How does their garden grow?
Nearly 600 pounds of community-grown vegetables and fruits were donated to the Soup Kitchen and the food shelf this summer and that amount will likely double by the end of the gardening season.
And it’s all thanks to the Brainerd Community Garden that began this year as an initiative spearheaded by the Community Garden Committee made up of representatives of the Lakes Area Senior Activity Center, Brainerd Rotary and Sertoma clubs, Master Gardeners, Crow Wing County Extension, FFA Alumni and the Brainerd Parks and Recreation Department.
The community garden is located southwest of Kiwanis Park near the Mississippi River and was initiated in 2009 by members of the Blandin Community Leadership Program training program.
The Brainerd Parks and Recreation Department is overseeing the garden project.
Interim park director Tony Sailer said the garden project has turned out wonderful, noting that Mother Nature has been kind with plenty of rain and sunshine this summer.
Sailer said 90 plots were available this season and about 25 plots were rented. Sailer said community garden members adopted plots to grow produce for the food shelf and Soup Kitchen.
On Monday, Sailer reported to the city’s Park Board that 575 pounds of produce were donated to the nonprofit organizations that serve people in need in the Brainerd lakes area. On Thursday, Tad Hoskins, a Sertoma Club member, who oversaw the garden development project this season, picked another 200 pounds of cucumbers, zucchini and cabbage to name a few, that will be donated.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Hoskins said. “Everyone has been spending a lot of time out here working on the garden. The biggest obstacle has been weeds. I’ve stayed about 90 percent ahead of the weeds.”
Hoskins and Rick Bricker, a Rotary Club member and Blandin graduate, both adopted plots to grow produce for the Soup Kitchen and the food shelf and have volunteered their time at the community garden. They both work on the garden weekly, tilling the land, pulling weeds, picking produce and helping others who need help with their plots.
Hoskins said a family who rented a plot help take vegetables and fruit to the nonprofit organizations three times a week.
“It’s nice to see people take ownership of their plots as well as helping others,” said Hoskins. “And seeing all these beautiful cucumbers and other vegetables and fruit is rewarding ... The radishes and spinach will be ready to harvest in a few weeks. We got them in late. So next year we should have more produce since the garden is already set.”
Bricker said he never rented a plot for himself, but wanted to help with the community plots to help those in need.
“We planted a lot of plants,” said Bricker. “It’s rewarding to see how this garden went from weeds to dirt to all these full grown plants. It’s wonderful to see all this go to the food shelf and the Soup Kitchen.”
Bricker said the only obstacle of the garden this season was a beaver that liked to chop down trees that would hit the fence that enclosed the garden.
Brainerd City Council member Bonnie Cumberland said the community garden is something the city can be proud of.
“It’s a wonderful addition to the city and the people involved did a super job,” said Cumberland.
Bonnie Sahf, Brainerd Salvation Army family services director, said the food shelf appreciates any donations from the community, especially fresh produce. Sahf said the Salvation Army serves a lot of people in the community and it’s nice to serve them fresh fruit and vegetables.
The garden was made possible after the city garden committee was awarded a $7,500 Statewide Health Improvement Program to fund start-up infrastructure costs, such as fencing to keep out animals and lumber to make raised plots to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
The garden committee recently put together a “SHIP Grant Narrative” about the community garden that included testimonials from the garden renters that included:
• “My reason for applying for a lot was ‘therapy.’ I lost my home to foreclosure in January of 2011. Moving to Minnesota from Australia eight years ago was a shock to say the least. I had been used to gardening all year around. I learned about perennials and had a magnificent garden which the bank owns ... I am pleased to have a plot where I think and recover and have fun digging in the dirt.”
• “I was very excited to see the start of the new community gardens in Brainerd. My husband’s father helped start a community garden years ago near the state hospital. We are very interested in our community being able to provide for its food needs locally. Especially as gas restrictions and unhealthy nationally supported food subsidy programs continue to give the poorest of our citizens foods that contribute to obesity and diabetes. I feel strongly that community gardens are a wonderful way to connect neighbors in the discussion and teaching of gardening techniques that are lost to the generation of ‘boxed and frozen’ foods.”
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.