Children’s Sensory Garden

Elise Duffy with Tom Czubernat, Alejandra Diaz, Christine Maloney and David Staudacher

Suburban Chicago Church Garden and Learning Laboratory for low-income children from an adjacent elementary school providing education, food production, and multi-purpose programming in the context of native plantings. One-sixth acre urban plot on community land.


Design drawing, narrative, budget, timeline

Tom Czubernat, Design and Community Garden Leader: “We started Old Schoolhouse Community Garden (OSCG) in 2015 in an effort to prevent the land owner, Immanuel Lutheran Church Hillside from having to sell off the property. The congregation has a long history on this land and since the beginning has subsidized the elementary education of many children. This has, at times, put financial strain on the church and over its 160+ year history, it has sold off portions of the original 40 acre property in an effort to plug budget deficits.

From the inception of the OSCG, we have followed organic and Permaculture design principles and because of that, we have obtained a surplus harvest every year, which has been donated to a local food pantry (800lbs. cumulative total.) We have been able to gain support not only from our gardeners and community, but have been the recipients of many grants, including a greenhouse from Home Depot, a $2500 tool grant from Fiskars, and a fruit tree orchard from the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation.

As part of our Permaculture pathway, this year we will begin conducting experiments to evaluate the various growing methods, as espoused by Permaculturists and home gardeners everywhere. To help achieve that goal, we will be instituting the Bionutrient Food Association principles, as well obtaining research assistance from Advancing Eco Agriculture.

Looking to the future, we see a robust local food growing operation which will help alleviate local food needs, as well as help financially support our host, Immanuel Lutheran Church, to continue providing an outstanding education at a reasonable cost to local families.”

The Advanced Permaculture Design Course of 2017 was held in the Old Schoolhouse, and the class was divided into three groups with the charge of developing a design for all the northern, almost 3 acre section of the property owned by the Immanuel Lutheran Church and managed by the Old Schoolhouse Community Garden. The group remained in contact following the end of the course, developing an overall concept plan to meld of the best ideas from the three designs and the results of a survey submitted to the Garden Club and Church Voting Body memberships. This was presented to and approved by the Church Voting Body in July of 2018. This concept design became the basis of long term planning for the property development and was used in part when applying for support grants. The Children’s Garden was chosen as the first area to be implemented, as it would be a major focal point for the church congregation, school staff and students, and the general public. It is this segment of the overall design that was submitted in the PINA Design Contest.