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Fargo's community gardens earn national recognition

Plants for community gardens are grown in a greenhouse and provided free of charge to each garden. Special to Forum News Service

I have a riddle for you: What weighs 58,000 pounds and involves 300 participants?

(Hint: it has nothing to do with Norwegians changing a very large light bulb.)

It's the quantity of vegetables raised by gardeners in the Growing Together Community Gardens of Fargo-Moorhead last year. And we can all be part of the action.

This unique model of shared gardening, conceived right here in our community, has caught the national eye. In fact, program director Jack Wood will receive the National Council of Garden Clubs' prestigious Award of Excellence at their National Convention in Philadelphia. But that's not all.

In 2016, Jack Wood shared his vision with the TEDxFargo audience of more than 2,000 people, as well as recently to the North Dakota State University World Conference on Health with attendees from the United States and abroad. The Growing Together Community Garden model can be emulated anywhere in the world.

Many of us are familiar with public garden plots that municipal entities rent to individuals who tend and harvest their own separately marked spaces. Everyone has their own garden plot and does their own thing.

Growing Together Community Gardens are very different.

The concept began in 2005 when a group of Fargo community leaders met to discuss ways to embrace new Americans into the community. In Fargo, 5 percent of the population includes recently settled refugees, many from war-torn African countries.

One of the ideas was to start a community garden. Attending the meeting was the church president of a Fargo congregation, who invited Jack Wood, a passionate, longtime tomato grower, to become involved. As the garden became a reality, not only were healthy vegetables produced, but gardeners learned about each other's cultures and how to help one another.

This shared-gardening model has ballooned from one garden in 2006 serving eight families to more than six gardens in 2017 serving more than 150 families with approximately 300 individuals participating. Last year, more than 58,000 pounds of vegetables were shared among volunteers and community food pantries.

In response to other organizations and communities asking how to start similar gardens, a Community Garden Tool Kit was developed that has enabled other groups to start 14 additional gardens, patterned after the Growing Together Garden model.

Growing Together Community Gardens aren't just for new Americans. These are truly community gardens. Everyone is invited to enroll, work and share the bounty by investing two to three hours a week — planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. Everyone shares the work and everyone shares the harvest. It's one big garden, with everyone working together. There's no fee and no plants or seeds to purchase. Everything necessary is provided. It's also perfect for apartment or condo dwellers who have no garden space.

Here's how it works. Participants register for involvement with one of the gardens. Each garden runs on a regular schedule. Each garden's participants join together for two to three hours on a scheduled day and time, signing in when they arrive. Core volunteers plan each week's gardening tasks, show what needs to be done and make sure everyone has the necessary tools.

When vegetables are ready for harvest, everyone joins in. Organizers coordinate distribution of shares, based on things like household size and hours contributed. Vegetables are enjoyed through the season and during the big fall harvest.

Get registered for this year's gardens

Learn more about the program with opportunity to sign up on Thursday, March 15. Come to Olivet Lutheran Church, 1330 S. University Dr., Fargo, at 5 p.m. for a potluck meal beginning at 5:30 with meeting to follow. Bring a food dish, salad, bread or dessert to share. All are welcome, and no gardening experience is necessary.

For complete information about the registration event, potluck meal and garden locations, visit https://outlook.live.com/owa/?path=/attachmentlightbox or contact Jack Wood at jackstomatoes@gmail.com.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

He also blogs at " target="_blank">growingtogether.areavoices.com.

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