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Master Gardeners eye options for growth

Lake Superior Master Gardener Association volunteer Julia “Julie” Kaluza works on one of the raised beds at the Solid Rock Supplemental Food Garden in Superior in September of 2014. The plot in the city’s north end is one of the biggest community garden success stories in Douglas County. (Submitted photo)

A multi-state discussion on food, gardens and community began last week at Red Mug Coffeehouse.

Weighing in from the Minnesota side was Emily Richey, director of the nonprofit Duluth Community Garden Program.

Wisconsin was represented by UW-Extension horticulture educator Jane Anklam and five master gardeners eager to grow the number of community gardens in Douglas County.

"There's so much hunger here for gardens," said Trudy Fredericks of Superior.

Their agendas differed slightly.

Richey sought knowhow from Douglas County's vibrant master gardener community — folks to lead educational programs or mentor gardeners in Duluth, one-on-one.

"The baseline is how do we educate people to grow their own food," she said.

The Wisconsin contingent eyed a possible partnership with the blossoming Duluth program, which rents out 255 individual plots in 19 community gardens throughout the city.

"Do you want to become the Twin Ports Garden Program?" Fredericks asked.

"Why should we reinvent the wheel?" said Ruth Ludwig, city councilor for Superior's 7th District. "We're Duluth-Superior, the Twin Ports,"

These small patches of green reap big benefits, Anklam said.

"The impact of community gardens on local health, quality of life and self-sufficiency are documented by scores and scores of research," she said.

The need in Superior is great, master gardeners said.

"We have such a condensed housing area, so many people in need of places to grow their own food," said Ludwig's husband, John.

The infrastructure, however, is minimal.

"We've got interest in our neighborhood," Ruth Ludwig said. "Everybody wants a community garden but they don't know how to do it," or lack the time to spearhead it.

Richey detailed the genesis of the Duluth program since the 1970s, as well as its current structure — a mix of private, public and program-owned land.

"It's maybe our duty to share that information and how it happened, because garden programs are really incredible," Richey said.

The Duluth program provides plots on a sliding fee scale, as well as a library stocked with books, gardening tools and equipment to preserve the food grown. Its tendrils branch through the city.

"The dream is to have a garden that is accessible in every neighborhood," Richey said, within a 12-block walking distance.

But Duluth Community Garden Program is hurtling toward a financial cliff. Richey said the nonprofit's biggest source of funding, the Fair Food Access Campaign, dries up in 2018.

Fredericks suggested tapping into the profits from Duluth's robust tourism industry to fund the garden program, possibly by developing city-based agri-tourism. Richey could reach out to the WeAreSuperior movement, Rotary clubs and schools, the master gardeners suggested.

When Fair Food Access began funding the garden program five years ago, Richey said, a Lincoln Park survey was taken. Forty-two percent of respondents identified as feeling food insecure. During a follow-up survey this winter, only 22 percent felt food insecurity.

"That was cool," Richey said. "Our gardens hopefully helped with that."

There have been community garden successes in Douglas County, as well. The garden next to Solid Rock shelter, which launched in 2004, produced more than 1,000 pounds of food in 2016. Its annual bounty includes broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, beans, cherries, apples and more.

It takes concentrated effort by the Lake Superior Master Gardener Association to grow that crop, according to co-chairwoman, Geraldine Hughes. Members spend every Tuesday afternoon working on the plot.

There have been attempts to grow the number of community gardens in Superior over the years.

School gardens have cropped up at Cooper and Four Corners elementary, Hughes said. Anklam has seen gardens sown at five schools, Superior sites like the University of Wisconsin-Superior and Head Start, and the rural communities of Wascott, Solon Springs, Amnicon and Parkland. Faith communities such as Bayside Baptist Church have launched gardens for their neighborhoods.

As a horticulturalist, Anklam focuses on the gardens themselves — obstacles, use, etc. But at heart, she echoed Richey's goal.

"As Jane Anklam, a community garden participant in every location I have lived since middle school in a Chicago suburb, I do want a community garden on every street corner in Douglas County," she said.

Whether a multi-state partnership grows or not, last week's meeting motivated Douglas County Master Gardeners. Members are developing a plan to build a showcase garden in Superior to raise awareness and encourage the spread of community gardens throughout the city.