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Food shelf plans for garden

University of Minnesota students on Friday introduced their preliminary plans for a community garden outside of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf. Pictured are, clockwise from bottom left, Dan Handeen, with the U; Kenneth Mata, with the U; Onen Markeson, Bemidij community member; and Terry Nennich, with U of M Extension. Not pictured are the other two U of M team members, Virajita Singh and Casey Riley. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Plans to establish a community garden outside of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf are sprouting.

Students with the University of Minnesota College of Design Center for Sustainable Building Research unveiled their preliminary plans for such a garden Friday afternoon during a meeting at the United Methodist Church.

Designed to encourage not only localized food production but also community-building and education opportunities, the garden is proposed to start simple in its first year and expand in the future.

Each food shelf client would be designated his or her own “pallet planter,” a 4-foot-by-4-foot wooden pallet converted into a planter with six separate growing areas.

With the help of Master Gardeners, clients would choose plants most appropriate for their families and then be responsible for tending to those plants this season.

“We go through pallets all of the time,” said Bill Beyer, president of the food shelf board. “We have a whole pile of them.”

“This really is the perfect plan,” agreed Jack Judkins, food shelf coordinator.

“Reuse, recycle,” Beyer added, echoing a sustainability theme.

The idea for a community food shelf garden was planted last year as the nonprofit moved into its new site in the Bemidji Industrial Park. With nearly 4.5 acres of tillable land, supporters wondered: Could we establish a garden?

The food shelf was then linked with the U of M. Students first came down in February to gather input.

They returned Friday to introduce their concept plans and gather feedback. They will return in mid-May to present another set of plans.

“We’ve been continually surprised and impressed at the level of engagement and knowledge that is already here in Bemidji, as far as composting resources, as far as the community food networks, and really the engagement and interest is well beyond what we expected,” said Dan Handeen, with the U. “It’s really unique for the state of Minnesota. There’s a lot of momentum going on here, and it’s really nice to be able to build on that momentum.”

Not only would the garden have rows of pallet planters, but it also would feature compost-turning units, water tanks to harvest rainwater, a hoop house to extend the growing season, and community-gathering locations where adults and students would be invited to learn more about the efforts underway.

“Local food production is really what we’re trying to do here,” said Case Riley, the landscape architect on the U team. “It’s a really strong catalyst for change in a lot of communities and it can be here as well.”