Rice Street Gardens serves to unite old and new neighbors


The Rice Street Gardens, located in the northeastern corner of Rice Street and Roselawn Avenue in Maplewood, recently received an award from the Minnesota State Horticultural Society for its work connecting the community. Marjorie Otto

The gardens ended the 2017 growing season with 266, 16-by-20 foot garden plots. The community garden leases about two acres from St. Paul Regional Water Services. courtesy of Rice Street Gardens

The Rice Street Gardens has been operating for just two growing seasons, but the work has not gone unnoticed. 

The community garden was awarded the Governor’s Certificate of Commendation from the Minnesota State Horticultural Society this fall for its work building and connecting the community.

The community garden, which is located in the northeast corner of the intersection of Rice Street and Roselawn Avenue, is a collaboration between Roseville, Maplewood and St. Paul, as well as many neighborhood organizations. The garden serves a majority of neighbors whose native language is not English, from countries like Burma, Bhutan, Togo, Benin and Liberia. About 10 different languages are spoken in the garden.

Tom McKusick, publisher of Northern Gardener magazine and coordinator for the Minnesota Green program at the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, said he nominated the garden for three reasons — the speed in which participants established such a large garden, the number of community partnerships involved, and the work it is doing involving refugee and immigrant neighbors in the community.

“That was impressive to me,” McKusick said. “It takes many years to get to that level.”

The community garden ended this growing season with 266 growing plots, each about 16-by-20 feet, that community members can rent for $20 for the growing season.  

 

A community need

The creation of the garden had a lot to do with the luck of timing. It just happened that many neighbors in that tri-city corner were interested in creating a community garden and came together to make it happen.

Katheryn Schneider, a community activist who lives in the North End neighborhood of St. Paul said she had been wanting to create a community garden in the neighborhood for a while. She would often drive by what would be the future site of the garden and envision a community garden there. 

She kept an eye on the land for a while as it passed through owners. At one point there were talks of a Home Depot being built there.

Eventually St. Paul Regional Water Services purchased the land, as it backs up to its water treatment facility located off of Rice Street. 

Schneider reached out to the water service to ask if it would be interested in hosting a community garden on its newly acquired land, which it was excited to do. 

As the garden came to fruition, Schneider realized she couldn’t do it all on her own and reached out to Galilee Lutheran Church, across the street, to ask if people there would be interested in the cause. 

It just so happened that the church was looking to start a similar endeavour.

Schneider soon came into contact with Sherry Sanders as well, the Lake McCarrons Neighborhood Association chair, and began talking about the community garden idea. 

Sanders said she had recently applied for a grant to host community conversations with  established neighbors and new neighbors so they could learn about each other and how established neighbors could help new neighbors feel more at home. 

Gardening was one frequently mentioned need by a number of new, immigrant neighbors, many of whom come from agriculture backgrounds and wanted to be able to continue their traditions.

Sanders said the city of Roseville was also looking to establish a garden in the southeastern corner of the city as well.

“The stars were aligning,” Schneider said. 

From that point on Sanders, Schneider and Ron Peterson from Galilee Lutheran Church, met every Monday for two hours to plan out the garden.

They made multiple presentations to St. Paul Regional Water Services, Maplewood, Roseville and to St. Paul City Council member Amy Brendmoen about their plans for the community garden.

“Everyone we talked to was very supportive,” Peterson said.

It took two years of planning before they began planting in 2016 with 160 plots.

 

Support for new and old neighbors

“I think this is such a blessing for the community because it actually feeds in more ways than one,” said Sanders, explaining that not only does the garden provide food, it also builds community, brings people together and provides a healthy lifestyle.

Roseville supports the garden by providing compost and gravel for the site. St. Paul Regional Water Services leases the two-acre plot of land to the community garden for free. Galilee Lutheran Church supports the garden by acting as the fiscal agent, managing the donations and insurance costs. 

McCarrons Pub and Grill gives gardeners access to its water. The garden also receives plants from Minnesota Green program. There’s a number of civic groups and local clubs who help support the garden as well.

“It really truly does take a village to make a community garden grow,” Sanders said.

In addition, Sanders, Schneider and Peterson said the garden helps provide a laid-back way for neighbors to understand each other’s cultures. 

There are challenges as well. With the more than 10 languages spoken at the garden, making sure everyone understands the rules can be difficult.

The three also said they want to step back and give gardeners more of a lead with the garden. They are trying to get representatives from each language spoken in the garden to join their leadership team.

Overall, the team is pleased with the Governor’s Certificate of Commendation.

“We were very honored to receive [the award] because it means so much to the people that use the gardens,” Sanders said. 

“Many of these families are food insecure,” Sanders added. With access to this community garden she said immigrants and refugees are now able to grow “fresh, organic vegetables for their families.” 

Peterson said they want their new neighbors to be happy and successful in their new country, adding, “Someone needs to tell immigrants they’re welcome here.”

 

Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto



 

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