New program sprouts up: Bemidji Community Food Shelf project takes the garden to the customers
BEMIDJI--Every week this summer, Brenda Hertel has gone to the garden behind her home to pick fresh vegetables for her family to enjoy. While only 3 feet by 4 feet, her small garden is still big enough to hold various types of produce and spices ...
BEMIDJI-Every week this summer, Brenda Hertel has gone to the garden behind her home to pick fresh vegetables for her family to enjoy.
While only 3 feet by 4 feet, her small garden is still big enough to hold various types of produce and spices such as tomatoes, kale, cucumbers, basil, sweet peppers, hot peppers, lettuce, cabbage and onions.
Hertel's little garden is one of 20 raised, mini-gardens throughout the city through the Bemidji Community Food Shelf's Raised Bed Project.
Lin James, the project coordinator at the food shelf, said the program is both a way to provide families in Bemidji with healthy food and teach them how to grow it fresh.
According to James, the food shelf provides food to residents of Beltrami County and the Bemidji Public School District on an emergency basis, with the food usually being for a three- or four-day period.
Because 22 percent of residents have annual incomes below the poverty level, James said many families rely on the food shelf as a way to supplement their needs. In 2014, as a way to help provide produce for the shelter, the food shelf started its own farm at the Industrial Park location, which resulted in growing 5,500 pounds of fresh produce.
James said food shelf officials figured it would be beneficial for families to learn to grow their own food. When conducting a survey to gauge interest, food shelf workers received an overwhelming response from those hoping to learn gardening skills.
"While people were interested, there weren't many who came (to the food shelf) to learn because of childcare and transportation issues. There were a lot of people who said they were interested, but many were unable," James said.
"So at the end of last year, we made the decision to take the garden to them."
To make it happen, the food shelf organized the Raised Bed Project, which has provided 20 garden beds to families throughout Bemidji. The project landed grants from the University of Minnesota Extension, the G.W. Neilson Foundation, the Sanford Foundation and the Minnesota State Horticultural Society.
Together, the grants provided the garden beds, soil, plants, as well as funding for the coordinator position for the project.
"We hope to expand this every year," James said. "We have had many people interested and didn't have enough garden beds.
"Next year, we hope to add at least five or 10 garden beds."
For Hertel, the Raised Bed Project has become a family activity with husband Augustus Wilson and daughter Amya Wilson helping in the gardening process. Hertel said this has been her first time gardening and she's loved it so far. Hertel said the produce she grows has become a staple in her cooking, for example, using the basil in spaghetti.
"Part of the goal was to get the children involved, and the kids are really enthusiastic about it," James said. "For the children, the hope is that it will be a lifelong endeavor for them and they will have their own garden someday. We've really had a much better response from the community than we initially expected and it has made us more excited to expand the program.
"Because there's nothing like going out to your own garden and picking fresh vegetables."