Princeton community garden expands to Oak Knoll

The city of Princeton passed a resolution at its March 23 meeting that enables expansion of the Princeton Community Garden from one small site near the historic depot building into what will be multiple plots in a piece of city-owned land along the western-most edge of the Oak Knoll Cemetery.

The group kicked off its growing season at a meeting that same week. Community Development Director Jolene Foss explained that the community garden group would not be a city entity, but the resolution was needed to grant the group permission to use the city-owned property.

One of the garden volunteers, Randy Hatch, made the request on the group’s behalf and said the vision is modeled after the Isanti County community garden in Cambridge. Hatch has worked with that group many years, retired in 2016 and has been helping get a bigger garden going in Princeton.

Members foresee an initial space in Oak Knoll of about 30 plots that measure 10-by-10 feet for $10 for the season or a 3-by-3-by-12-foot raised bed at the Depot for $15 for the season. Hatch said the Depot site would be for perennial flowers and food, while the Oak Knoll garden would be for annual plants.

The Princeton Community Garden got started in 2016 near the Mille Lacs County Historical Society building on 10th Street, with one 12- by-5-foot raised garden bordered by cinder blocks. In it, volunteers cultivated tomatoes, basil, kale, lettuce, squash and other edibles that were available for anyone to pick and eat.

Princeton resident and Mille Lacs County Commissioner Genny Reynolds applied for a $1,000 Partners in Healthy Living grant in 2016 that helped start the garden. The popularity of Princeton’s first community garden and the number of willing volunteers outpaced available garden space within one season. Hatch said he’s just been helping to coordinate the gardens, which will be available for rental April 1 and prepared for planting by May 1.

Hatch said a community garden volunteer group is forming and members will elect a board of governors to oversee garden operation. The board will provide planting education and handle general administration.

The group provided a list of reasons with its request why garden expansion would be a community benefit. It creates access to fresh food, helps improve people’s nutrition, lowers family food costs and helps fight obesity. A community garden enables children to learn about growing food plants and about nutrient-rich fresh foods. The resolution states that the garden will become a gathering spot that helps build community and curb criminal activity.

The City Council asked what involvement or responsibility the city would have for the land, and Foss replied none beyond giving the group permission to use the property. There is access to water at the site, and volunteers will maintain the garden plots.

Council Member Jules Zimmer said the gardens create an opportunity for people who want something like this but don’t have room on their property; Reynolds had said before that it can be for people whose yards don’t get enough sun, too.

There are about 30 garden plots for rent on a first-come, first- served basis, and Hatch said more can be created if demand warrants them. Gardeners are responsible for planting, water, weeding, harvesting and other maintenance. Gardeners may not leave water running unattended or use any herbicides such as weed or fungus killer.

People can inquire about the garden and volunteering on the   group’s Facebook page Princeton Community Gardens. Residents can register for and select garden plots during business hours at Princeton City Hall, 705 Second Street North.

Hatch said he’s excited about the expansion and enthusiasm behind the concept. “All I want is for people to garden.”

Source:  Union and Times, by Debbie Griffin, April 3, 2017

Posted in Success Stories.