Growing Vegetables in the Food Desert

By Mollie Dean, Hennepin County Master Gardener

What is a food desert and what does that have to do with Hennepin County Master Gardeners?  A food desert is a district with little or no access to fresh and affordable foods needed to maintain a healthy diet.  Sabathani Community Center in south Minneapolis is located in the middle of a Minneapolis food desert.

Master Gardeners are collaborating with Sabathani to teach vegetable growing at Sabathani’s community garden.  This summer we completed our seventh year of the program, called Vegetable Growing Basics, and have taught 120 people in the neighborhoods surrounding Sabathani about vegetable growing.

Participants tell us they have fresh food that they just could not have had unless they grew it themselves.  We have taught people who were totally new to gardening and learned that a tomato plant needs to have flowers first in order to grow a tomato.  We have also had people who were experienced gardeners in their native land but needed to understand how to get a harvest in the short Minnesota growing season.

In the last seven years we have identified other areas of Minneapolis and the inner ring suburbs that have limited access to fresh food and have opened three more Vegetable Growing Basics programs in those areas.

The curriculum and activities for the class have been developed and enhanced over the years by a community of master gardeners who are passionate about this program.  After students told us they wanted more activities, we developed activities for each class so students have dug up samples of each kind of soil, grown seeds in window boxes to learn about thinning, and grown tomato seedlings so each participant can plant one and take it home.

In addition to teaching the program at four sites in 2013, for the first time this year we are experimenting with a new format:  five classes at two different sites taught entirely in Spanish (through interpreters) and taught right at the participants’ garden plots in their community gardens.  We are all learning a lot.

Over 60 Master Gardeners have been involved with Vegetable Growing Basics over the years.  Just like the vegetables we are growing and changing and helping to feed people.  It’s great to help the desert bloom!

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