Community garden planning begins

South Hill to have site

As spring teases the area, Ann DeLaVergne and other participants in Our Community Food Projects throughout the St. Croix River Valley are starting to gear up interest and prepare for the upcoming planting season.

Our Community Food Projects is a grassroots organization established in 2010 which wants to provide community residents with healthy, garden-grown food. The project has three sustainable programs including:

l Fresh Green Bucks which allows grocery store customers to buy coupons that serve as a donation to area food shelves. The food shelves can then use the Fresh Green Bucks to purchase fresh produce for their locations.
l Our Community Kitchen, a donation-based breakfast program for area residents. The food is prepared fresh by volunteers using locally-grown ingredients. Breakfast is offered at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension’s certified kitchen.
l North hill community garden

Other projects include the Harmony Garden in Maplewood which allows immigrants to grow food from their native countries and practice English; the Cimarron Youth Garden which provides low-income youths with jobs and fresh food during the summer, and a new program starting St. Peter’s United Church of Christ on Stillwater’s South Hill.

“The projects are growing and the context and basis of the growth is to supply people with more access to fruit and vegetables in their diets. It also helps to address obesity and nutrition with low-income people participating and it helps to build community.” DeLaVergne said.

The Rev. Zoe Kuester of St. Peter’s UCC heads up the South Hill project this spring with encouragement from her denomination to take care of the earth and be aware of world food justice.

“Our denomination is starting to push for taking care of the earth, and encouraging us to be aware of what’s going on,” Kuester said. “It also fits with our congregation. There are lots of people who are concerned about the earth and love gardening and we’re blessed with some extra land that we aren’t using. A community garden just seemed like the perfect fit.”

There’s also an awareness and drive to provide fresh food year round that keeps DeLaVergne motivated and that Kuester wants to be a part of. The church originally planned to donate produce from their garden to local foodshelves, but DeLaVergne turned Kuester on to the idea of including the community in the garden.
Although in the planning stages, St. Peter’s UCC has a 6 p.m. meeting April 8 about their community garden.

“We’re hoping to have some individual plots or agreements about how to proceed. Our church will have our own plot, and Ann has told me in the past that fresh food is abundant in August but not so much in January,” Kuester said. “We’re hoping to create an education around preserving food, maybe organizing some classes to take fresh produce and preserve it so people can have fresh, real produce in the winter too.”

“We’re meeting on April 8 and will put cards on all of our neighbors doors and invite them to dream, plan, and envision what the garden will be like. We want to work together to come up with a good use of the land,” Kuester said. “I’m just so happy with the program. Ann’s done a number of gardens and she’s really helping us to reach out to the community. And it’s a wonderful opportunity for all of us to act together and grow great food.”

Kuester wants anyone who interested to join them at any level they would like. For her, the garden is about awareness and learning.

“I think one thing I’d really like to do is investigate food justice,” she said. “There’s more at stake here than growing fresh food. It’s about making sure that everyone in the community has access to healthy food and I hope we can use this garden as an opportunity to talk about that.”

DeLaVergne agrees with that idea, adding that her experience with the gardens has been rewarding.

“The experience is very dynamic,” she said. “So many people understand the need and help out because they see the benefit of providing land, resources, and services to the community to benefit others and the community seems to come together around those things.”