FREE SPEECH ZONE | Gardeners Get Involved


An optimist looking over their own garden fence might be inclined to say something like “Wow, the vegetable patch is half full.”  A pessimist looking at the same plot would say, “shucks, the vegetable patch is half empty.” but when a givingperson comes upon that same garden they say “Look at all those vegetables, I’m going to go find some hungry people.”

Gardeners are natural givers, because the garden teaches us the importance of giving.  When we give our plants compost, they thrive and produce.  When we give our bodies home grown foods, we thrive and are productive.  When we share all this productive health by giving the gift of access to gardening to folks who wouldn’t otherwise have it, we share one of the most profoundly transformative gifts imaginable.  For many a gardener there’s almost no greater feeling then to share a skill, tool, piece of land, or even just a nice conversation that will help another gardener grow.  Minneapolis is a giving and green city.  As a gardener and volunteer, there’s never a shortage of great organizations here that I can get involved with in order to share the gifts gardening can give.

Gardening Matters a Minneapolis based non-profit agency that exists at the center of the Minneapolis community gardening scene.  These smart gardeners have been busy organizing social service providers citywide in order to help them work together in the garden.  Many local agencies such as Waite House, Sabathani Community Center and Youth Farm and Market Project have already been working to increase Minneapolis residents’ access to gardening for decades.  Gardening Matters plan is to link up all these great organizations along with local gardening volunteers and businesses to create Garden Resource Hubs that residents in need can access for garden classes and information, planting space and gardening resources.  Hoping to have these hubs up and running by the spring of 2011, Gardening Matters is working with activists, businesses, and neighbors from across the city in this grand effort.

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Gardening Matters tell us on their website that right now,

“A collaboration of individuals and organizations are working together to develop neighborhood-based local food resource hubs that would support growing, selling and preserving of food by households, community gardeners, and urban farmers all within their community.”

This is some of the most important work that is happening to help preserve our environment, strengthen our local economies and boost our communal well being.

Gardening Matters says the plan for this year includes these main focus areas:

  • Serve as local points of distribution for physical resources
  • Provide physical space for education classes
  • Focus on building leadership capacity at the community level
  • Develop a community network of gardeners and urban farmers that are able to support one another,
  • Build community connections

The organizing work that is currently underway is truly impressive.  In South Minneapolis one of the hubs that is forming includes some very well known volunteer driven organizations that have each been encouraging gardening in their own ways and improving the quality of life in Minneapolis for a very long time.  Here’s a few of the heavy hitters:


Youth Farm & Market Project

Homegrown food is homegrown health and wealth!  From the soil to the market, this organization prepares tomorrow’s city farmers for a successful and healthy future. 

Youth Farm utilizes their 9 garden sites that sit on over 2 acres of city land to produce, and distribute over 11,000 pounds of organically grown garden produce each year, while  400 volunteers give over 4,000 hours to serve the 500 youth that are enrolled in the program.  Now those are some impressive numbers. 

Utilizing experiential education and training, in gardens and greenhouses Youth Farm builds youth leadership through planting, growing, preparing, and selling food. Youth Farm and Market Project currently works in 3 Twin Cities’ neighborhoods, Lyndale and Powderhorn in Minneapolis, and the West Side of St. Paul. 

Organic gardening is among the most sustainable food production methods that we can teach our youth, and Youth Farm is at the forefront of educating twin cities youth to build a sustainable future.  Visit to find out about volunteering with Youth Farm!

Sabathani Community Center

Sabathani Community Center is one organization that has been increasing folks access to food, health, and wealth since they opened their doors back in 1966. 

The community center’s latest addition of a computer lab adds to a long list of services and resources that Sabathani effectively offers including a food shelf, a senior center, a donation clothing closet, a tax service, and a large community garden. 

I spoke with Art Serotoff, Sabathani’s Health and Wellness Manager about their community garden space.  This community garden offers large 20 feet by 20 feet plots for neighborhood residents to come grow their own food in.  Offering this level of access to land in addition to the regular offerings of garden classes run on-site by experts from the University of Minnesota’s extension program allows gardeners who wouldn’t otherwise have any access a foot in the door to start producing their own health and wealth.  To get involved with Sabathani’s good gardening work call 612.821.2300 and ask for Art Serotoff.  

Waite House

Serving the Phillips neighborhood since 1969, Waite House’s offerings include a food shelf, gymnasium, classrooms, a kitchen, and a beautiful community garden.  Operating with a holistic approach that acknowledges the diversity of their participants’ cultural backgrounds, languages spoken and life circumstances, Waite House is building strong relationships and offering programs that empower and encourage active participation in order to create positive changes within the community.   The folks at Waite House will be yet another giving and growing partner in the south Minneapolis gardening resource hub.  To find out about volunteering call Waite house at 612.721.1681  

Food is the basic tool for achieving health and wealth.  Access to gardening reduces the cost of food and increases our food’s health-giving potential.  If you are a gardener that would like to help your community grow, consider volunteering time at any of these great organizations and help your community grow strong!

Russ Henry

Giving Tree Gardens