Front-yard food: New F-M project promotes growing crops, free for the taking

MOORHEAD - Come August, you might be able to walk down the street and pick a tomato from your neighbor's front yard. It won't be stealing. In fact, it'll be encouraged.
Jeff Knight, Megan Myrdal and Gia Rassier show a wooden box that will be used for the Little Free Gardens. Dave Wallis / The Forum

MOORHEAD – Come August, you might be able to walk down the street and pick a tomato from your neighbor's front yard.

It won't be stealing. In fact, it'll be encouraged.

Ugly Food of the North, a Fargo-Moorhead group that works to reduce food waste, is launching a new project called the Little Free Garden, a concept similar to the Little Free Library, but for food.

The gardens are to be placed in front yards, near the sidewalk, in a 2-by-4 raised-bed structure that residents can either pick up or build themselves later this month at Concordia College.

"It's a small amount of food, but it means so much," said Megan Myrdal, 29, who started the group last year. "It's representing the idea of community building, people gathering together around growing food, having opportunities to talk around the little box that's in your front yard like, 'Hey, what are you growing? How are the tomatoes looking today?' "

Myrdal's group thinks the gardens will have wide appeal to growers new and old-because 8 square feet isn't too much of a commitment, but the idea is novel for a seasoned gardener.

The goal is to foster a community that reconnects with the land.

"One dream idea we have is that neighbors actually talk and grow together to create something," said co-founder Jeff Knight, 33. "So you know, you have a few neighbors that make different kinds of peppers and tomatoes or whatever, and they all get together and make salsa."

"Or it's like, 'We're the salsa neighborhood,' " Myrdal chimed in. " 'Come visit us, and you can pick your tomatoes and peppers and cilantro.' "

The Little Free Gardens will be labeled with silver placards, and Myrdal hopes people will personalize theirs, with paint or perhaps a gnome.

She suggests planting herbs, tomatoes, lettuce and peppers, but the possibilities also include eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, onions, spinach, carrots and more.

The project aims to connect not only neighbors with neighbors, but also people with land.

"We're in the heart of big agriculture, and a lot of us are still really disconnected from the land," said co-founder Gia Rassier, 27.

"I think that that is a big piece of why we waste so much food today," Myrdal said. "When you're completely disconnected from it, and you do not realize all the hands and all the energy and all the labor and all the resources that went into creating the food that ends up on our plate, it's easier and less personal to just throw it in the garbage."

The co-founders, who've been planning the Little Free Gardens since last fall, are eager to see the plots pop up around town.

"The first time we see somebody," Myrdal said, "standing by a garden, picking something from someone else's ..."

"It'll be like we heard our song on the radio," Rassier cut in, laughing.

"I can't wait," Myrdal said.

If you go

The inaugural build of the Little Free Gardens is from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 23, at Concordia College.

The event will have music, games, activities for kids and campus organizations sharing gardening tips.

Tickets are available at bit.ly/1VYxlsp, and the $60 cost includes building materials, a placard, a Little Free Garden booklet and a seedling to start growing.

Tickets are only required to build a garden; you can attend for free.