Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spring Community Garden Resource Fair

St. Paul renter Joe Poepping remembers his parent's backyard garden growing up 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 and Concord, 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 days sponsors, over 4500 people signed up and tended their own plot in a community garden last year. Gardenworks estimates that there were over 140 community gardens 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 which 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 over 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 it 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 using a miniature hoop house. 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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