While space for private gardens may be hard to find, the city of Minneapolis currently has vacant lots available through its Homegrown program. Established in 2010 by the Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support, the program offers garden plots to non-profit organizations. Community gardens can be used for individual plots or communal projects, ranging in focus from educational space to flower beds, green art space, and vegetable plots. The non-profit organization must provide its own liability insurance.
In its mission statement, Homegrown simply defines a community garden as “a lot where a group grows and maintains plants for food, for beauty, or both. The lots offered through the Homegrown program have been deemed unfit for development, securing their use through the course of a one or three-year lease. This means the gardeners can retain use year in and year out, instead of being pushed to the wayside when commercial interests knock at the door. Applications and site maps can be found on Homegrown’s website.
Local non-profit Gardening Matters has documented more than 300 community gardens in the Twin Cities metro alone. With such growth, the demand for plots has skyrocketed. Minneapolis boasts one of the oldest and largest community gardens in the country in Dowling Community Garden. With 185 plots covering nearly four acres, demand is so high that Dowling has closed its waitlist.
Community gardens are defined by their contributions to the entire neighborhood: not only do they offer much need green space, but they bring people together while presenting outlets for healthy eating, exercise, and sharing knowledge. Members may join because of social concerns or simply because, as Jeffrey Loesch, Treasurer and Communications Coordinator at Dowling says, “Our home is beautifully landscaped, with no room for a vegetable garden.” The emphasis on the group distinguishes community gardens from urban farms, which are typically run for profit—though both are often based on sustainable practices.
The recent boom in interest has a number of causes. The economic downturn has increased consumers’ need for affordable foods. Separately, there has been a growing movement away from industrial convenience food in favor of more healthy, local alternatives. Gardening serves both of these ends, as well as reconnecting growers to the soil and the ecosystem of which they are a part.
As Margaret Shields, Education and Outreach Coordinator at Gardening Matters explains, community gardens aren’t simply a hobby, “[they] are a serious contributor to family food budgets, personal and community health, and so much more.” The gardens bring neighbors together in their community while reducing both budget and carbon footprint.
“It is great to get more people growing food and to have them participating in that process,” adds Homegrown’s June Mathiowetz. “We know that community gardens are good for communities and developing social connections, and just getting people to eat more healthy food.”