A stray ball bounced into the garden, flattening a young tomato plant. Rabbits nibbled plant leaves until they resembled paper origami snowflakes. Kids ran through the garden plots, compacting the soil. Adults picked ripe vegetables without permission and dropped trash along the aisles.
These predicaments, which are familiar to many inner-city vegetable growers, were creating problems at Fresh Start Garden. This was the first year the space at Rolling Hills Apartments was used for gardening; formerly, it was used as an informal soccer field for kids and picnic spot for tenants. Fresh Start Garden did not have a fence to protect the space and encourage respect for the plants and vegetables.
In June, the garden leaders told Liz Mason from Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC) about the issues and asked for a fence they could install around the garden perimeter. Mason got in touch with Redeemer Lutheran Church of White Bear Lake, who was planning an upcoming all-church service day.
On Sunday July 11, a small team of church volunteers participating in the “Live Out Love” service day came with donated fence posts and wire to start the project. Many of the garden participants were attending their own church services, but a few Karen families were able to join the work project later in the afternoon. The refugees and church volunteers worked side-by-side for three hours digging fence post holes, installing the fence, and building a compost bin.
Coming together with a community of people we didn’t know at first seemed a little uncomfortable,” said Shelley Bauer, a church volunteer. “Once we began working together installing the fence around the garden space we quickly forgot about that and appreciated working side by side with the Karen families.”
The children of the gardeners and volunteers worked together on making a sign and scarecrow for the garden. Both Bauer and Mason reflected that seeing the children interact was a highlight of the workday.
The new fence has gone a long way in alleviating the problems at Fresh Start Garden. Now, the garden space is better respected and the gardeners know that their plants are protected.