Como’s FairShare Farm hopes to add 10 locations around the city with the help of a Minneapolis Health Department grant

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The corner of 22nd Avenue Southeast and Fairmount Avenue Southeast may not look like much now, but come summer, the plot will be full of growth, vegetables and community.

This spring marks the fourth season for the FairShare Farm Community Garden in Southeast Como. Members collectively tend to the garden, which has no individual plots.

Organizers want to expand the program by 10 locations in southeast Minneapolis with help from a Community-Driven Healthy Living grant of up to $30,000 from the Minneapolis Health Department. FairShare has applied, and the three grant recipients will be announced in April.

The FairShare garden is unique from many other community gardens because of its communal plot organization, said Stephanie Hankerson, Community Garden Organizer for the Southeast Como Improvement Association.

“Everyone is there at once, making decisions together, catching up and enjoying each other’s company,” she said.

Hankerson has a personal plot at a large community garden in St. Paul and said she doesn’t feel the same sense of community there.

“Most of the time I go, there’s nobody else there,” she said. “At FairShare, people are there at the same time, growing their carrots together and teaching each other how to thin the carrots, and they’re doing it at the same time, so they can chat about their new bike. It’s a lot more cooperative and a lot more fun.”

Each season, the garden has 30 members who each agree to tend the garden during one of the three meeting times each week. Throughout the season, members come and go, but the spirit of collaboration always remains.

“You share recipes; you share how to preserve things,” Hankerson said. “The learning extends beyond the growth and horticulture.”

Participating gardeners split the harvest and give any surplus to the Little Kitchen Food Shelf or to Southeast Seniors, a group that assists elderly area residents.

Student involvement has been a driving force from the beginning, Hankerson said, and the communal model helps to welcome students who live in the area to participate in gardening without having to take charge of their own individual plot.

“It’s a fantastic place for U students to learn about how to grow veggies and get to know other neighbors,” she said.

Paul Buchanan, a FairShare member and 2010 University of Minnesota graduate, helped create the program when he was a Student Neighborhood Liaison for the Como neighborhood. Buchanan said he enjoys the sense of community the garden brings to the area.

“It’s a healthy mix of students, homeowners and people like myself who rent in the area,” he said. “Neighbors that aren’t even part of it stop and chat, and sometimes we get people that just come for a day and help out and we send them home with a little bit of produce, so it’s always good.”

Amy Maas, a FairShare member and recent University alumna, said the shared plots are good starting places for beginning gardeners.

“It might be a bit daunting to say, ‘OK, here’s my plot; I’m in charge of it,’ when you’re just starting off,” she said. “With FairShare, you can start pretty much with no gardening experience and just learn from the people around you.”

Maas said being involved as a student was a good opportunity for her to continue gardening even while living on campus.

“Inside the city, there’s not always a lot of opportunity [to garden], especially if you’re living in a residence hall like I was,” she said.

Maas said she appreciates the accessibility of the garden, the stress-reducing benefits of tending to a communal plot and bringing home fresh produce.

Even if FairShare doesn’t receive the grant, Hankerson said, organizers still want to expand in the future in order to offer more opportunity for communal gardening in the Twin Cities.

“We see this garden as a tremendous community and neighborhood-building tool,” she said. “When we get another opportunity, if this one doesn’t happen, then we’ll try that, too.”