Urban gardens grow

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St. Paul renter Joe Poepping remembers his parents’ backyard garden in Pierz, Minnesota. It was nearly 40 foot long with straight rows of vegetables, lovingly tended with help from his grandpa, who lived next door. After Joe left home for college, he didn’t think much about gardening. But last year Joe signed up for a 4 foot by 8 foot plot in the Dunning Community Garden, near Lexington Parkway and Concordia Avenue, where he grew cucumbers, snow peas, pole beans, radishes, romaine lettuce, tomatoes and a baby lettuce mix. Joe has plans for a garden plot again this year–as do other urban residents who have no land to grow their own vegetables and flowers.

Many community gardeners gathered on Saturday, March 29th for the 4th Annual Community Garden Spring Resource Fair at the First Christian Church in south Minneapolis. According to GardenWorks, one of the day’s sponsors, more than 4500 people signed up and tended their own plot in a Twin Cities community garden last year. GardenWorks estimates that more than 140 community gardens grew on land owned by faith-based organizations, public housing, local businesses, private individuals, and other public entities including parks and schools.

Keynote speaker Will Allen told the story of Growing Power Community Food Center that he started a number of years ago in Milwaukee with a greenhouse and a plan to teach youth the farming and marketing skills he learned as a child from his father. From small beginnings, Growing Power helped launch more than 25 urban gardens. It currently employs 34, involves more than 700 volunteers, and produces vegetables for families in Milwaukee, Madison and the Chicago area.

An advocate for community food systems, Allen spoke of building relationships with community leaders as a key element to engaging the community. Other aspects Allen described were creating healthy soil from composting, vermiculture, intensive use of space, converting old equipment to new uses, aquaponics to raise fish, and recently creating an anaerobic digester to create methane gas for energy.

Growing Power also incorporates animals into its program with 25 goats, 12 beehives, and numerous chickens, rabbits and ducks. Youth are coached in taking care of the animals and learn to give demonstrations at the Wisconsin State Fair. Hands-on workshops teach the basics of year-round greenhouse production including the construction of a hoop house – a winterized greenhouse formed by plastic sheeting secured over a series of 10 foot high semi-circular metal tubes. Allen also answered questions about growing gardens on top of asphalt, the importance of worm castings, and Growing Power workshops.

Exhibitors and workshops at the resource fair ranged from best practices for beautification gardens to raising chickens in the city to dealing with theft and vandalism of gardens. Residents interested in signing up for a community garden plot can contact GardenWorks at 612-278-7123 or www.gardenworksmn.org

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