During the summer months, Algonquin Utilities Superintendent Andy Warmus is working in a garden at the wastewater treatment plant making sure vegetables are growing well.
When Warmus has a harvest, the fresh produce is taken to the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Interfaith Food Pantry.
For each of the past two years, Warmus, with the help of gardening experts at the food pantry, has been able to donate 900 pounds of vegetables, such as corn, squash, peas and tomatoes.
Before starting the vegetable garden, the village had planned on putting in flowers or perennial plants at the sewer plant.
The wastewater treatment plant had about 2,000 square feet of idle property, and Warmus contacted the food pantry about using the space for growing vegetables.
“We started working with them to plan the garden and plant the garden,” Warmus said. “It seemed like it was a much better use of space, to grow the vegetables. Somebody else would benefit from that space as opposed to it just looking nice with flowers.”
Warmus started to get to know the other volunteers at the food pantry, and started to do more in addition to the garden at the sewer plant.
Heather Selpien, a volunteer at the food pantry, has known Warmus for at least two-and-half-years.
“He’s pretty amazing, that he’s willing to work with the garden at all, have a full-time job and do everything else on the side,” Selpien said.
Selpien said Warmus helped build planter boxes for the food pantry’s green house.
Warmus has tilled the soil for the garden and reset posts. He helped bring in mulch and compost.
He donated or he was able to get donated all the materials to the food pantry.
“Anytime we need anything, he’s there,” Selpien said. “It’s amazing how quick he is to respond.”
However, Warmus didn’t have a green thumb when he started this project. He had to learn how to make the vegetable garden work.
“Some of the things I learned were the plant relationships,” Warmus said. “There are certain plants when planted next to each other helps prevent or deter insects, helps prevent or deter disease.”
Tomatoes can even taste sweeter depending on what’s growing next to them, Warmus said.
The gardeners will change the layout of the crops each year depending on what the soil is deficient in from the previous year.
“I learned a lot more about soil characteristics, soil makeup as far as levels of nitrogen and phosphorous,” Warmus said. “I learned things like through rotation of crops, corn will take nitrogen out of the soil, but if you plant peas the next year, peas put nitrogen back into the soil.”
Warmus does all the volunteer work on Saturdays and after work ends at 3 p.m. on weekdays. It’s not unusual for him to be tending to the garden for two or three hours after his shift.
Not many food pantries provide fresh produce, and usually in their drives ask for nonperishable goods.
The Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Food Pantry now is even doing education on how to prepare the food.
“To be able to provide 900 pounds of food, for somebody who doesn’t have much is huge,” Warmus said. “It was a good way to use the space and give back a little bit.”