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Pope County community garden going strong thanks to committed volunteers

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 07/08/2013 2:40 PM

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GLENWOOD, Minn. —Mike Knutson had plans for a garden at the Glenwood Lutheran Church, where he serves as financial records secretary, but, when the land became a parking lot, he thought his hopes were dashed.

Then someone suggested he connect with the Minnewaska People's Garden at the Pope County USDA Service Center.

The garden was started four years ago by USDA employees on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. The garden was planted as part of U.S. ag secretary Tom Vilsack's initiative to promote healthy foods and to reduce obesity. The harvest was taken to the local food shelf.

Property owners Robert and Barbara Valnes helped get the first garden going with farmer Earl Hauge.

Maintaining the garden was a challenge. Garden planting, nurturing and harvest all occurred during busy seasons for the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources and Conservation Service and Soil and Water Conservation District.

When Knutson contacted Pope County FSA director Grant Herfindahl he was excited someone was interested in maintaining the garden.

Knutson loves to garden. He learned about growing plants and produce while growing up near Wendell. The 4-H member enrolled in garden projects as he was mentored by his father. Now he's doing the same through the Minnewaska People's Garden.

A host of volunteers help him, he said.

Some have no gardening experience, but are learning under Knutson's tutelage.

The true benefactors of the garden are those who receive the bounty at the local food shelf. Last year, the garden produced 25 pounds of radishes, 20 pounds of lettuce, 50 pounds of beets, 25 pounds of onions, six dozen ears of corn, 24 heads of cabbage, 18 winter squash, 375 pounds of summer squash, 90 pounds of tomatoes and three pumpkins.

The garden also produced beans, peas, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and potatoes.

They expanded the garden by another 16 feet this spring to gain more room to space out rows and for vine plants, he said. They also added drip tape irrigation along each row.

The community has pitched in, he said. The Stark family has assisted with the project as has Glenwood Floral for plants and seeds. The Glenwood Rotary Club and Starbuck VFW also contributed along with Glenwood Lutheran parishioners.

Herfindahl smiles as he walks by the garden.

"I am more than happy to have partners and the community involved in this project," he said. "To see the work Mike has done with this garden...He truly believes in training another generation in gardening."