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WCCO Viewers’ Choice For MN’s Best Community Garden

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If you like your fruits and veggies, you’ll like the St. Cloud State University Community Garden.

“One-hundred-and-thirty tomatoes, at least 25 different kinds. We’ve got peppers, onions, potatoes, okra, collard greens,” said Dr. Tracy Ore, coordinator of the garden.

That’s just part of the list. And as impressive as it is, the plants weren’t the seed that started this garden ten years ago.

“I really started it to grow community,” she said. “Food is a nice byproduct, but it was really meant to bring people together.”

Even though it’s on campus, the garden is not run by students. Some are involved, but mainly behind the scenes.

“We have a new irrigation system that students helped design. We have some accessible planters built to ADA accessible height that they build of our repurposed cedar,” Ore said.

Instead, you’ll find university staff, faculty and neighbors getting their hands dirty alongside their children

“Most of them have grown up in the garden. Izzy, Jacy and Kiley have all been involved since they were a couple days old,” she said.

During the summer, members are asked to work an hour a week. But if that’s too tough a row to hoe, no one is going to hold their strawberries hostage.

“We have a saying: ‘We don’t grow guilt in the garden.’ The garden is open to everyone and we really want everyone to feel welcome and involved here,” Ore said.

That’s accomplished by breaking from a community garden convention. Here, there are no rented plots. Everyone works on the same land.

“This is 8,000 square feet of collectively planned and planted garden space, so there’s no yours or mine in the garden, it’s all our stuff,” she said. “What’s nice about that is it doesn’t kind of breed competition over plots, but instead we wind up helping each other take care of things.”

And it seems to be working. In a decade, they’ve taken vacant lots and transformed them into a space to grow food and relationships. And the greater campus community has embraced the idea.

“When we started the garden, people said if we didn’t charge fees, if we didn’t have a fence and didn’t have lots of rules, people would take advantage of it and we’d have lots of vandalism,” Ore said. “And 10 years later, we’ve had kind of the opposite of vandalism.”

The community garden gets $500 a year from the university. To pay for everything else, they sell what they grow, pickle, jam and can at the school’s farmers market.

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