This post was written by our beloved MN GreenCorps member Sal, who has since completed her service with The Food Group. Sal, thank you for all you have done and continue to do for your community!
My Great Story is a tale of how naïveté, ambition, and persistence pays off. It is also a story that wouldn’t have come about without the dedicated work of the two staff in my program area, and one employee in the City Planning department.
When I first set my professional goals for my service term with The Food Group, I aimed far above my MN GreenCorps workplan measure (establish two Giving Gardens or Orchards in the city of Osseo, MN). Giving Gardens are publically accessible gardens that pledge to donate half of their produce to food insecure families in their community. I worked with employees of the county, as well as the city planner of Osseo to find host sites willing to tend these gardens – we would do all the work of building and planting them. Over the course of the next five months, I contacted dozens of members of local organizations to see if they were interested in hosting a garden on their site to produce more food for their community. I was met with a lack of interest, inconvenient construction or staffing changes that made it impossible to start a garden at that time, or no response to my many emails and phone messages. Efforts by my coworkers and the city planner met with similar results.
A Time for Desperation:
It was around late March that I started to get desperate, as there is a limited window for establishing gardens if you want to grow anything in the same season. I felt time passing by as the seeds slowly aged in their unopened packets. I started to question everything. Did people even want to grow food? Did people even like vegetables? Maybe people’s love of technology overwhelmed any desire to work outside. During time set aside from the other, more successful projects I was working on, I continued contacting organizations, moving out in concentric circles from the center of the city. I thought that if I couldn’t find a site within city limits, maybe I could find one in a nearby community.
The morning of April 6th, I booted up my computer, noticing as I did that my phone had a flashing red ‘you have a message’ light! This was a fairly unusual event, as many of my other project partners preferred email as our primary means of communication. I glanced through my emails as I settled in, and noticed immediately a response from one of my most recent prospective host sites. I prepared to read the familiar note of rejection (at least a negative response was better than no response at all). However, the two sentence email said that they were very interested in Giving Gardens and could I give them a call back ASAP.
Not reluctantly interested, but very interested. I listened to my phone message: A first grade teacher at Vincent de Paul Catholic School wanted to start a garden at their school but didn’t have enough funding or knowledge of how to grow, and wanted to hear more about our project. I called back and she told me how the school was planning on starting a garden and wanted to do service projects with the produce, like bringing it to a nearby assisted living facility. They had plenty of students that wanted to be involved, and staff that could care for a garden during the summer months. Their limitation was that they didn’t know the first thing about how to grow a garden. I told her that we had the funding and collective knowledge and experience to train new gardeners, and just needed someone to host a garden. We had found a perfect match.
A Garden (and another):
The next steps progressed quickly. I purchased compost, plants, and mulch. A school staff member brought a rototiller from home and prepared the planting bed. My fellow Food Group staff helped me organize 40 first graders as we planted the tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions, beans, and cucumbers. Before we even finished laying the final mulch on the garden, I received an email from someone else who was interested in the Giving Garden project. This was another perfect site: a nonprofit working with a trailer park in Dayton, MN on increasing resources available to residents. At our first meeting we laid out all of the roles and responsibilities of both partners, and she wanted to know how soon we could get planting. We set the date (rather optimistically) for one week out. Rather than donating the food to a nearby hunger relief agency, the food would be made available to residents, many of whom utilized the weekly mobile food shelf. With less than a week to go, I set about organizing our event. While I was ordering soil and lumber for this site, I received an email from the city planner of Osseo. She had identified an odd-shaped vacant piece of public works land as a potential orchard site, and the public works department was amenable to the idea. The near-miracle of locating two site partners in such a short time meant that I hadn’t notified any of the contacts working on my behalf that we were not longer on the lookout for additional host sites.
Rather than return her email right away, I dawdled, putting off the awkward conversation that loomed. I didn’t want to tell her that after all the hard work she had put in over these past months, we found two Giving Garden host sites that weren’t even in Osseo! During that period of hesitation, I attended our weekly Produce Programs meeting. In that meeting, one of the staff members talked about a new grant he had received from the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation. This grant provided dozens of fruit trees to be planted at a local homeless shelter for youth. Unfortunately, the shelter could only accommodate a handful of trees. However, the foundation was willing to consider planting the remaining trees at another nearby site. I couldn’t believe it. I immediately set about getting all parties in contact with each other, hoping that this would work out and we would finally get that publically accessible edible landscape in place for the city of Osseo.
To make a long story short, it all coalesced. After a very long string of emails, quite a few phone calls, and a few nervous moments, all of the details were worked out. We had a source of funding, planting assistance, and tree care training. Several different volunteer groups were interested in being involved, including one large corporate group. The foundation was even interested in bringing in some media attention. The last informal update I heard included some rumors about food trucks at the planting event. This was evolving into something quite remarkable. All to think, less than a year ago, I had been reaching out to anyone and everyone, trying desperately to find just one or two hosts for my giving gardens. On the last day of my service term, I find that our two partner gardens are growing nicely, and a future orchard will be seated in the heart of Osseo. Somehow, the tenacity of a MN GreenCorps member, tireless efforts by The Food Group staff and the Osseo city planner, and a little serendipity resulted in three new publically accessible sources of local produce near the city of Osseo. It also means that I somehow met and exceeded the goal I set for myself in my first week of service.
This post was written by Sal Daggett, former MN GreenCorp member serving with The Food Group. Edited by Amber Mayer. Interested in learning more about our Produce Programs? Contact: [email protected]!