A time to grow

Bok Kang staked a claim in 1991 that led to the birth of the Community Peace Garden in Cedar-Riverside.

Photo by courtesy Community Peace Garden

Bridgeland community gardeners welcome the arrival of spring

In 1991, Bok Kang wanted a garden, so she dug out a plot on the lawn of the Cedar-Riverside public housing complex in which she lives. “The property manager complained and complained and finally gave up,” said Kwanja Kwan, who, 16 years later, coordinates the 47-plot Community Peace Garden that grew from Kang’s humble initiative.

It’s not the oldest garden in Bridegland neighborhoods; that honor belongs to Longfellow’s Dowling Community Garden, which, at 64 years old, is believed to be one of the last two remaining World War Two Victory Gardens in the nation.

These are just two of the approximately 20 community gardens in our coverage area, according to a tally from the nonprofit GardenWorks, which brought together gardeners from all over the city for its Community Garden Spring Resource Fair at Augsburg College in March.

A look down the GardenWorks list shows that community gardens come in all shapes and sizes and serve a variety of purposes for folks of all ages. There are gardens maintained by entrepreneurial schoolchildren or college students growing food for their elderly neighbors. Some gardens beautify neighborhoods and educate residents, while others offer the traditional rented plots wherein dedicated green-thumbed gardeners work their magic.

No matter what their nature, all the gardens have one thing in common: it’s springtime, and the growing season is just around the corner.

Growing gardeners

Some of Bridgeland’s greenest thumbs belong to children, with youth programs in four neighborhoods and gardens at both Marcy Open and Tuttle schools.

The Glendale Homes Children’s Garden in Prospect Park is two gardens: plots for residents and a science-based summer program for their children, who not only plant and maintain raised-bed plots of flowers and vegetables, but learn about nutrition and art components, keep garden journals, and even take a field trip to the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen.

The year-old program is funded by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and coordinated with the Glendale Residents Organization. It began last spring with one child; by summer’s end, the number was 30. “It’s a powerful way to bring something in that helps people that are so often marginalized feel good,” said the arboretum’s Nancy Nelson, who oversaw the program last year.

The Green Thumb cutting garden at Van Cleve Park brings children and seniors together, as kids grow and harvest cutting flowers for Southeast Seniors, which delivers them to other elders in the neighborhood.

Peter DeLong, coordinator of that Van Cleve youth garden, moderated a youth gardening roundtable at the March resource fair. Included on the panel was Anna Sonmore-Costello, community education coordinator at Hale School in Longfellow and the coordinator for the Seward Youth Peace Garden.

Located at Seward Montessori School, 2309 28th Ave. S., the program recruits Seward youth, 9–13 years old, to work four mornings a week during the summer, learning to grow organic vegetables and flowers and then selling them every Friday during lunchtime at the Birchwood Café, 3311 E. 25th St.

The garden is more than just an urban farm, writes Sonmore-Costello in a description of the program. Kids learn respect and life-long skills like how to run a business; they also learn about food production and security, and environmental and social justice issues. The youth even write and produce a publication with color photos and comics. “A lot of it is about relationships and a long-time commitment to what you’re doing,” said Sonmore-Costello during a break from the resource fair.

How does your garden grow?

Seward Neighborhood Group (SNG) seeded the Seward Youth Peace Garden in 1997 with Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) money. As those funds have grown thin, the program relies more and more on partners, primarily the McKnight Foundation, as well as Seward Co-op, Matthews Park and the Minneapolis Foundation, to name just a few. Whether through grants and donations, volunteers or in-kind support like plants donated by Mother Earth Gardens, 3738 42nd Ave. S., and parent/teacher associations, the web of support makes the venture possible, said Sonmore-Costello.

Both Longfellow and Southeast Como neighborhoods employ staff that coordinate community gardens — again, through NRP funds — which has helped “create a legacy of support for community gardens,” said Steph Hankerson, garden coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association (SECIA).

Four Como gardens began with NRP funds through SECIA, said Hankerson, including Gateway Garden — with its signature painted pink chairs — where neighbors gather at for National Night Out and other SECIA events; and the award-winning OWLS Garden, which donates most of their harvest to area seniors through a partnership with Southeast Seniors.
Hankerson called OWLS “a fine example of how a garden is about people, not necessarily what it grows.” The garden connects U of M students and even Restorative Justice participants performing public service with the elders in their community.

With the sun possibly setting on NRP in 2009, however, Hankerson said that new avenues of support and funding are more and more important. “It’s possible to do these types of gardening with very little resources,” she said, citing grants and awards, donated plants, even the tool-sharing program that SECIA runs. (Need a tool? Visit www.secomo.org for more information.)

Gardeners wanted

Perhaps the most crucial resource is people. “Lots of community energy is needed,” said Hankerson, noting that it’s easy to get excited volunteers for spring planting but that ongoing maintenance can be trickier.

Sonmore-Costello pointed out that community gardens need more than green thumbs; she reaches out for adult volunteers to support the Youth Peace Garden with everything from woodworking to graphic design and marketing.

Of course, gardeners are needed, as well. Perhaps the only community gardens not looking for new recruits are those renting individual plots, but some still have plots available. In late March, Hub of Heaven Garden in Seward had 15 open plots, rentable to grow organic vegetables, for $25 a season.

Minnehaha Community Garden — another NRP project, through the Longfellow Community Council — had four $20 plots open toward the end of March. One of them is reserved for medicinal herbs and waiting for a gardener.

The Community Peace Garden in Cedar-Riverside had a couple of plots open — and a waiting list. The garden gives priority to the elderly, explained Kwan. “For them, it’s therapeutic,” she said. “Young people have to wait.”

Two Bridgeland community gardens — Como Corner in Southeast Como, and 32nd Street in Longfellow — might need a lot of help after separate construction projects have forced both to all but start over.

Como Corner, the neighborhood’s longest-running community garden, was “half dug up” as a result of construction last year along Como Avenue, said Hankerson. “There’s not much left,” she said. “We’re hoping… we can get back in and make it the jewel of the neighborhood it once was.”

Across the river, the 32nd Street Community Garden is starting from scratch after the vacant private lot it occupied was filled in — by a house. “The garden was leveled,” said gardener Eric Hart. He and the handful of remaining plot-holders hope to re-establish a slightly larger garden in the area, but no plots are currently available.

For the truly brand new, there’s the Augsburg Community Garden at Augsburg College, breaking ground this spring.

And finally, a garden that never went away, even through January’s bone-chilling cold and the snowdrifts of early March. Accord Garden at Van Cleve Park is all native plantings that need no teardown and little maintenance, said master gardener Rose Steinhart. The hardy grasses and wildflowers drop seeds that are distributed by wildlife during winter.

Soon, Steinhart will clear out the debris and dead stalks that some mistake for weeds. “It’s not weeds,” she said. “It’s not neglect. That’s the plan.” She’ll spread the debris on the spring soil like a natural mulch.
“And then I’ll just wait to see what comes up,” she said.

To contact any of these community gardens, call GardenWorks at 612-278-7123, or visit GardenWorks’ website: www.gardenworks mn.org.

last revised: April 9, 2007