Twin Citians pride themselves on living in a cultural oasis in flyover land. Local musicians are breaking out nationally (and internationally), our theater scene is thriving and a craft-beer boom and James Beard-winning chefs are refining our palates.
But did you know Minneapolis-St. Paul also has a blooming community gardening scene? The metro area is at the fore of a national trend that Gardening Matters executive director Kirsten Saylor says is rooted in relationships.
"Community gardens can act as a real anchor for communities," said Saylor, whose local nonprofit serves as a community gardening resource hub. "It's a place where people can come to get to know each other."
Saylor says the Twin Cities ranks among the top cities in the country in terms of community gardens per capita. But we weren't always a mecca for marigolds and mulberry patches. Back in 2005, many gardens seemed destined to close due to lack of interest. A few years later, people were lining up like nightclub patrons (trade the miniskirts for sun hats) to get into existing gardens, and there are now roughly 100 community gardens in Minneapolis proper. Minnesota even has a statewide Community Garden Day (Aug. 11 this year) when participating gardens open their gates for public tours.
So, what gives? Part of the botanical boom stems from an uptick in available resources for startups, and people's growing desire (last pun, we swear) to "know where their food comes from," Saylor says.
If you've been to, say, just about any restaurant in town the past few years, you've probably noticed that foodies fancy eating local. For Sandy Muellner, who grows strawberries, edamame and all sorts of piquant produce in her hard-to-come-by plot in south Minneapolis' Dowling Community Garden (one of the nation's two oldest "victory" gardens, established during World War II), her horticultural hobby takes the notion a step further.
"I like good-tasting food," Muellner said, breaking from a conversation with gardening friend Sigrid Arnott at a recent Dowling plant sale. "Even if it's fresh, even if it's from Minnesota, there's something [different] about picking something off of a plant that's growing right there and putting it in your mouth -- it's like really good chocolate, but better."
Not all community gardens, which mostly operate on municipal-owned property, aim at palate-pleasing. Many, like Vera's Garden along the Midtown Greenway at Lyndale Avenue, are neighborhood beautification projects. Donovan Harmel and a group of 20 other green thumbs started the garden named for the former Vera's Cafe (now Heidi's) 11 years ago in what was then a large weed patch. With the current 10-year lease costing only "a buck" and all the plants and supplies donated through various organizations, the real investment for Harmel, one of two remaining caretakers, is the manual labor -- when he can escape the social distractions, that is.
"There have been some days during the summer where I've just had to quit working," he says from a shaded bench overlooking his public paradise. "Every time I'd start something, someone else would stop, and I enjoy it. I'd rather talk to people than work, anyway."
It seems community gardening really is more about people than potatoes and petunias.
SOME COMMUNITY GARDENS
- Dowling Community Garden: 3901 46th Av. S., Mpls.
- Mulberry Junction Community Garden: 23rd Av. and NE. California St., Mpls.
- Peace Garden: I-94 & Cedar Av. S., Mpls.
- Soo Line Community Garden: 2845 Garfield Av. S., Mpls.
- Vera's Garden: Midtown Greenway and Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.
- More info: www.gardeningmatters.org