IMPACT MAGAZINE: How residents cultivate community through gardening
Despite the metropolitan’s population of more than 200,000, the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo area stays connected to its rural roots through a thriving gardening community that produces an abundance of nourishment for both new and longtime residents.
More than 10 years ago, a group of community leaders wanted to create ways for residents to connect with new Americans. In Fargo, 5 percent of the population were recently settled refugees. While these residents were eager to connect, it could be difficult because they were still learning English.
A church leader suggested a community garden and called the one person who would be able to make it happen: Jack Wood. Known to the community for his heirloom tomatoes, Wood saw this as an opportunity to give back while sharing his passion for gardening. In 2005 with the community’s help, Wood planted the first seeds of Growing Together - A Community Garden Ministry.
“What started as one garden and eight families is now an organization with six gardens working with over 150 families,” Wood said. “This year, we have over 60 new members that have signed up.”
Through the community gardens, new Americans and longtime residents come together by working towards a common purpose. Despite the language and cultural barriers, the shared garden creates a common experience.
“Nearly every culture has vegetable gardening or other food-production as a basis for their historical existence,” said Don Kinzler, an extension agent with the Cass County Extension office and weekly gardening columnist with Forum Communications Company. “Gardening is something everyone can relate to. Because of this, new residents and current locals are linked with this shared, basic human commonality.”
Because of the gardens, Wood said new Americans find friends while becoming acquainted with the region's growing season.
“Many of our new Americans now have a home with gardens in their backyards but continue to garden with us on a weekly basis,” Wood said.
To be a member of the community garden, all a person has to invest is time. No membership fees are charged and funds for the program are generated through sales. All volunteers who commit 16 hours are full share members. During harvest, produce is divided among full share members. Any additional produce is sold to fund the program or donated to local food banks. As of 2017, more than 8,000 pounds of produce had been donated.
“Our focus is on our six shared gardens, but our mission is also to help others start their own community gardens,” Wood said. “This last summer we helped to plan gardens at The Summit Church (West Fargo), Madison (Fargo) and Pactiv (in Moorhead) through the use of our Community Gardening toolkit.”
Wood said the reason Growing Together Ministry continues to thrive is simple: the community’s history of horticulture and hospitality.
Gleaning for others
People in the lush Red River Valley know they don’t have to go far to see large fields of produce. Inspired by history, a group of community leaders started a gleaning program to reduce food waste.
“Gleaning is an ancient practice that is still carried out in communities around the world,” explains Janice Tweet, gleaning coordinator for GleaND. “Gleaning refers to the recovery of excess food from farms, gardens, restaurants, grocery stores and more. The recovered produce is then donated to those who may not otherwise have access. ”
In 2017, the Cass Clay Food Commission created the GleaND project to address food insecurity. GleaND works specifically to glean fruits and vegetables. Growers who are interested in donating produce and are unable to harvest can contact GleaND to utilize the volunteer network to help pick the produce and transport it to a local pantry.
“Gleaning benefits the community by lessening the rate of food insecurity and reducing the amount of food wasted,” Tweet said. “Gleaning helps address food insecurity by providing fresh produce to our local food pantries and shelters.”
This season, GleaND plans to recover 20,000 pounds of produce from the group of Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo growers they assembled in 2018.
“This year we intend to expand our geographic footprint to work with at least one grower in southeastern North Dakota,” Tweet said.
Approximately five to 14 people volunteer several hours to glean fields. The length of time varies as it depends on the size of produce recovery. Any amount of produce recovered is donated and helps feed locals.
“For our smaller gleans, we donate to various pantries and shelters in Fargo-Moorhead, and we have donated directly to Churches United for the Homeless, Emergency Food Pantry and the New Life Center,” Tweet said. “Last year we had two larger gleans, which we delivered directly to the Great Plains Food Bank.”
Tweet said gleaning is a simple initiative with big impacts, and it wouldn’t be possible without the true partnership among community members, Cass Clay Food Partners, Fargo Cass Public Health, Great Plains Food Bank and North Dakota State University Extension Office.
Small gardens, big rewards
In addition to shared community gardens and gleaning initiatives a local nonprofit organization, Food of the North empowers people to plant “Little Free Gardens”.
Modeled from the Little Free Library Project in Fargo started in 2012, the Little Free Garden (LGF) provides healthy, locally grown food for anyone who wants it or needs it, co-founder Megan Myrdal explains.
"Little Free Gardens are small raised-bed gardens that people put in publicly accessible spaces," Myrdal said.
This project encourages anyone to buy or install this small 2-by-4 foot, raised-bed structure in an easily accessible place. Myrdal said most people place these in their front yards, but others — hindered by lack of sunshine or space — find a space by finding a compromise with their neighbors or asking their landlords.
"We're pretty confident that anyone who really wants a garden can make it happen. For apartments, we suggest that people contact their apartment manager to see if they're allowed to have a small raised-bed garden around the building," Myrdal said. "We've also had some people ask if they can grow the food on their patio and leave it in the front entrance for their neighbors."
After purchasing or building the raised-bed structure, people have the opportunity through LGF to register it so it will appear on the Little Free Garden Map .
During its first season, 50 Little Free Gardens were built in the local area. Then in its second season, the effort included over 100 gardens in seven states. In the current season, more than 270 gardens are sprinkled throughout 19 states, Canada and Portugal.