Community garden nonprofit now manages county farm

Community garden nonprofit now manages county farm

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — The Living Earth Center on Good Counsel Hill has for 30 years welcomed area residents to use the two-acre community garden.

For 10 years, Blue Earth County’s one-acre Community Farm near Mount Kato developed into a gardening plot but was moved twice in the past couple of years as County Road 1 was reconstructed.

Recently Living Earth took over management of the Community Farm.

“At the community garden people are growing their own food and at the farm volunteers are growing food that’s donated to the community,” said Laura Peterson, Living Earth Center executive director.

The farm, off Indian Lake Road and near its original location, is becoming a more fertile area for growing produce that is donated to a number of nonprofits including the ECHO Food Shelf and BackPack program.

“We hired Carol Harder as farm manager. She came from the Twin Cities and has a lot of experience in community farms and gardens,” Peterson said.

“She understands things like how to transform clay soil that hasn’t been cultivated and has the expertise in working with people.”

Blue Earth County Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg, who helped start the community farm 10 years ago, said having Living Earth take over running the farm is the perfect solution.

“I’m just ecstatic. We have some of the most amazing people working out there. The manager, Carol, is just top of the line and knows what she’s doing. It looks amazing and will only get better.”

He noted that Harder recently brought chickens to the farm. “They eat bugs and the fertilizer is good. She puts them in a chicken coop every night.”

A decade ago Stuehrenberg and former commissioner Will Purvis attended a national convention in Portland, Oregon, where they visited a community garden. “We got on the bus to go back to the hotel and we both said, ‘We can do that,’” Stuehrenberg said.

Peterson said their biggest need now is volunteers to help at the farm and, of course, financial backing. While the county provides financial support for the farm, the group is always looking for grants and donations.

Living Earth recently received a $4,000 county SHIPS grant that helped it pay for a garden shed at the farm as well as tools. They will also use some of it to buy fruit trees to plant at the farm.

“One of our concepts was that people could come in off the (Red Jacket) trail or wherever and enjoy an apple or raspberry or strawberry. The idea is it becomes an engaging space,” Peterson said.

Already some raspberry and strawberry plants are growing just outside the farm fence, their fruit to be available to passersby later this summer.

“I really believe in the power of these spaces,” Peterson said of the farm and community garden. “It provides food sovereignty, connections, relationships. We have people from all walks of life at a communal, peaceful gathering from pretty much every racial, spiritual, gender, age background group. Where else do you have that?” Peterson said.

She said they are working with diverse groups to attract more new immigrants to the two plots and they’re working on a Three Sisters Garden as a space for American Indian families to come to.

Peterson said they are also building stronger relationships with a variety of groups, including 4-H and local food nonprofits.

The future of the community garden at Good Counsel is unknown. The School Sisters of Notre Dame announced recently they will sell the sprawling property. While a buyer or future development of the site isn’t yet known, Peterson said that if the Living Earth Center is dislocated at some point, the group will continue doing what it does at some location.

Living Earth was created by the nuns of Good Counsel, but it is now a separate nonprofit group.

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