Standish-Ericsson resident Laura Hansen can’t wait until later this summer to serve up her heirloom tomato bruchetta with yellow tomatoes, basil and garlic grown from her plot at the Southside Star Community Garden off 32nd Avenue just north of 42nd Street.
“Anything fresh from the garden is awesome,” said Hansen. “In fact it’s a bit of a smorgasbord later in the season when weeding. One pea for me; pluck four weeds.”
Hansen enjoys “doing something to make the neighborhood more livable, friendly and green. I think the people in the neighborhood are very proud to have a community garden.”
Virginia Bach agrees. She has been involved in the Southside Garden since the beginning. “I thought this was a great opportunity to get to know my neighbors better, develop a gardening hobby that I could do into my old age and pass on to the next generation, eat better organic food, and build a safe and beautiful community space,” she explained.
This year she planted beans, beets, spinach, acorn squash, Hubbard squash, zucchini squash, baby watermelons, pea pods, bushel cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, and raspberries.
“I like walking through the garden, watching the birds flit around, and enjoy the peace and beauty. Everyone does their own thing and it’s fun to walk through the garden and look at everyone’s spin on their garden. It becomes a personal expression,” said Bach. “We have an amateur vintner who has planted a couple of grape vines. Another person has planted some tropical palms (which they move inside in the winter).”
She added, “It is a beautiful and safe place that draws the community together.”
As a project that was started by neighbors for neighbors, Southside Star was carved out of a plot of land that was originally cleared for the Hiawatha Avenue improvements 30-plus years ago. The land passed to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) as part of the Hiawatha Light Rail Project. “We lease the land from MnDOT,” explained Bach, who is a member of the garden steering committee.
The idea of a community garden first sprouted online. “Mike McMahon, who lives a block from the garden, put the idea on the StanEric E-Democracy listserv, where it was discussed initially,” stated Bach. From that initial discussion a small group of seven to 10 neighborhood people met regularly for one and a half years to plan and implement the idea. “Community gardens are springing up all over the metro area as a way to increase the availability of fresh garden vegetables, fruits and flowers especially in ‘food desert’ areas of the urban centers,” Bach observed.
The first crops were planted at the garden in 2010. In 2011, 31 participants are growing vegetables, fruit and flowers on 37 plots. Each pays $50 a year, and performs 10 hour of community service such as mowing, weeding, moving mulch, digging weeds out of the sidewalk, working on the shelter and filling water barrels. Prior to work days, a scheduled walk-through is done to create a task list for the work-day leader. People also do community work on their own time and drop a note with their hours into the mailbox in the shed.
“Almost every time I’m in my plot one of the neighbors walks by and stops to talk or waves,” said Bach. “One 80-year-old man (Ronald Waltz) walks a few blocks to the garden almost every day. He gives us advice about gardening and his garden, and comes by with his rototiller to help people till their soil. At least three members of the garden live across the street or in the next block. Many people chat with the neighbors sitting out in front of their houses and share produce with them.”
Anything extra from the garden is donated to the food shelves at Sabathani and Calvary Lutheran.
There is a waiting list for garden plots. Contact Hansen at <email@example.com> for more information.
Looking for a fresh idea for the kitchen? Bach shared this recipe which fellow Southside Star member Dana Tuss shared with the group last year:
PINEAPPLE ZUCCHINI BREAD
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup oil
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 15 oz. can crushed pineapple (drained)
Cream eggs, sugar, vanilla and oil. Add zucchini. Mix together dry ingredients and add into creamed mixture. Stir in pineapple. Bake in two loaf pans at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick in center comes out clean. Freezes well.
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