Friday, June 14 was a busy day for the gardeners at 3437 Garden in the heart of South Minneapolis’s Powderhorn Park Neighborhood. The city-owned lot is one of 13 neighborhood gardens available to not-for-profit organizations willing to jump through a few bureaucratic hoops and pay some relatively small fees to grow their own food. The lots chosen are too small to develop and should remain gardens well into the future.
“The way it works is a not-for-profit chooses a garden, comes in and says, ‘We’d like to lease a lot,’” says Jane Shey, the coordinator of Homegrown Minneapolis, a plan adopted by city hall in 2011 as part of a larger effort to encourage a healthy and sustainable local food culture.
“It costs $1 a year for a three- to five-year lease. There’s a deposit that you get back at the end of the year. You have to have liability insurance and if it is through a neighborhood association, you can get a rider on your insurance. For a new garden, you have to show how it will benefit the community and give a layout of the garden,” says Shey.
Not all the lots have been leased, but the one wedged between two low-rise brick apartment buildings at 3437 15th Avenue (hence the garden’s name) was grabbed up three years ago by the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, which still sponsors the garden. It now has more than two dozen 12’x4′ raised bed gardens, as well as two compost piles, straw for mulching, a Web presence, and a Facebook page.
It’s one of the more successful city lot gardens, and they don’t lack for volunteers. This Friday, a group showed up to tear down the garden’s small shed and bring in a new, larger shed from six blocks away. “It is huge and heavy, maybe 1,500 to 2,000 pounds, and a little dangerous to move,” says Vienna Rothberg, who manages the garden.
The new garden shed is rustic-looking and pretty (it’s got a kind of Scandinavian look), made possible with a $500 grant from The Wedge Co-Op and Empty Bowls. The grant will also cover the costs of new garden tools.
“I am especially excited about getting kid-sized tools,” says Rothberg.
Rothberg says beginning gardeners are encouraged to come and learn. There are a lot of beginners. Many are like Devin and Fabiola Clarkson are planting an ambitious selection of tomatoes, broccoli, collard greens, basil, and squash. “We joined because we want to meet people, to be outdoors, to grow our own produce,” said Devin.
They have a lot of questions. I show them where to find planting information on seed packets and tell them how deeply to plant their small tomato plants. I also explain how to thin the rows of seeds once they sprout. “Don’t dig them up,” I tell them. “Just grab them and yank them out.” You can eat the sprouts, if you like.
Nahila Ahsen is also new to gardening. “I should know more about it,” she says. “I grew up in Stockton, California, in the Central Valley. It’s very agricultural there, but I never gardened.” She came to the Twin Cities for graduate school, studying economic development and thinks that the city plot gardens is a great idea to increase the quality of urban life. “It’s one of the things I really like about Minneapolis.”
Linette Cortez-Jimenez and her older cousin Janett Jimenez are young, but they are already experienced gardeners. “This is my fourth year gardening,” said Jimenez. Her family got the small plot to teach younger family members to learn how to work the soil, she says. She likes eating the vegetables and herbs she grows, especially the cilantro. “I like gardening a lot,” she says. “It’s fun and I get to know a lot of people here.”
The Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association is already organizing for the future, planning to sign a new lease for another three years. Other neighborhoods, like Beltrami and Bryant, also have popular city lot gardens. But other lots, mostly in North Minneapolis, lie fallow, still waiting for a neighborhood association, a church or other group to bring people, plants, compost and some love.
City Council has authorized funds for some start-up costs for new gardens, hoping to attract more organizations to the program. And, the kind of government compost delivered free of charge to the gardens is welcome.
Powderhorn gardener Kamia Waddell says that for her, the community support she finds at 3437 Garden is a big draw. “People share,” she says. “If we have extra plants, we share. We share manure and advice and if I have too much of something, I’ll ask if anyone wants some. There are two sections in the front and everything there goes to food shelves.” That’s how good neighborhoods work, she says.
For more information about this program and gardening in general, check out Gardening Matters, a local gardening advocacy organization.
Above: A tiny lot between two apartment buildings can help feed two dozen families.
Above: Cousins Linette Cortez-Jimenez and Janette Jimenez are two of 3437’s more experienced gardeners.
Above: Devin and Fabiola Clarkson are new to gardening.
Above: In May 2010, the garden was a vacant lot.
Above: Neighbors are encouraged to contribute to the compost pile.
Above: Salad greens and other vegetables do well in compost-enriched soil.
Above: The garden is busy, even on a Friday.
Above: The new garden shed, almost ready to use, sits at the back of the city lot.
Above: The old shed wasn’t much good.
Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.