Growing more than meets the eyeMuch like the plants in the community garden — when you try to find out who was instrumental in founding it, names start sprouting up all over the place.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Much like the plants in the community garden — when you try to find out who was instrumental in founding it, names start sprouting up all over the place.
You’re likely to be told about three different people — Becky Alsop, Paul Drotos and Hank Brummer.
But when you factor in the city employees who helped research the idea, the person who found the perfect location for a garden and the residents who have shown enough interest to plant seeds throughout it — not to mention the help of the Goodhue County Master Gardeners — that instrumental number grows much larger.
After all, how can a community garden be created without a community effort?
“Everybody was there whenever we needed them,” Drotos said.
It was about five years ago when interest grew in developing a community garden. The city of Red Wing started focusing heavily on sustainability, and a garden fit perfectly in its plans.
“What we did is we started just exploring the possibilities,” Drotos said.
A committee of gardeners held several informational meetings before a spot along Spring Creek Road was discovered as the perfect location. That spot would soon be the home of the first community garden that Red Wing had seen for many years.
“I think everybody likes it,” gardener Lynn Gustafson said. “We’ve got gardeners from young guys in their early 20s all the way up to some of us older buzzards.”
Since the beginning, interest in the garden has steadily grown — to the point that a second one was created on the east side of town. Looking to the future, a third community garden may eventually be created for handicapped gardeners where all of the beds would be at the height of someone standing or someone in a wheelchair.
Until then, organizers remain focused on the two existing gardens. They’re both broken up into 10-by-20-foot or 20-by-20-foot plots filled with okra, Swiss chard, squash, cherry tomatoes, sunflowers, beets and peppers, among other foods and flowers.
“People are free to grow whatever they want,” gardener Rob Meyer said, adding that everything is organic. “Some people I’m sure are growing something that most people wouldn’t be growing in their gardens.”
Sarah Singer is one of them. She prefers having fruits and vegetables that aren’t so common.
“I like to grow things you can’t find in the market,” Singer said, holding a small box of ground cherries.
Singer has been making the most of the community garden for as long as possible. She’s one of many gardeners who participate annually.
“People get attached to their dirt once you start working it,” Drotos said. “We have lots of people that just repeat year after year, which is exactly what it takes.”
Spring Creek Garden has 41 gardeners and Bluff View Garden has 32. While some might not have property at their homes to develop a personal garden, others may want extra space to grow additional produce or they could simply be interested in joining a community effort.
Whatever the reason that brings people to the community gardens, they’re more than welcome.
“Gardening does a lot of good for people,” Drotos said, adding that it can be beneficial for some of them to collaborate. “People really get along and they help each other. We’re not just growing vegetables, we’re growing community.”
In addition to the community of people who regularly use the gardens, other parts of the Red Wing community have been generous in providing some vital components to making them a success.
The Red Wing Sustainability Commission, Live Healthy Red Wing and Sargent’s Nursery have all contributed either money or low-cost materials that have helped with the community garden’s webpage as well as its on-site operations.
While people are invited to stop and take a look at what’s growing throughout the season, perhaps the most important piece of the gardens is something that intentionally keeps others out.
“There are a lot of deer and animals that just love to munch on people’s gardens. We knew that was our main concern,” Drotos said.
Sturdy fencing surrounds the group of plots and has been successful in keeping all plants and produce growing strong without interruption. It’s something Gustafson and his wife appreciate because it’s been a bit more of a challenge to protect the garden they grow at home.
“I’ve spent a bundle of money on chicken wire just to keep our own garden from going down the stomachs of some deer,” he said.
The bright side is if any creatures get ahold of Gustafson’s food, there’s a community of gardeners by his side that will no doubt be willing to share their own.