Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Compost Is Heating Up!

Organic gardening and farming are based on the notion that when we build our soil’s natural fertility through composting we strengthen our environment and grow the land’s capacity to provide us with health.

It’s a pretty good system when you think of it. We throw out scraps, and the scraps become our food. So simple, so elegant, so effective.

At Giving Tree Gardens, we’re such big fans of compost because we’ve seen it’s powerful results. Our gardens and lawns have all quickly filled in and grown with health and beauty using nothing but good healthy compost for fertility.

 Last spring Giving Tree Gardens began working with farm partners to build Grow! Twin Cities Urban Farm. At this 12 acre city farm growers with various talents ranging from tomato and potato farming to bee keeping and mushrooming have come together to grow food for urban eaters. This farm space has been the perfect place for us to launch our composting operations.

With consultation from local composting experts Peter Kern, owner of Kern Landscape Resources, and Professor Tom Halbach, from the University of Minnesota, we designed an 85 feet long compost pile. Friends of the farm and Giving Tree Gardens employees set to work transforming our greenhouse and hauling in the compost pile’s base layers of wood chips and landscaping waste.

We now bring in 2 tons of Minneapolis’ finest coffee shop, vegetarian eatery, and beer brewery waste per week to compost inside our largest greenhouse. Composting takes place inside the greenhouse for two reasons. First, composting in the greenhouse means that our pile doesn’t stop cooking all year long.  Second, and more importantly, the fact that we’re heating our greenhouse without any petroleum products means a huge environmental win for everyone involved.

If you’ve purchased food, beer, or coffee from Peace Coffee, Harriet Brewery, Caffetto Coffee Shop, Tao Foods, or Second Moon Coffee Shop, then you are contributing to healthy soils, and local food production at our Grow! Twin Cities Farm.

If you’d like to support more of our farming and composting efforts, there are great ways to get involved. You can sign up to volunteer, donate to the farm, or sign up to follow our newsletter.
Many thanks to all the hard working compost helpers!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gardening At School, Growing Healthy Kids

Whenever a young person learns to garden, the future grows a little more green and healthy.   

When and entire school learns to garden together, sustainability sprouts in the imaginations of tomorrows community.  This spring, Giving Tree Gardens worked with the Anoka-Hennepin School District to teach some of the basics of Earth- friendly food gardening to students at two schools in the district.  We had so much fun working with students and staff that we’ve just got to share the good times with the rest of the world. 

Imagine what our communities would look like today, if all of us as kids had the opportunity to learn to grow our own food at school.  Instead of learning to grow food, the daily school lunch is the most engaging and oft repeated lesson that our kids get about food.  What is that lesson? 

It was an honor for us at Giving Tree to be invited to garden with the students at Mississippi Elementary and Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids.  Composting, edible weeds, the importance of avoiding chemicals, soil preparation, seed planting, native plants, habitat creation, and companion planting were the subjects of 3 all day gardening classes.  School staff and teachers brought the students out in shifts.  Over 400 students were able to get their hands dirty digging in to learn how to grow healthy food and habitat.  

Kids naturally know how to bring out the fun in gardening.  Between cow poo, worms, and rotting food all in the compost, there was quite a lot to laugh about.  The fun didn’t just stop with talk of compostables, we all got to dig in to the gross, delightful compost and learn how to use our garbage to make garden gold! 

At Mississippi Elementary we built on a theme that we had started last year when we extended the garden installation within the schools Nature Center to include 6 crescent moon shaped garden beds.  Every grade came out to plant, and each got their own garden bed to prepare and plant with different companion planting arrangements.  Within each bed we also planted one native butterfly attracting plant so that we made sure to grow habitat for our winged friends along the way. 

At Northdale Middle school we worked with 7th and 8th grade students in the schools AVID program to plant a highly accessible veggie garden and two fruit trees right out the back door.  Plants were all arranged in companionship groupings, and both the apple and pear tree that were planted were given their best friend plants of dill and mint to grow by.  Some of the students were very impressive with their strong knowledge about organic vegetable gardening! 

Both of these school projects were funded by SHIP grants (State Health Improvement Program) from the State of Minnesota Health Department.  These grants are designed to “help Minnesotans live longer, healthier lives.”   

Gardening for medicinal and edible plants as well as sustainable habitat development are among the most effective long term strategies we have available for increasing health in our communities.  

Imagine how healthy our children would be if all of our schools had organic student led gardens to grow even half of the food the kids eat for lunch.  Thanks to the SHIP grants, and the imaginative staff in the Anoka-Hennepin Schools and school district, we have planted the seeds of healthy change in a couple of local schools.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Grow! Twin Cities, New Urban Farm

Prayers can come true if you live them.  A Lakota Sioux elder once told a group of folks I was sitting with that if you want to see your prayers come true you have to live them.  What he said struck a chord with me.  If I pray for a healthy environment then I need to work for health in the environment.  By this way of living I am empowered to work for a miracle.  I like that because life on this planet seems like it needs a miracle right now. 
From a grower's point of view, we can start living our prayers for healthy food, clean water, and a clean environment when we pick up a shovel and begin digging in to the work of transforming our food system, one steaming scoop of compost at a time.  We've got a hard row to hoe in order to see our prayers for health and sustainability come true, but there's no better time to start transforming the way we grow our food than right now, and right now Giving Tree Gardens is digging in.  We're proud to announce our collaboration with local food activists and farmers in the creation of Grow! Twin Cities, a model urban farm and multi-cultural growers co-op right on Rice Street.  
Plans include growing organic, heirloom vegetable starts in our greenhouses during the spring followed by heirloom peppers, tomatoes and melons during the summer and of course, we’ll be making tons of compost all season long. Several immigrant farmers will use the tillable land to grow for market. Plans may also include a beekeeper and fish farmer and growing other plants including; herbs, natives and plants for permaculture landscapes.  Long term plans include replicating similar sites throughout the Twin Cities area.  

