Let’s grow more food in our neighborhoods.
Victory Gardens provided about a third of the vegetables grown in the US during WWII and I appreciate the food I get from my yard. I think even more important is the community-building that grows in urban gardens. I wrote previously about my own cherry tree and I have a tiny community garden in my backyard so my residents and neighbors have more ways to connect.
When I started my own garden, I didn’t know that Hope Community, located in the Ventura Village neighborhood of South Minneapolis, had been using a mix of individual and communal garden plots to bring their community together for years. The Rose, an apartment complex, was completed in 2015 along with a community garden on site, Hope Community’s third garden overall. The garden takes it to a new level and when I asked if I could get a tour and meet some gardeners Alisa, Program Coordinator at Hope Community, invited me to one of their twice-weekly open gardening times.
Alisa started with a bit of history. Two things recommended this garden project at The Rose to Hope Community. First, Hope Community places a very high priority on listening to people who live in the Phillips neighborhood. When they asked, “What would you do to build community in your neighborhood? What would you be willing to do?,” one common response was “Garden together.” In 2014, Hope organizer Kristy Clemons hosted listening sessions about food access with 400 neighbors. A major theme was how hard it is to access food. (I recommend the Feed the Roots report that grew out of those sessions.)
Second, The Rose aimed to meet the ambitious Living Building Challenge, which includes growing food and education. A community visioning session explored what a new garden could be and the result was a social and teaching space created in the new garden. It facilitates connections with neighbors and creates an entry point for people to get involved.
How the Garden Works
2016 is the first year for this garden and there’s a lot of learning as it gets established. The Land Stewardship Project has been a partner for eight years, collaborating on fundraising and supporting two staff members who organize and coordinate activities in the gardens and the community kitchen.
As Alisa and I talked, she often came back to the intense curiosity of people in the neighborhood. “Every time I’ve been out in the garden, people are curious. People see the garden from their apartment windows and when they’re walking by. When I’m out here, they stop and ask me ‘What is this place?’ or ‘What are you picking?’”
I stuck around for a couple hours, meeting several people who came to hang out and harvest food. There were small groups of kids, a family or two, and a few individual adults — all happy to be in the garden.
What I Heard in the Garden
When I asked what people liked about the garden, most people shared that the easy access to fresh food drew them in.
Stafford Lipscomb was eager to share his appreciation for the space.“The thing I like most about this garden is the convenience for me. I live right across the street. I can get fresh produce twice a week without going to the grocery store. The produce I gather I can freeze. I’ll eat some today, over my spaghetti. I’m cooking green tomatoes and fish tonight.” He talks about the garden as something good in his community. He talked about keeping an eye on it from his apartment, even when he’s not there, adding, “I protect the garden.”
Aleena shared that, “It’s wonderful to find food with my 4-year-old and mom.”
Elise Schultze, who came with several kids, took it a step further. “It’s a learning experience. It’s a free farmers market in our back yard.”
As I listened, I heard how it ties back to growing community. Stafford added, “I have met neighbors. I know their faces but not their names.”
10-year-old Bernardo started with his favorite foods and ended with neighbors. “I like strawberries lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes. I met a guy who lives in my building.”
I lingered longer than I’d intended, as I got to chatting with Joe. He gave off the vibe of a garden elder and shared how the garden had helped him with his health. He’s diabetic, and the doctor wasn’t particularly optimistic about his diagnosis. But Joe also struck me as a bit stubborn and as though he does things in his own way. “Being in the garden I was around people who were talking about and trying to eat healthy,” he said. He lowered his blood sugar dramatically and surprised his doctor by changing his diet.
As I left, I watched him teach Alisa about growing okra.
Food available the day of my visit:
- Peppers (hot and sweet)
- Swiss Chard
- Collard Greens