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'Everybody wins;' A success story for the land, the people and the community

'Everybody wins;' A success story for the land, the people and the community

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Inch by inch, row by row Menomonie Community Garden members, using sustainable and organic methods, have transformed a vacant two-acre plot into fertile ground and a thriving community center growing food, friendships and flowers.

Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, the garden’s first shovel of earth was turned in 2010 on land in the 2500 Block of Ninth Street South leased to the Menomonie Community Garden by the City of Menomonie.

Mary Lotten, current Menomonie Community Garden Board President, points to early leadership of Americorp Vista Volunteers, community members and UW-Stout students at the beginning of the Garden. These enthusiastic volunteers worked with support from community partners including UW-Stout Sustainable Agriculture, Stepping Stones Pantry, WestCap, City of Menomonie, UW Extension Dunn County and the Menomonie Community Foundation.

During the first few years, the pioneering group of gardeners faced serious challenges – there was no piped-in water, the soil was sandy, wildlife nibbled garden produce freely, and there were frequent changes in leadership. But each season as the gardening community grew, the early dreams began to take shape.

The garden is now completely fenced in to keep out hungry critters, there is a line to city water, tables for meetings and conversation, and a snug garden shed built by UW-Stout Construction Technology students. Members pay annually for their garden plots and the group has raised funds through small grants and member contributions.

This year 90 plots were rented and all the garden space was filled. The garden has expanded beyond individual plots to include areas maintained in common: beehives, an orchard of apple, cherry, pear and plum trees, as well as a raspberry patch, a rhubarb patch and an asparagus patch and a compost center. All of this growth accomplished by volunteers, dedicated leadership, continued community partnerships, and small grants.

Because the garden is dedicated to the values and benefits of organic and sustainable practices, Lotten is proud to share a major accomplishment: enriching the original sandy soil. This season, even as the gardening area has grown, water usage has not increased proportionately — evidence of how improved soil increases water retention. Lush gardens, abundant harvest of many varieties of produce and flowers further attest to nutrient-rich soil developed over ten years and garden know-how shared among the members.

The wider Menomonie community is beginning to take notice. Recently Menomonie Community Garden was honored by Menomonie Cares, a group promoting positive community connections. Menomonie Cares praised the garden as “A healthy place for people to work together, a place of diversity, beauty and food,” and “a wonderful example of a vibrant community in our midst.” In honoring the garden, Menomonie Cares recognizes the countless gifts offered to all who are members.

People garden for many different reasons and this is true at Menomonie Community Garden. For some, it is solitary communion with dirt, seeds and weeds. For some, it is a physical workout in the fresh air, sunshine, even rain. There are those who cherish the social aspect of Menomonie Community Garden – sharing tips about weed or pest control, or a bit of bragging about a particularly great crop of basil, or sometimes an urgency to share what you have just too much of. Of course, providing food for one’s self and neighbors is the obvious part of vegetable gardening, but the chance to show off personal aesthetics comes out in garden layout, color and texture choices of veggies and flowers – endless possibilities for beauty! At the garden, new acquaintances are made and some of those become true and dear friendships. And this year, what a boon that has been. Menomonie Community Garden provided a place to safely work, converse and have fun while maintaining the requisite social distance. Gardening has always within it a nugget of experimentation and chance. Gardening is a metaphor for life itself. Give of yourself to the earth; rewards and surprises will come to you.

Shared plans are underway to add additional water lines, and there are dreams of a seasonal greenhouse, improved accessibility for those with mobility problems, perhaps a larger garden and maybe another location.

According to long time garden member, Willie Miller, “From the beginning, the garden has been, and continues to be a collective group that steers the course.” And working together inch by inch and row by row is the way the garden will grow its future.

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