” Edwards said. “So they must have mentioned they were going to sell. The organization bought the greenhouses and I came with it.”
“She’s been a volunteer for many years at the G-K Food Pantry,” Kenney recalled, sitting next to Edwards in the greenhouses’ new home at the Walnut Grove Vocational Farm in Kirkland. “It was out of those, I think, values and those interests that she had already that gave her the idea of what we were doing.”
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