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Community garden plans finalized; Planting to start next week

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BEMIDJI — Plans to establish a community garden and eventually a small urban farm outside the Bemidji Community Food Shelf were finalized Friday, with the planting of produce scheduled to start next week.

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Associates from the University of Minnesota’s College of Design Center for Sustainable Building Research shared final schematics and details with community members during a meeting at Calvary Lutheran Church.

Dan Handeen, a lead architect in the project from the U of M, has been working with planning the garden since the university’s first involvement in February.

"It’s a little bit scary to be involved in something that has taken off so quickly, and I know you’re (the Bemidji population) doing the right thing," Handeen told the group. "There has been countless support from the community and it’s just really exciting."

Since its conception last year, the community garden idea has grown from a mere plan to a reality.

While the full 4.5-acre urban farm will not be fully operational for at least another three years through a series of planning phases, progress already is visible: Platforms to elevate two water catchers were being constructed Thursday. Between the two tanks, gardeners will able to collect 1,100 gallons of rainwater.

After planting 35 Norway spruce trees and 60 Cotoneaster shrubs Wednesday to create a windbreak to protect future crops, Jack Judkins, food shelf coordinator, said he is excited for the work already being done on the project, saying numerous materials have been donated by area individuals without solicitation.

"There has just been an outpouring of donated labor, and it’s been a pleasure to work with everyone," Judkins said, adding that the garden is going to aid countless people throughout the community. "It’s hard to estimate how much of an impact it will have, but I know it will be huge."

Judkins said the food shelf expects to serve about 35,000 families this year.

Casey Riley, head design landscaper for the project from the U of M, presented her final vision for the garden, which was guided from comments and concerns from supporters and developers the past couple of months.

"Aside from the gardening aspect of this project, there will come educational and community growth, as well," Riley said. "We wanted to help you build a system of sustainability, but also build a strong community. Food is something that binds the community together into something stronger."

Eventually expected to become a small urban farm, highlights of the future garden include a fruit orchard, vegetable patches, hoop houses and a composting area.

Friday’s meeting marked the last of the planning phase and the beginning of the "doing" phase. While the university still may be consulted by gardeners and developers, the project has been turned over to the Bemidji community to oversee.

"We should have something started by the end of the summer," said Judkins, who estimates about 50 volunteers have served a role in developing the garden. "Now it’s time to start stirring up monetary support to buy materials and gardeners help to get this really going."

Article by Trent Opstedahl of the Bemidji Pioneer, topstedahl@bemidjipioneer .com

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