City dwellers who want to grow their own food can find support and low-cost supplies through neighborhood hubs.
Last spring, Kifah Abdi wanted to try growing some of her own food. The Somali native had done some gardening in France but not in Minnesota.
"I consider myself a beginner," she said. "I had questions like, 'What time do you start planting here?' and 'When is frost?' It was very confusing."
Then a friend gave her a flier about a new program offering gardening help and inexpensive supplies.
"The seeds were affordable," Abdi said, so she went to a meeting and joined a Local Food Resource Hub, one of three that served several hundred members last year as part of a pilot program.
With the help of her hub, Abdi grew tomatoes, herbs, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, garlic and onions -- and learned a lot along the way. One neighbor taught her how to compost, another how to can.
"You get to know the community and the people who have knowledge," she said.
In fact, Abdi liked the hub so much that she's already signed up for this year.
Now other urban gardeners and gardener wannabes can sign up, too. The program has been expanded for 2012, with hubs added in Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis and St. Paul Midway, in addition to hubs already existing in North Minneapolis, Southside and the Phillips/Ventura Village neighborhood.
"We're hoping for more than 1,000 members this year," said Nadja Berneche, program director for Gardening Matters, which partnered with the City of Minneapolis and other groups to launch the program.
This year's plans also include developing a mentorship program, where rookie gardeners are paired with experienced gardeners.
There are no income guidelines to join a hub, but participants must live in Minneapolis or St. Paul, Berneche said. Those who do live in one of the two cities are free to join any hub.
"You can choose the hub that's most convenient," she said. "It doesn't have to be where you live. It can be where you work or where you know the community. Community is a really big part of the program."
Hubs set their own priorities, including what classes they want to offer to their members. Last year's hubs tackled a variety of topics, including organic pest control, composting and entrepreneurial gardening (designed to teach gardeners how to sell their produce). Each hub also held its own end-of-season harvest celebration, a neighborhood potluck.
"One of the strengths is neighbors can tailor what they do," Berneche said.
Hub membership is available at three levels: small (10 packets of seeds and 12 seedlings); medium (20 packets of seeds and 24 seedlings); and large (50 packets of seeds and 72 seedlings), with a sliding fee scale ($25 to $40 is suggested for the medium membership). Scholarships also are available.
Membership is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Seeds and plants will be distributed April 14 and May 19, and resources are limited, Berneche said, so prospective members are advised to join as soon as possible. To reserve a membership spot, contact Gardening Matters at 612-821-2358 or sign up online at www.gardeningmatters.org/hubs.
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784