URBANA, Ill., (WCIA) — Hundreds of gardeners in Central Illinois are doing more than just planting produce. They’re training, growing, and then donating it to others. 

About 500 master gardeners across Champaign, Vermilion, Iroquois and Ford counties volunteer their time in different community gardens.

The master gardeners grow vegetables in the gardens, but also teach others about crop rotations, how to garden at home and the best places to put the plants. 

All of the vegetables they grow are donated. Some gardens have a specific audience, others regularly change where their products go. 

The Idea Garden in Urbana is home to one of the gardens. There, they focus on a “trials program” where they test new plants throughout the years. 

Ryan Pankau, a horticulture educator with the U of I Extension program, leads a 10-week training program. All volunteers attend sessions in the winter. 

He said the educational aspect of gardening is important. 

“Here in Illinois, we have a great growing season and lots of things can be grown in your own garden, which relates to environmental sustainability,” he said. “If we can grow more crops here, as opposed to buying produce from California at the grocery store, that’s more sustainable.”

Last year, 278 Illinois Extension community gardens grew more than 4,000 pounds of produce. They were able to donate $242,000 worth of produce to nearby food pantries and organizations. 

If you are interested in volunteering, visit this link.