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  Monday January 26th, 2015    

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Community gardeners seek new farmland (02/24/2013)
By Chris Rogers


The Winona Community Garden is searching for a new location for garden plots following a recent letter from a Winona Health official announcing that there are plans for development on the land, which has been leased to the gardening group since 2009.

"We have a pending project slated for that land, but the details are still being worked out. If all goes smoothly, ground could be broken in late summer or early fall," the letter said.

Community garden members knew that Winona Health had plans to develop the land sooner or later, and the group still plans to use the space this year (at Winona Health's invitation). Community garden director Jan Taylor advised the group's gardeners to plant early-season crops in order to harvest their crops in case construction work begins in the fall.

The community garden allows anyone to lease a garden plot for the growing season. It provides apartment-dwellers with an accessible space to garden, offers opportunities for beginning gardeners to learn from experienced growers, and is just fun, said Lea Karlssen, community garden board member.

By allowing people a chance to grow their own food, the community garden helps to make healthy food available to people of all economic levels in Winona, Karlssen said. The group also grows a "hunger garden." "If someone is hungry, they can go in and grab some cherry tomatoes," Karlssen explained. The group has also donated food to Volunteer Services and the Winona Catholic Worker, a homeless shelter.

"People being able to grow their own food is so empowering," Karlssen said. "If they can grow their own it really helps with the family budget in terms of poverty support."

She explained that when one is in a tough fiscal situation, "after a while you just feel so beaten down. But when you can get your hands dirty and produce something yourself and help feed your family, that has tremendous emotional value."

Karlssen said that there are a number of seniors, recent immigrants, and families with children that make use of the garden.

Winona County also has a community garden facility, but Karlssen pointed out it does not fill quite the same need. People have to drive to the county garden, a problem for people without a vehicle, and it keeps it from serving the "kitchen garden" role of the Winona Community Garden, Karlssen said. "You are not going to use your kitchen garden unless it's no farther away than you can throw your kitchen sink. It is not the farming mentality, it is your pantry."

While Taylor said that she expects groundbreaking on the land adjacent to the hospital will take longer than Winona Health predicted in the letter, the group will have to find a location for 2014. However, she and Karlssen said that the group really wants to find a permanent location, so that they won't have to move around from year to year. While the group had preliminary talks with the city about finding a suitable location, there are no offers on the table at this point.

The current community garden group was founded in 2009. There were other garden groups before then, but they dissolved, Karlssen said, because they lacked a permanent location.

The group is asking for anyone with a 150-foot-by-150-foot plot they are willing to lease for multiple years to contact them.

While there is normally a waiting list for garden plots, because of the situation with Winona Health this year, the group has open plots. Contact Jan Taylor for more information.



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