In 2007, Dave Stevens didn’t know he would be part of something that not only was prosperous, but also kept the community thriving and happy. It all started with a simple request from his neighbor.
“My neighbor, Anne Reich, came up to me and asked if she could dig up part of my front yard for a vegetable garden,” Stevens says. “My yard wasn’t nearly as shaded as Anne’s, but it wasn’t the best place to grow a vegetable garden. We chatted about other possibilities and came to the conclusion that a community garden was the way to go.”
Reich and Stevens came up with the idea based on the fact that the Mahtomedi District Education Center had a nice plot of land with lots of sunshine. Even their good friend Matt Hoffman jumped in to help lay the groundwork. “I printed off a flyer for people interested in having a community garden and held the meeting at the District Education Center,” Stevens says. “With a successful meeting, I approached the buildings and groundskeeper, and the superintendent, who were both very supportive of the idea. They presented the idea to the school board and it was approved.”
Six years later, Stevens has witnessed one 24-by 48-foot bed of plots turn into two beds, with each plot measuring nine feet by 11.5 feet, and seen interest grow from a few people to well over 20.
Dave Stevens, Founding father of the Mahtomedi Community Gardens
Jessica Ruth, marketing and adult programs coordinator for Mahtomedi Community Education, has been facilitating a lottery system to get people signed up for plots. There are only 20 plots available, so Ruth holds a meeting in the beginning of April explaining the criteria for eligibility. Last year, 23 people signed up for 17 plots, so the lottery went into effect. “I have anyone interested in a plot fill out a questionnaire online through the Community Education Department and encourage them to attend the meeting in April,” Ruth says. “At the meeting, I keep it old-school and transparent by picking the winners’ names out of a hat. This way everything stays fair and reasonable. We do this to make sure everyone knows and respects the rules because they are using district space.”
The winners of the drawing must pay $30 and have their plants in by June 15 to claim and keep their plot. The cost covers water, the meter rental and the light in the parking lot, and also helps Community Education cover the online processing.
Growing season depends on when winter decides to release its icy grip as well as when the first frost hits the ground. “The growing season really is varied,” Stevens says. “Some years we had an early frost in mid-September, and sometimes we had frost as late as May.” It is usually a safe bet, however, that by June 15 most members will be able to start planting and growing their variety of vegetables.
Once the growing season takes hold, one food plot is always reserved for the Mahtomedi Food Shelf at St. Jude of the Lake Catholic Church. The local charity follows all the same guidelines as the members do and reaps the benefits of the garden as well.
Left: Barbara Silva near her garden plot. Right: Ava Rasmussen enjoys a carrot fresh from the earth
Members who receive the plots see several benefits. Nick Rasmussen loved the harvesting part of his garden. “I like how tangible the process is over a short period of time going from seed to table,” Rasmussen says. “I harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, varieties of hot peppers, carrots, onions, greens, basil, rosemary, brussels sprouts and bok choy.”
One of the greatest joys for Rasmussen was the time he could share with his family. “I would take my 2 -year-old daughter, Ava, along and she would help water and pull the weeds. We had a lot of fun together sharing this experience and, hopefully over time, she will grow to love gardening and the good that can come from it,” Rasmussen says.
The Rasmussens are new to Mahtomedi and saw this as an opportunity to get to know other residents and find where they fit in. “One evening in late summer there was a community picnic that brought a lot of people together from the community, and it was fun to see our daughter interact with other children she will eventually be in school with,” Rasmussen says. “And it gave us a chance to meet some other parents.”
Ruth and Stevens have not only helped develop a prosperous garden, they have helped create lasting memories among families, and there is no price tag for that.
“When the cherry tomatoes were ripe, [Ava] was eating those right in the garden like they were candy,” Rasmussen says. “It was messy, but nothing a bath can’t take care of.”
Margery McAlpine and some of her bounty
Mahtomedi Community Garden
Registration open through April 10; lottery will be held April 13.
Community garden photos courtesy of Barbara Silva, margery mcalpine and nick rasmussen.