Sowing the Dream

June/July 2020 View more

When Rob Vaughan woke up one December morning in 2016, he had one thought on his mind: starting a nonprofit farm. He had no idea where the idea came from or even how to execute it. He didn’t have a background in farming, except for a garden he had as a child. But he knew he had to make it happen. Vaughan combined his entrepreneurial drive with his desire to give back to the community, and within a couple of months he had formed Charity Blooms.

The nonprofit organization now grows fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs for local food pantries and other nonprofit organizations. When he launched the company in 2017, Vaughan had four friends helping him at a community garden plot in Aurora. That first year they harvested 600 pounds of produce and donated it all to the Interfaith Food Pantry.

In 2018 he met Diane Renner, who is the executive director of the Marie Wilkinson Food Pantry, at a grant-recipient luncheon. When he mentioned he was looking for more land, she told him about the half-acre plot the city of Aurora had given the food pantry to use for a community garden across the street from the Highland Ave. pantry. Five houses originally stood on the site, so it needed rehabilitation to make it suitable for farming. Vaughan jumped at the chance.

“Even though it was in ruins, I thought it was paradise. It was the perfect opportunity for us to get up and running,” he says. In the first year alone, they produced 1,900 pounds of produce on the land and donated all of it to the Marie Wilkinson Food Panty.

“People started seeing improvements to the property and wanted to help out,” he says. “Volunteers started coming out of nowhere.” Last year over 300 volunteers helped with the garden. Vaughan now farms half the Highland Ave. gardens plot for charity, and rents the other half to community growers.

In addition to the original garden, Charity Blooms manages three satellite locations: Ginger Creek Community Church in Aurora, Mooseheart in Batavia, and a fall garden near the Highland Avenue location. Charity Blooms also supplies several other area organizations with seedlings, flowers, and plants for their own gardens or fundraising needs.

Vaughan’s plans for expanding Charity Blooms are ever-growing. His latest efforts include raising chickens, growing seedlings in his greenhouses, and operating a pollinator farm. He has incorporated educational programs for children and cooking classes for adults, and this year he plans on pioneering a Monarch breeding program and offering Sunday brunches at the farm.

“People have flocked to our programs. They want to be a part of something big and share in the excitement. I’m just overjoyed that we’ve been received so well and we can continue to grow this business—pun intended,” says Vaughan. “For only being about three years in, we’ve created something amazing.”

What is truly remarkable is that Vaughan does all this for free. “One hundred percent of donations and sales go to Charity Blooms. I do this just for fun in my spare time,” Vaughan says, estimating he spends about 20 hours a week on this business. “My full-time job takes great care of me. I’m in construction and flip houses during the week. I love the nonprofit concept and giving back to the community. I don’t need anything,” Vaughan says. “I just want to do something for other people.”

Charity Blooms has volunteer opportunities for all ages and abilities; it especially needs help with weeding and harvesting. Last year Vaughan estimates hundreds of pounds of produce went to waste because they didn’t have enough volunteers to harvest it. For information on volunteer opportunities and upcoming events, visit

Community Garden

Volunteers and garden supplies are needed in Aurora to support Marie’s Community Garden Park. Members take care of their own plot and common areas with support from the University of Illinois Extension educators. For a garden application visit

Photos Courtesy Charity Blooms