You know a North Dakota project is a wholesome venture when it welcomes everyone, has a successful track record and its yearly kickoff begins with a potluck meal. And if the project involves gardening along with the smorgasbord of hotdish, homemade salads and desserts, we know it’s a good thing.

Fargo’s Growing Together Community Garden wins on all these counts. This year marks its 13th season, and we’re all invited to the yearly participation sign-up beginning with a potluck meal Thursday, March 21. This unique model of shared gardening, conceived right here in Fargo, even caught the national eye, as co-founder Jack Wood received last year’s National Council of Garden Clubs’ prestigious Award of Excellence at its national convention in Philadelphia.

Many of us are familiar with municipal public garden spaces divided into plots and rented to individuals who tend and harvest their own separately marked space. Growing Together Community Garden is a completely different concept — and these truly are community gardens.

Participants at one of the six garden sites pause for a group photo. Growing Together Community Garden / Special to The Forum
Participants at one of the six garden sites pause for a group photo. Growing Together Community Garden / Special to The ForumGrowing Together Community Garden / Special to The Forum

Everyone is invited to enroll, work and share the bounty by investing two to three hours a week planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. Together everyone shares the work and everyone shares the harvest. There’s no fee and no plants or seeds to purchase. Everything necessary is provided. You don’t even need to know anything about gardening because you’ll be shown everything necessary.

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It’s also perfect for apartment or condo dwellers who have no garden space, but would love gardening and fresh vegetables. Participants register for involvement with one of six gardens located in Fargo. Each garden runs on a regular schedule and participants join together on the designated day and time, signing in when they arrive. Core volunteers plan each week’s gardening tasks and show what needs to be done.

Participants enjoy fresh vegetables beginning in July, extending through the big harvest event in fall. Organizers coordinate distribution of the produce, and gardeners logging 16 hours receive a full share of all harvested vegetables.

Participants receive a full share of all vegetables by gardening two to three hours each week at scheduled times. Growing Together Community Garden / Special to The Forum
Participants receive a full share of all vegetables by gardening two to three hours each week at scheduled times. Growing Together Community Garden / Special to The ForumGrowing Together Community Garden / Special to The Forum

The concept began in 2005 when a group of Fargo community leaders met to discuss ways to embrace new Americans in the community. One of the ideas was to start a community garden, and Jack Wood, a passionate, longtime tomato grower, became involved. As the garden became a reality, not only were healthy vegetables produced, but gardeners learned about working together for a common good.

This shared-gardening model ballooned from one garden in 2006 serving eight families to six gardens in 2018 serving more than 150 families with about 300 individuals participating. Last year, more than 65,000 pounds of vegetables were shared among participants and community food pantries.

Growing Together Community Garden is practicing innovative ways to optimize vegetable production. Instead of tilling, raised beds 30 inches wide and 8 to 12 inches high are being formed, which saves time, promotes natural aeration, increases drainage, reduces weeding and increases soil health. Compost from the city of Fargo's recycling program is used extensively.

Succession planting allows multiple crops in the same spot. For example, when a mature beet is pulled, another seed is planted in its place. Intercropping, or companion planting, combines crops that benefit each other, such as onions planted with eggplant and carrots with tomatoes.

Innovative ideas are used in the community gardens, such as growing vining vegetables on tunnel-like hoops. Growing Together Community Garden / Special to The Forum
Innovative ideas are used in the community gardens, such as growing vining vegetables on tunnel-like hoops. Growing Together Community Garden / Special to The ForumGrowing Together Community Garden / Special to The Forum

Ideal crop spacing increases production and conserves moisture. For example, if peppers have leaves touching when the plants are three-fourths grown, the leafy canopy reduces water lost by evaporation.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Don Kinzler's Growing Together columns

If you go

What: Growing Together Community Garden informational meeting and spring sign-up

When: 5 p.m. Thursday, March 21; potluck meal begins at 5:30 p.m.

Where: Olivet Lutheran Church, 1330 S. University Drive, Fargo

Info: This event is for new and returning members, and membership is free and open to all; visit www.facebook.com/GrowingTogetherND or email jackstomatoes@gmail.com for more information

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.