HAMMOND | The Rev. Virginia Tate was excited to show off a small eggplant growing at her Living Waters Missionary Baptist Church this week.
"Isn't it pretty?" Tate said.
The church at 6511 Jefferson St., Hammond, is the site of the latest joint venture by Grow NWI to place raised garden beds throughout the region to share fresh vegetables with those in need.
The church project is co-sponsored by GROW Young Parents Center at the church and The Calumet Project, a nonprofit community organization based in Hammond.
Tate, executive director of GROW Young Parents Center and member of The Calumet Project board of directors, said the garden was something she has been interested in for years.
"I said I wanted the kids to be involved and see the process because so many think vegetables come in a can at the store," she said.
Francine Hintz, project coordinator for The Calumet Project, researched community gardens in 2012 and learned about the Grow NWI projects in Gary.
"We took a field trip and learned all about it," Hintz said.
Jimmy Singleton, of Chicago's Chatham neighborhood, is a church member and serves as the "farmer" for the project. Singleton helped plant rows of watermelon, tomatoes, beans, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower and green peppers in two raised beds at the church.
The spirit of community outreach is part of the garden at the church as well.
"We will share with whoever has a need," Tate said.
Children and parents from GROW Young Parents Center work side by side with organizers from the church and The Calumet Project to water and tend to the beds.
"We work with parents here, and one of the things we're trying to emphasize is the best foods to feed their children instead of these red-hot cheese curls and things like that," Tate said.
Chris McGee, 9, of Calumet City, helped water the beds this week with his 5-year-old sister, Zoe, and cousin Alicia Cosey, 9, of Chicago.
"I like the watering and planting a lot," Cosey said. "I want to taste the watermelon and the broccoli when they're ready."
Tate is a retired grant writer from Calumet Public School District 132 in Calumet Park, Ill., where she secured a federal grant to bring fresh vegetables into the schools.
"You'd be surprised how many kindergarteners say they want green beans and ranch instead of potato chips when given the choice," Tate said.
Singleton said adults need to change their habits, too.
Organizers hope to expand the garden with more boxes next year.