Shovel and Wheelbarrow: Power Tools

wheelbarrow IMG_9041What can be done with a shovel and a wheelbarrow? Last Saturday, my husband, Vernon, and I joined other green thumbs in the Oak Lawn area to create the first Community/Pantry Garden. Under the direction of Dolly Foster, Oak Lawn Park District horticulturist, the plan for the morning involved building 12 raised beds, setting up six troughs, constructing the pantry area, and creating a hexagon herb garden. Mostly, the task consisted of moving 40 cubic yards of dirt and mulch from one end of the half acre lot to the other.IMG_9340

Wheelbarrows and shovels. Fortunately, six members of the Richards High School football team and their coach brought the muscle for this job. I stayed near the beds and helped level out the layers of dirt and mulch that were alternately dumped. The rows of men and women with wheelbarrows moving across the field, others shoveling precious compost, invigorated my spirit. Together, we hoped to create a place where families grew produce and food pantries received fresh organic vegetables with a small food mileage. All the sweat and sore muscles represented a reasonable price for the goal.

Almost two hundred years ago, 1,700 Irish men wielded shovels and wheelbarrows near the city of Lockport, Illinois. Shiploads of immigrants from poverty stricken Ireland emigrated to this area in search of work. From 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. with two hours off for breakfast and dinner, these Irish immigrants moved dirt for a dollar a day. From 1836-48, they toiled without mechanical advantages while their families lived in transient camps near the work site. Canal contractor, David Weber, bragged: “One experienced Irish laborer will do as much of any kind of canal work as three raw Hollanders.” With a wooden scoop, shovel and wheelbarrow, the Irish moved dirt that eventually joined Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River, opening the Midwest to world trade. The completion of the I and M Canal (Illinois and Michigan Canal) proved that old adage: “To build a canal, you need a pick and shovel and an Irishman.” A tribute to the unconquered spirit of the Irish people.

51sJnCxR4AL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_Just simple machines, the wheelbarrow and shovel. Yet, they provided Irish families with food and shelter. These instruments dug a route for economic growth for a young country. Today, in my community, these same basic tools will enable seniors and handicapped to have gardening troughs to grow vegetables. They will build raised beds that will teach a younger generation the joys of eating what their own hands have planted. They will allow volunteers to cultivate hearts of compassion while providing nutrition for food pantries in the area.

What can a wheelbarrow and shovel do?

Change the world. One scoop at a time.

Have you read Cleo’s book, Cultivating Wildflowers? Check it out on Amazon!

Wheelbarrow photo

Raised garden photo



  1. Hi, Cleo! I loved this post! Shared it on the Grace Seeds Ministry Facebook page!

  2. What a beautiful idea for communities to embrace! Working together to grow wholesome food and feed the needy! And I love the tie-in with our hardworking ancestors. Great story!

  3. Community gardens bring people together. We welcome our refugee neighbors because they bring new ideas and types of veggies to us. Great recipes, too!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.