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Collaboration is a great thing by Joan Farnam


Collaboration is a great thing. At least that’s what all the gardeners who were looking at the newly constructed community garden in the parking lot at WTIP Community Radio a few weeks ago were probably thinking.

Where there had once been gravel, now there was soil — and a pile of fencing and fence posts waiting to be installed at the end of the garden. And soon, rows of emerging onions and beans, beets and potatoes and even some hopeful tomato plants and young squash would tell the story of Grand Marais gardeners finally finding a place to grow their own.

That’s what community gardens are all about — giving people who do not have the space in their own yards the opportunity to grow food for themselves — and the model has been successfully adopted all over the country.

But this community garden is the first in Cook County, thanks to the collaboration between WTIP Radio, the Northwoods Food Project, Cook County Extension and the Master Gardeners. There are others who helped out, too. Thoresen’s dug a pit in the parking lot and filled it with horse manure donated by Jon Ofjard and covered that with a mix of dirt and well-rotted sawdust from Hedstrom Lumber. And Sawtooth Lumber helped out with the fencing, said Melinda Spinler, co-chair of the Northwoods Food Project.

The City of Grand Marais was helpful, too. They donated a water meter for the outside line so that the gardeners can keep track of their water use, and  WTIP is working with Jerry Starr of Starr Construction to install gutters, downspouts and rain barrels. And hoses were donated by Jan Smith and Emma Bradley.

But the real collaboration is between the gardeners themselves. They spent the hottest day so far this summer pounding steel posts deep into rock-hard gravel and stringing rabbit fence and wire to keep out critters who like to munch on garden fare.

I am excited about the cooperation that the gardeners are showing and how cohesive they have been pulling together to create the physical garden as well as the produce coming out of it,” Spinler said.

The gardeners are pretty excited themselves and are up there almost every day tending and watering and watching things grow.
There are six plots, and the distribution is organized by the Northwoods Food Project.

Jim Zunker and Deb Benedict share a half-plot with a variety of vegetables, including lots of kohlrabi. Kristin Bottorff and Jan Attridge (the squash ladies) planted a whole lot of squash plants in their half-plot, and two families, Kate and Randy Roberts and Amy and David Demmer, are growing a variety of vegetables in their full plots.

And last, but not least, two children’s groups are gardening this summer, the Stone Soup Gardeners, a group of children participating in the summer gardening program at the Cook County Community Center, and The Explorer’s Club, a group of children from Cooperation Station.

The Stone Soup Gardeners plan to donate the vegetables they grow to make a “stone soup” for the Empty Bowl fundraiser this fall. The Explorer’s Club will share what they grow with other children at the daycare center.

It is, as Amy Demmer put it one day as she gazed over the newly planted gardens, “awesome, just awesome.”

Stay tuned for more developments and photos as this project grows seed by seed and year by year in what used to be a rather ho-hum parking lot.