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Let’s get growing

The community of St. Cloud is growing into a welcoming environment for those interested in gardening.

The city has created a way to develop community and awareness of gardening through in-town organic farming programs. There are different gardening programs in the area. Featured in this article are two gardening programs that have been successful the last several years.

In 2005, Tracy Orr, a St. Cloud State sociology professor, started a gardening program on the campus of St. Cloud State University to accomplish a few goals she felt were important for the St. Cloud community.  She started the organic gardening program because she did not feel connected to the community. Tracy thought the community needed more awareness about community gardening and saw it as an opportunity to connect with others who were like-minded.

“It started with a few people who helped plant one garden and care for it throughout the summer.” Tracy said.

Today 35 work the garden and reap the benefits of the St. Cloud State University organic gardening program.

“There are now two gardens that are worked, and anyone can get involved,” she said. “Families are encouraged to get involved, and participants in the gardening program range in ages, religion, gardening experiences and cultural differences. They share their knowledge and experiences about good gardening techniques and work together to provide a bountiful garden that everyone will benefit from. Some of the produce they raise are tomatoes, squash, corn, raspberries, strawberries, lettuce and green beans, along with some flowers to add beauty to the garden.”

Some of the produce is sold at farmers markets and some is donated to the food shelf.

“They hold annual meetings and discuss together how the garden will be planted and what will happen to the produce. Everyone has a voice, and decisions are made according to individual needs and desires. “

The program, she explained, has become so well known that visiting academics from China, Chile and other countries have stopped in for tours and tips on gardening and the connection between community and gardening.  Professor Orr concluded our talk by saying,  “This program provides opportunities for people to learn from each other as well as create bonding experiences for new members to the community as well as for older community members to meet new residents.”

The second gardening group, Central Minnesota Sustain Ability Project, has been established within the last few years.

“We started out with one garden and many volunteers. We raised money to work the garden in 2010.

This was the Kelly garden in back of the Centra Care Plaza,” said Autumn Brown, the executive director, “Part of the funding came from Dr. James Kelly who thought it would benefit the community and staff members at Centra Care to have a garden to work in.”

There are community members and doctors, nurses and other staff members who volunteer to work in the garden. It is open to the community as well, and anyone can volunteer to work in the garden and receive produce that they cultivated.

“In 2011 another garden was added, “ she said, “Maine Prairie Garden is located in a St. Cloud town park next to the St. Cloud Unitarian church. There are 75 plots there, and groups of families meet to work together in their portion of the garden.” Autumn also told me,  “This has been an incredible opportunity for people to meet and bond developing friendships that last many years. Being a multicultural program many meet people they would never associate with and develop friendships.”

This summer, a third garden has been in the making, and the staff at Central Minnesota Sustain Ability Project hope to have it up and running next summer.  Autumn believes  this program, like the University of St. Cloud’s gardening program, was designed to create a safe environment that promotes sharing of information, working together and developing new friendships.  It is a multicultural project based on shared interests in gardening.

Unlike the St. Cloud University gardening project, which is all volunteers, this gardening program has two paid full-time staff and two part-time paid staff. Their office is located downtown St. Cloud.

“There is a lot of paperwork along with overseeing of the sights that can not be accomplished without the staff,” said Autumn,  “and we actually work all year around. In the winter we raise money and hold meetings to plan the next season gardening programs, and in the summer, we oversee the garden plots and manage the use of supplies and equipment to maintain the gardens.” The gardeners, come together to work and maintain the garden but the staff oversees the development and funding to support the project.  The staff fundraises and writes grants to get the finances to continue their garden programs.  For more information contact:

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