Winter is, hands down, my least favorite time of the year, so to say that the blizzard got on my last nerve is putting it mildly. However, the Village of Forest Park email newsletter that I received during that time cheered me up immensely.

Beneath the instructions about snow routes, I found some amazing news: the village was awarded a $145,000 model-community grant to help create healthy living programs! This talk of parks, gardens and farmer’s markets reminded me that spring isn’t too far away, so I decided to further bolster my mood by talking to the board of directors at the Community Garden to find out more about what we have to look forward to as the ice melts.

My parents, both of whom are nurses, raised me with a love for the environment and an appreciation for a healthy and active lifestyle. My mother has always gardened and once I bought my place here in Forest Park, she helped me cultivate some small beds around my town house.

It makes me very proud to see the village actively pursuing healthy and environmentally friendly programs for its residents and I’m eager to see what will come of this grant.

Gina Thomas, Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Community Garden expressed similar sentiments. She told me that she is continually pleasantly surprised by the support and the opportunities that the Forest Park community has given the Community Garden, which is only in its third year, and just received its non-profit status last year.

Board President Jessica Rinks said: “We are a relatively young non-profit organization and had not yet had the opportunity to work on a grant of this magnitude.  We were honored that the village wanted to include us.”

Previously the Community Garden raised funds from bake sales, plants sales and donations, so the board is thrilled that the Village was awarded the grant. Rinks called it “a major game-changer in terms of what we can offer the community.”

Community Garden told the Village Board last Tuesday that their desire is “that all residents will become more aware of where food comes from and many residents will participate directly in growing and preparing their own food.”

They will also continue to donate fresh produce to the Food Pantry, which, through the grant, may have the opportunity to purchase a walk-in refrigerator to store produce properly.

Getting the grant means that the Community Garden can offer more gardening opportunities and educational programs for Forest Parkers. One example is the upcoming seed swap and seed-starting demonstration on Sunday, Feb. 27. The swap is an opportunity for gardeners to trade seeds, but the Community Garden has developed ways for folks to participate if they don’t have seeds.

For Michelle Woehrle, the 2010 seed swap was her introduction to the Community Garden and she said it was great to meet likeminded Forest Parkers and “learn tips and tricks from more experienced gardeners.”

Board member Julia Moran Martz says that she would love to get twenty people who are new to gardening, but “curious, enthusiastic, and really want to learn” to sign up for the swap at Registration for this free event ends on Feb. 20, or as soon as the slots fill, so sign up soon. You can also check out Julia’s blog,

Whether you’re an experienced gardener or someone who wants to try their hand at gardening for the first time this year, the seed swap is the place to be if you want get into that spring state of mind and see firsthand what this grant means for our community.

• Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site