It was a first trip for me, and as we were flying in, I really, deeply understood the meaning of “Great Plains” – the view from horizon to horizon is flat as a pancake.
(And, yes, movie fans, the wood chipper lives at the Visitor’s Bureau.)
Gardening in Fargo-Moorhead (a twin city in Minnesota just over the Red River of “Red River Valley” fame) has its pros and cons. A big plus is that this area has some of the best soil in the world. A serious con, a very short growing season (USDA Hardiness Zone 3-4). But these good natured and hard working descendants of Scandinavian pioneers make community gardens work – and work well – with what they’ve got.
I was in Fargo, in the winter, to be the “lovely assistant” to facilitator Amanda Edmonds to teach a workshop on community gardens. Amanda alone was worth the flight – she’s founder of Growing Hope, a not-for-profit based in Ypsilanti, Michigan, former American Community Gardening Association board member and Michigan local food systems dynamo.
Friday morning, after some amusing confusion with our names being so similar (mine LaManda – hers Amanda), house keeping and intros, this seasoned Growing Communities facilitator quickly demonstrated to a group of 40+ diverse personalities and programs that the two-days they were about to spend together would change how they viewed their gardens, their programs and their sense of what community is really all about.
Through an intense and hands-on weekend, the learning went both ways, Jack and Nola from Growing Together shared how their gardens work as a “food and family” ministry for “new Americans” from Bhutan and Africa (which reminded me of the excellent book on this topic The Earth Knows My Name – a must-read for those working with refugee populations.) Focusing on the “original Americans” Colette and Robert discussed how gardening is bringing heritage and traditional ways alive at the Bismarck United Tribes Technical College. In a similar vein, Jamie talked about using community gardening as a forum for her daughter’s Girl Scout Troop and revealed that her grandmother was the last Mandan corn priestess. Clearly, growing corn has special meaning for her family! Our organizer, Abby and her colleagues from NDSU Extension provided support, expertise and good senses of humor. Numerous folks who introduced themselves as “just home gardeners” proved to be excellent resources (and potential volunteers) while Ross and Amber, emerging farmers at Heart & Soil Farm decided that, in all their free time, supporting the community gardens in Fargo-Moorehead would be central to their new farm’s mission.
For over a decade the American Community Gardening Association has been offering Growing Communities workshops across the US and Canada. Participants usually think they’re coming to learn how to install or maintain a community garden (no matter what the flyer says). What they really learn is that community gardens are 10% garden and 90% community. And they leave with the skills needed to make the most of their communities no matter where they live and what challenges they face.
To learn how a Growing Communities workshop can change the outlook of your town/city/state’s community gardens send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org