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Digging in

June 11, 2011
By Karin Elton , Marshall Independent

Drivers can keep an eye on the progress of a community garden this summer as they motor by on Minnesota Highway 23 near Saratoga Street in Marshall.

A huge garden will be springing up this summer tended by an assortment of Marshall area green thumbs.

The garden, which is 280 feet long and 140 feet wide, is the fruition of a seed planted by Allan Bakke, the development director at Western Community Action. He applied for a Statewide Health Improvement Program grant and received funds to start Community Blooms, a free community garden.

Article Photos

By Karin Elton

Team leader Jill Gordon tills the new community garden recently to prepare for planting.

"It's so people can make healthy meals and augment their budget - cut down on their food bills and it's also for friendship," Bakke said. "The land and garden is bringing people together."

The grant has provided the seeds and start-up plants, plus fencing and tools.

To oversee the project Bakke recruited Sunny Ruthchild, ND, MA of Merryweather Gardens in Walnut Grove.

"One of our board members got the word out that we were looking for an organic gardener to help out in our community garden," he said. "Sunny really has the expertise."

Bakke is discovering community members' abilities, he said.

"What's neat about this whole project is that so many people have talents and resources," he said. "We have our own professors right here."

The gardeners - made up of volunteers and people who use the Kitchen Table food shelf - are divided into teams of eight which are headed up by master gardeners.

"We're hoping for 50 altogether," Ruthchild said. "We are at 30 already."

In addition to guiding the planting and maintaining, the master gardeners will conduct a "gardening university" - cooking classes where they will share how to properly cook fresh vegetables and also preserve them.

Each team will preside over a certain garden. For example master gardener Carol Vermeersch will head up a pollinator garden containing herbs, perennials and cut flowers that will attract bees and butterflies.

"Squash is a good pollinator, too," she said. "We are using the local denizens to pollinate everything - natives such as mason bees and butterflies."

The herbs include sage and thyme and the flowers include cosmos and marigolds, she said.

Other gardens within the garden will include a salad, salsa, stir fry and potato - "10 different varieties of potatoes will be planted," Ruthchild said. "Different colors, sizes, from different parts of the world."

There will also be an "ability garden" which will be a raised bed for people in wheelchairs or "who have a hard time bending down," Ruthchild said.

Another garden will be a kids "you pick it" garden.

The gardens will be planted in a mirror image of each other - whatever is planted on the left will be planted on the right side.

Ralco Nutrition of Marshall is also involved in the garden. The company, which develops technologically-advanced livestock feed, is using the garden as a test for a new micronutrient fertilizer for its new agricultural products division, AgNition.

"We are doing a blind study," said Joe Gordon of the research and development department at Ralco.

Part of the garden will have the micronutrients, a natural product, from Ralco and some won't.

"Nobody knows what's treated except me," he said.

Gordon said Ralco has used the micronutrients in other gardens and preliminary studies have shown a greater yield.

"We're trying to reduce the impact of fertilizer," he said.

His wife, Jill Gordon, is one of the team leaders in the garden.

"She loves to garden," he said.

Ruthchild said teams will harvest the bounty once a week and sort the fruits and vegetables into baskets.

"Everyone will take away 1/50th of the garden produce to take home," she said. "Anything left over will go to the food shelf."

The baskets will be placed under a pergola, a shaded walkway. Also under that pergola will be periodic festivals, said Bakke.

"We'll have a hog roast and sweet corn feed," he said. "Like a block party."

A major funding source, in addition to Western Community Action, to create this garden was provided by Southwest Health & Human Services through a SHIP grant. Other partners include Greenwood Nursery, Gordon's Cutting Edge Premium Lawn Care, Ralco Nutrition, University of Minnesota Extension and Dakota Storage Buildings - and the participants who are lending their gardening skills.

Bakke will write another grant proposal for next year to provide for the seeds and start-up plants and plans to expand to the other side of the Western Community Action building.

"We have two acres on that side," he said.

Bakke said the community's response to the garden has been like "gangbusters. I have been pleasantly surprised with the turnout."



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