From the Archives– August, 2010
ST. PAUL, MN –
“How did the Fresh Start Garden get started?”
That was the question I recently asked Liz Mason, VISTA Leader, from the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC). We met mid-morning in the garden and were admiring the swelling orange squash and climbing bean shoots that were putting a chokehold on neighboring plants.
“Well, it didn’t take much,” Mason replied.
According to Mason, it all began with an offhand remark from the property manager at Rolling Hills, who mentioned that they were open to a vegetable garden at the apartments. It was a golden opportunity for Mason, who was then working closely with landlords as a Housing Resource Developer. She knew that a garden would enrich the housing experience for her refugee clients living at Rolling Hills, many of whom are Karen refugees from Burma. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, over half of the Karen population works in agriculture in Burma and Thailand.
“In February, I put up flyers in all the buildings,” said Mason. “We had a community meeting to see if there was any interest in starting a garden. Ten families showed up.” At the second meeting, according to Mason, 17 families showed up.
Now that interest in the garden was overwhelmingly confirmed, Mason began looking for an intern to help get necessary supplies like compost, seeds, and garden tools. Lynda Anderson, a Ramsey County Master Gardener, volunteered for the job and quickly found the right resources. Together, they planned a workday in the spring where the gardeners turned over the soil and started planting. Since the garden was launched, Mason and Anderson have had a minimal role.
“The families took on the project right away,” said Mason. “It’s their garden.”
The garden leaders, like Law Paw, organize the garden and keep Mason informed if they need outside help with finding resources. The gardeners, according to Mason, enjoy working together and are considering having one giant garden next year instead of dividing into individual plots.
“The fresh healthy food and getting to know their neighbors (are some of the greatest benefits of the garden),” she said. “It helps that they have some common thing to work on.”