Urban agriculture is a relatively new concept in the United States, but it’s already making a big impact. In the Twin Cities alone, there are over 450 community gardens providing produce for local charities and community members. Urban gardens can have many benefits, such as increasing the availability offresh food for urban residents and reducing the money and energy needed to transport produce from fields to end-users.
The Stewardship Garden at the University of St. Thomas is an example of a community garden that provides fresh food to a local food shelf (Neighbors Inc.) while providing an opportunity for St. Thomas students to perform agricultural research. This year students are using the garden to compare different growing variables (water use, heirloom vs. conventional, and fertilizer vs. compost) to see what techniques produce the highest yield while maintaining the lowest environmental impact. Another part of the Stewardship Garden’s mission is making connections with the community. Students work to inform neighbors and other visitors about the importance of urban agriculture and sustainability, as well as the science and service involved. More connections are being made with the urban agriculture community with the help of a nonprofit called Gardening Matters, a major organizer of garden-related activities in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Stewardship Science team recently visited with Mallory Morken, a staff member of Gardening Matters, to find out more about their activities.
The work of Gardening Matters includes supporting local gardeners and helping them organize neighborhood networks. The organization’s mission includes “connecting people with resources, training, networking, and education; advocating for supportive urban agriculture policies; and building community locally and collaborating regionally for the food justice movement.” Gardening Matters has been an important resource for local urban gardeners by providing everything from seeds to distribution systems, hosting leadership training and monthly gatherings, sustaining a database consisting of over 450 community gardens in the Twin Cities, and moderating ComGar, a forum for networking where gardeners can share ideas, tips, and resources. On September 13th, Gardening Matters will be hosting Community Garden Day. Gardens across the metro area will host demonstrations, speakers, and workshops.
Using ComGar, St. Thomas students are hoping to network with local community gardeners and survey their gardens for biodiversity. Research in the Stewardship Garden found that plots with a high level of diversity had a 70% higher yield than the monoculture plots. Using the resources provided by Gardening Matters including ComGar, we will be able to reach out to a multitude of community gardeners interesting in participating in our biodiversity research. By sharing the results with these same urban gardeners, St. Thomas hopes to both build relationships and better gardens.