The Church of St. Gerard is in the process of constructing and planning a 32-plot community garden on its land, south of Oak Grove Parkway and east of Regent Avenue.
While the exact details of how the garden will be operated are not yet finalized, some mix of both parishioners and the general public will be able to rent a 20-foot by 20-foot plot where they could plant an organic garden of their choice. The total size of the garden will be approximately 200 feet long by 100 feet wide.
The church’s justice and outreach commission came up with the idea to construct this garden in spring 2016 and has been working to make it a reality ever since.
The project took a significant step forward when it received a $3,000 Statewide Health Improvement Partnership grant from Hennepin County. Since then, the church’s fundraising efforts have raised another $4,000.
Currently, the church plans to have the garden open and ready for use by spring 2018.
Total costs to construct the garden are estimated at $6,000 to $7,500.
Construction costs include both deer-proof and rabbit-proof fencing, irrigation and other general landscaping costs.
Once construction is finished, the church would like to plant bee- and butterfly-friendly plants along the outside of the fence.
The church plans use the garden to collaborate with Community Emergency Assistance Programs, potentially contributing fresh produce to the food shelf. There is no specific plan in place yet, but the church is considering either asking renters to contribute a certain amount of their harvest to CEAP, or perhaps dedicating a plot or two directly to CEAP contributions.
One hope for the garden is that it will allow an older generation of gardeners to pass their knowledge to another generation that may not otherwise have access to a plot of land, said Anne Tiller, pastoral minister.
“We would love the idea that [experienced gardeners] have all of this knowledge, that we could get some of our youth working side by side in our church gardens, and pass on that love of nature, that love of being able to grow and eat your own produce,” Tiller said.
Diversity and access to healthy food were also important considerations for the church. The church has small but significant west African populations, as well as a Vietnamese population. These populations, as well as Brooklyn Park’s larger and diverse general population ought to be represented in the garden, Tiller said.
Serving low-income families is “definitely something we hope to do, serving diversity in our community,” Tiller said.
“Maybe an unspoken goal but certainly one that has been foremost in our mind is definitely wanting to make gardening available to people that don’t have that available if they … rent apartments,” she said.
As an organic garden, chemicals and pesticides would not be allowed. Some fertilizers would be allowed, however. The church has not yet developed a policy on how it would treat gardeners with an interest in planning perennial vegetables or other crops that would return on a yearly basis, but the church does not have any plans to stop any gardener from growing any particular plant.
The church is built on eight acres of land, much of which goes unused most of the year, Tiller said. A community garden is a better use of the land than the rare uses such as parking it sees throughout the year.
“Since we have this land that has not been used, is there a way to use this that would help further our mission as a church? So, there was always some sort of awareness that we wanted to do this,” Tiller said. “More and more we’re thinking, as stewards of this land, is there something we could do to make this benefit creation?”
The church expects the garden to fill with users fairly quickly, according to Tiller.
“The community gardens in this area fill up with waiting lists,” she said.
Depending on financial resources, the church may consider expanding the garden to allow for more plots. Some sort of beekeeping operation may also be considered.
In April 2017, irrigation was installed and extended from the church facility to the garden site. It connects to four watering stations, where a gardener could connect a hose or fill a watering can. Each station has three spigots that are fed by well water, rather than by the city’s water lines.
Each plot will be separated by a walking path covered with mulch. Hyvee has donated a gift card and a pallet of mulch to the church, and some free mulch has also came from city maintenance operations as well.
Response from the community has been positive so far, Tiller said.
The county has since connected the church with a master gardener, who has offered to come teach gardening basics to all gardeners at the start of program operations.
Since the garden will be visible from Oak Grove Parkway, the church is making a concentrated effort to ensure that it is visually pleasing, and not an eyesore for the neighborhood, Tiller said.
Currently, the church is working to finalize its policies and market the garden, said Sherry Anderson, committee member.
Several churches that already have constructed community gardens were instrumental in helping the church plan for its garden. The church is hoping that it can offer the same help to other churches that may want to do the same on their land. In particular, Crossroad Alliance and Buffalo Presbyterian churches were quite helpful, Tiller said.
The garden has proved to be a large undertaking, Tiller said.
“I think we all realized from the time we got the committee organized up until now, how much there is involved,” said Dennis Potvin, an involved church member. “It’s not just saying, ‘Plunk in that piece of land, taking that and put a fence around it.’ You really get your eyes opened. You find out what actually has to be done to get the job done—it’s really a lot of work.”