Community gardens flourishing with an assist from Minnesota taxpayers

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 7, 2013 - 9:02 PM

The support, given over two years, offers a boost to community gardens around the state. Some lawmakers had raised objections.

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Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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It takes sunshine, water and a lot of helping hands to make a community garden grow — and sometimes, a little seed money from the state.

On Knox Avenue in north Minneapolis, young gardeners watch over the tomatoes, peppers, greens, strawberries and melons they’ve been tending since the spring thaw. They range in age from teens down to an industrious 4-year-old with a shovel, all eager to bring in the harvest and sell it at their local farmers market.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s fun,” said Loreal McKelvy, who turns 10 next month. She and her brother, Latrell, 12, have been gardening here for the past two years, digging and composting, watering and weeding and waiting for the harvest.

The money they get from the market, and a small stipend they earn working in the garden, goes right into the bank. That way, Latrell said, their savings account “grows and grows” just like their garden.

Peace Garden is just one of many around the city that grew with the help of state taxpayer dollars.

Over the past two years, the Minnesota Department of Health has spent about $89,354 to help start community gardens around the state through its Statewide Health Improvement Program, also known as SHIP. Those funds were funneled through communities and nonprofits, who added private funding to the mix to help the gardens thrive.

Those garden grants are a sliver of the $15 million SHIP budget, which in turn is a sliver of the $11.2 billion state Health and Human Services budget. But Republicans in the Legislature pushed hard to have the funds cut from the budget entirely.

During an April debate, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, questioned why the state was spending thousands of dollars to help “suburban folks to grow vegetables.” He had no beef with veggies, but surely, he argued, there were better uses of taxpayer funds.

At Gardening Matters, a nonprofit that offers resources to more than 900 individual gardens and more than 500 community gardens, a $3,000 grant from the city, made possible with SHIP funds, allowed the group to offer seeds, tools, mulch and other gardening basics to gardens in urban neighborhoods with the greatest need for access to healthy, homegrown produce.

The goal was to “impact the culture of communities through gardening,” said Jeremiah Ellis, executive director of Gardening Matters. Over 18 months, it targeted the public money, along with other resources from other private and community organizations, to “communities with the greatest health disparities and the least access to healthy eating options.”

At Peace Garden, coordinator Candis McKelvy, Latrell and Loreal’s grandmother, is watching the garden flourish, and its young gardeners along with it.

“I think the city got its money’s worth,” she said. “These kids worked so hard.”

Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049

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