I spent my Monday free of my cubicle, exploring urban agricultural sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The morning started out with intense sunshine, so I dressed accordingly, expecting a school bus to cart us around town. Arriving at the U’s new North Minneapolis offices, just in the nick of time, I was greeted by the shocking sight of a tour bus. Fantastic! A/C and a bathroom, nearly guaranteed!
Our first stop was Ramsey County Master Gardener Susane Mua’s CSA (community supported agriculture) in her residential neighborhood in St. Paul. She lives down the street with her family, the backbone of the CSA. Her kids help her with weeding, planting and harvesting. As you’ll see from the pictures, she practices interplanting (planting whatever needs planting where ever there is open space) and has drip irrigation set up for when the weather doesn’t provide enough moisture for the plants (she hasn’t used it this year). The drip irrigation is run with water from the property owner’s home, and she pays her the difference in her water bill.
Her interest in growing food was sparked by the illness of her mother, who taught her that fresh food is healing food, inspiring her to begin growing fresh organic produce for her family.
Next on the docket were the University of Minnesota’s demonstration gardens on the St. Paul campus. This year, they’re promoting food producing gardens with a program called Veggies by the Yard. The program consists of a series of garden plans for 4’x12’ made available via the U’s website, a blog for participants to ask questions of each other and Master Gardeners and demonstration gardens of the various plans at 13 different locations around the state, including the Arboretum. The arb is even kind enough to provide recipes for some of the garden’s bounty, in case you’ve planted something you don’t know what do with.
My favorite new to me plant at this garden is tobacco. Yes, tobacco. Talk about pretty flowers! Here it is, so you can identify it when it pops up in the slideshow.
The demonstration gardens that aren’t part of the Veggies by the Yard are across the street from project, and are neat to visit by themselves. . . like a little mini version of the arboretum right in the city.
Our next destination was a drive by of the St. Anthony community garden, due to time constraints. The garden was originally on land leased from the railroad along 280, eventually the community council purchased the land from the railroad, and the parcel is now in danger of being paved over to increase transportation options. : (
We arrived at the Sabathani Community Garden on the site of a former elementary school. The school was razed and the one acre community garden space was created. Hennepin County Master Gardeners use the gardens as part of their Urban Gardener program, utilizing 7 10’x20’ plots sub divided into 10’x10’ plots to assist their students with their first vegetable gardens.
It was here that I had my first eyeful of Okra and its beautiful flowers.
There were also quite a few plots utilizing the “three sisters” interplanting technique commonly used by natives of the Americas that Optimus and I learned about at Mesa Verde last summer. Corn, beans and squash are planted together, with the beans climbing the corn stalks, and the squash covering the ground beneath them, helping the soil to retain water and suppressing weeds.
I’d always been intrigued by the Common Roots Café on Lyndale in Uptown but hadn’t found an excuse to drop in for a meal, lucky for me, it was our next stop AND the caterer for our bag lunch. My sandwich is in the slideshow, and the herbs you can see peeking out of it were harvested while we were touring their garden, the pesto spread? Made from their garden. Yum.
We spent a little while talking with owner Danny Schwartzman, about his attempts to find a way to grow food for the restaurant on the building it’s in, and then when it was apparent that just wasn’t feasible, acquiring the two rooming houses across the alley, tearing out their parking lots and remediation the soil so he could use it to produce food (the houses were rehabbed and are rented out as duplexes now). The soil had lead contamination, so the top two feet (aggressive, but he wanted to be sure) of soil was removed, then replaced with topsoil and compost. After the remediation, planting!
The garden’s first year was short, due to the remediation, but it still produced 1,500 lbs of herbs and greens for the restaurant’s patrons. I’ll be curious to see what the numbers are this year, now that perennials are more established, and they got the garden planted when the soil was workable, rather than ½ way through the summer.
Of all the gardens we visited that were also businesses, this one had the best handle on numbers. He knew how much production in pounds he had, and knew if his enterprise was making money. Granted, the garden is just one small part of his business, so by itself, it would more than likely not be a money maker. The café’s fare is reasonably priced, no breaking the bank to eat local/organic/fair trade.
My favorite part about this place? Danny used to be a community organizer, and this just seemed like a natural next step for him. He had no history in the restaurant business and he’s found a way to make this place work, and expand. There may yet be hope for me escaping banking!
Ok, I also loved the garden sign composed of gardening tools and barbed wire
and the recycled pool tables turned pathways.
While Common Roots made our lunches we walked down the block to visit Uptown Farmers a small group of citizens, inspired by what’s happening with vacant lots in Milwaukee and Chicago. They’re using vacant lots in Minneapolis (with permission from the land owner) to produce organic vegetables, herbs and flowers. You can buy their produce at the Mill City Farmers Market. The onions looked amazing.
Seeing that the lot is vacant, there was no city water run to the lot, so water is procured from adjoining properties, with arrangements made to pay for the difference with the utility payee at that address. They also use drip irrigation in this location, a drip tape run along the rows of onions, tomatoes and sunflowers.
They’re looking for additional lots to farm and suggestions on how to make their business profitable. It didn’t seem that anyone we spoke with had a good grasp of whether or not they were profitable, so some advice on common accounting practice applied to small agricultural enterprises would probably also be welcome.
Our next site was another drive by, Redeemer Lutheran Church Community Garden. It’s in North Minneapolis, started by an immigrant from the Congo named Harriet. She was horrified to find that her neighbors didn’t have access to fresh produce and worked with the church to start this garden and programs to educate the community about gardening and cooking with fresh produce.
From there we went to the community garden in Heritage Park, where we admired the first year garden of another Urban Gardeners program held to show the low income residents of some of Heritage Park’s units how to grow their own produce.
The beans were being vociferously overrun by Japanese beetles, much to the delight of many of the MGs, who set to crushing them on sight.
This was to be our last stop, but it was still early, so we stopped by the Hmong International Academy, near our old house in North, to see the beginnings of a garden project taking place with the students there. It started late in the school year, so not a whole lot was happening with it, but we did get to see where the beds are, and got an over view of what is planned for next year. . . less tomatoes, and a more balanced variety of greens, herbs and veggies.
Officially, the tour ended there, we headed back to UROC and our vehicles. Just before our arrival, HCMG Barb Gasterland invited us all over to meet her chickens. Considering how Optimus keeps begging me to reconsider my decision that we’re not getting any I figured it couldn’t hurt to check out someone else’s set up.
Barb’s place is amazing! It’s been on the Minneapolis – St. Paul Home Tour and I am so glad she gave us the opportunity to visit. From the Buffalo grazing in her front yard prairie to the raingardens flanking the house, the gardens were fantastic. The chicken set up was simple, but elegant, with a cool little enclosed chicken run leading out to their grazing enclosure. She’s raising them for eggs, beautiful, tasty (so everyone who’s sampled them has told me) eggs.
She’s got a rooster too, which was an accident, she’d requested all hens and the hatchery made a mistake when they sexed the chicks. She gives them dry food, and supplements with kitchen scraps (theirs and neighbor’s) and greens grown in watering troughs near the chicken enclosure. Anyhow, if the house is on the tour again, I highly recommend going to check it out.
That’s it. A long post, I know, but it was all so fascinating.
The slideshow’s also long. Start on the picture that says Susane Mua’s CSA, that’s the first one. Enjoy!