With dark clouds approaching downtown Minneapolis, the two women were harvesting Asian lettuce and kale, getting the produce ready for the food shelf at Gethsemane Episcopal Church in downtown Minneapolis.
Dozens of people were already lined up outside the church, waiting for the shelf to open. Some had small rolling shopping carts and at least one man had a large piece of luggage to bring his groceries to where he rested his head that night.
And as those homeless and hungry residents entered, they found tables stocked with food, including fresh produce glistening from the rain.
The produce travels about a hundred feet to get to Gethsemane, having been planted and harvested on a plot of ground next to the church.
Bridging The Divide
The land – and Gethsemane itself – straddles divergent economic and social realities to bring together people in the heart of Minneapolis. Gethsemane sits in the shadow of the looming Ameriprise headquarters in downtown Minneapolis, and homeless people sleep on the red bench outside the sanctuary doors. The nearby Drake Hotel rents out rooms by the week, usually to those struggling with poverty.
But Gethsemane’s garden, on land owned by Minneapolis businessman Brian Short, helps the faith community bridge those divides.
Homeless people from the neighborhood and residents of nearby condos have all watered the garden there. An employee at the Drake Hotel has a plot in the garden.
This year, an employee at Ameriprise contributed what he could – an irrigation system. And a resident of the Drake Hotel gave what he could – two red geraniums.
“Everybody who comes by stops,” said the Rev. Aron Kramer, vicar at Gethsemane. “They look, they ask questions. Really, it’s quite the downtown experience.”
This is the third year the land has been used for a garden, but a partnership with Minneapolis Community and Technical College has expanded the space available and the people able to grow and harvest food there for those who need it.
“They have a great community,” said Peruski, with the MCTC Urban Farm Collective. She later added: “Basically, it’s kind of a perfect match of two groups getting together to meet a common goal.”
The landowner, Short, agreed to allow the garden to go in and donated $1,500 to get it started, Kramer said. But the land was a far cry from the garden soil there today, said Lindsay Becker, who was a new member at Gethsemane when the garden got started.
“We were all kind of shocked that first year,” she said. “It was rock hard soil and we had no idea if anything would grow. My dad came in and tilled the soil and a farmer came in with black dirt that we worked in. We put in some seeds and it was really successful.”
The church itself has planted cabbage and spinach, peas and beans, broccoli and cauliflower – and donated all of it through the Wednesday food shelf at the church.
“There’s a lot of people in need in downtown and this shows that we know that and care,” Becker said. “It’s helpful to us to have a way to get involved and speaks to what we should be doing as a church.”
Urban Farm Collective: A New Partnership
A few months ago, a chance conversation with a Gethsemane member who attended MCTC led to the partnership with the Urban Farm Collective, which had been frustrated by delays in getting garden land from the campus officials.
“We want to bring communities together in an urban setting and bring people closer to their food source,” said Peruski, who leads the collective. “We believe when you’re closer to your food source, you’re more likely to make healthy choices.”
The collective donates food to Gethsemane’s food shelf, but also plans to provide food to lower-income students who attend MCTC, Peruski said.
Education is part of the collective’s mission, as well, she said. A children’s garden has been created out of Filtrexx garden “socks” shaped like a butterfly, with colorful plants that children can smell and touch. And the Filtrexx socks, donated by the Ohio company for this project, can be used for urban gardening on rooftops or concrete.
“We are showing people that you can garden anywhere,” Peruski said.
The garden is listed on the Community Garden Day tour on Aug. 11. From 3 to 7 p.m. that day, MCTC students will demonstrate how to cook with raw vegetables and compost, with a background of live music. Children will be able to design art, including pet rocks, Peruski said.
And starting in September, MCTC will be installing “hoop houses,” small greenhouses that can be used to extend the growing season into the colder months of Minnesota, she said. The produce grown there will be used to help lower-income residents have fresh produce later in the season.
Being a Missional Church
The partnerships with neighborhood residents, area businesses and others is part of the fabric of Gethsemane, Kramer said.
Members of Gethsemane help as they are able, Becker said. Many members of Gethsemane meet on Tuesday evenings to care for the garden. Some older members have grown seeds inside in the chilly spring because they’re not able to weed or otherwise help outside.
“We don’t have this huge amount of money,” she said. “Everybody contributes what they can with plants, and we put it in and see what happens. I think that ground – which was hard as a rock when we started – well, it’s amazing what we’ve been able to do.”
As the growing season goes on, the community of Gethsemane has been amazed at the garden, Kramer said.
“Their eyes get so wide and their mouths drop open and they’ll say ‘The garden is so amazing!’” he said. “It gives them an excitement to participate in the ways that they can.”
Becker said she was most struck by the resident of the Drake who came by with the red geraniums.
“He came over when we were working and he gave them to us to plant,” she said. “This is a guy who has nothing, but every time he walks by the garden, he’s going to know that he was a part of this.”