Grow! Twin Cities will pool the talents and resources of local farmers from a variety of cultures to build this farm and co-op and begin the work of strengthening our local food system and bringing health to Twin Cities tables. There is room to Grow! with us, farmers and market gardeners looking for land and greenhouse space for rent in the Twin Cities should call (612)
492-1435 for more information.

You Can Help! 
Grow! Twin Cities is currently holding a fundraiser plant sale.  Purchase strawberry, raspberry, and blueberry plants for planting in your own yard and help grow this exciting new urban farm with every purchase!  Plant sale order forms and more information are available by calling (612) 492-1435 or 
emailing Russ Henry (

Watch for a new Grow! T.C. website sometime after spring planting season...
Together with your help we can Grow! Twin Cities!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Food Is The Second Medicine

The following is an excerpt from an interview that Russ Henry did with Growing Power as a part of Growing Power's series of interviews about race, justice, and the food system.

Food is the second medicine.
My wife Shaunna tells me that water is the first medicine and food is the second.  Shaunna is a beautiful Lakota Sioux woman who knows her heritage.  Her grandparents taught her that water and food are medicine.  What keeps us healthy and helps us most when we are sick are clean water and good food.  

We are spiritual beings having a physical experience.  When our feelings are hurt or we’re down we might say our spirits are low.  When we feel great we say we’re in high spirits.  Our feelings are one reflection or dimension of our spirit that our bodies can easily perceive.  

Our bodies’ condition can affect our feelings and spirit.  Hormones, wounds, illness, health, touch and sensuality, all of these physical realities in our bodies interact with our spirits to help us feel emotions.  Water and food provide our bodies with the energy to continue hosting our spirits.  It’s common knowledge that our bodies absorb the physical qualities of the food we eat when we digest it and strip it of usable nutrients.  What would happen if folks everywhere started to recognize that the spiritual qualities of the food we eat are absorbed and used by our spirits? 

Have you ever heard someone say that Love is the most important ingredient in their cooking?  More then one professional chef has told me this and though I love to cook, I’m not a chef.  By trade I’m a gardener and farmer.  In my experience, the same ingredient that good chefs pour into every dish in order to bring flavor to life is also the most important tool we have for growing healthy food.  Love guides any holistically healthy growing operation.  Love of people, love of Earth, and love of life are a few of the tools that growers can use everyday in their pursuit of health.  Of course not all food is cooked with love and not all food is grown with love, sometimes food producers have other guiding principles.  What principles helped guide the production of the food that you eat?  

Some folks understand the concept of voting with a dollar.  The idea is that when we spend money on something we are effectively voting to have more of that thing be produced.  By spending our money we are also asking to have more of the spirit or emotional energy that surrounds the production of the items we purchase be created in the world.  So if we ask the local farmers who refuse pesticides and plant heirloom crops for more of their food then they’ll do their best to grow more and the spirit of harmony and cooperation is fostered in their fields, but when we ask the farmers who spray pesticides and fertilizers and who plant genetically modified organisms for more of their food, they too do their best to grow more and the spirits of destruction and disease are fostered.  This all comes home to our personal feelings and spirits when we ask ourselves a couple of sometimes hard to answer questions:  Do I know where my food came from?  Do I feel good about the place that my food came from?  Do I feel like my food is full of healthy living nutrients, or is it possibly tainted with poisonous pesticides?  When we look at food from this angle we see that from the moment we purchase food, it begins having an emotional impact on our own spiritual health and the health of the planet, an impact that we are in control of by the power of our choice.    

When we honor ourselves we feel better. We honor ourselves when we give ourselves those things that are holistically good for us.  We are fully connected in every way to this beautiful planet, the condition of the planet’s living systems guide the condition of humanity.  When we honor life on Earth we foster health in our environment, when our environment is healthier so are we and we feel better.  To honor our environment is to honor ourselves.  Do the choices you make about food honor yourself and the environment? 

We are descendants and we are ancestors.  Our ancestors made our lives possible and our descendants will only know life if we leave the world in functioning condition for them.  I’ve heard it said that we did not inherit this world from our elders, instead we borrowed it from our children.  If our ancestors had not honored us we would not have the chance to honor our descendants or have any fun ourselves.  Should we leave the world a fun and functioning place for our kids and grandkids to enjoy?  Should we choose to promote harmony and health in our lives by eating food that promotes harmony and health through its very production, or does it only matter what food tastes like and how much it costs?

Prayers can come true if you live them.  A Lakota elder once told a group of folks I was sitting with that if you want to see your prayers come true you have to live them.  What he said struck a chord with me.  If I pray for a healthy environment then I need to work for and make choices that promote health in the environment.  By this way of living I am empowered to work for a miracle, I like that because life on this planet seems like it needs a miracle right now.  

Water is the first medicine and food is the second.  What is good for us is also good for our home planet.  Clean water and healthy organically grown food have the power to heal our wounded environments, bodies, and spirits. 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Growing A Sustainable City

The city that gardens together grows sustainably together.  Gardening is perhaps the greatest tool for building sustainability that we can all share.
Gardens can improve water quality, air quality, access to food, and personal health.  Cities that actively nurture the gardening and urban farming efforts of their citizens reap the benefits of healthy communities.  The nurturing of sustainable cities starts with the roots of the community.  Wherever there is a strong activist gardener population, you will find wonderful green ideas and initiatives sprouting up all over!
Rain gardens capture and filter rainwater run-off, community gardens and urban farms grow healthy food for people, locally grown food requires less trucking which keeps our air cleaner, fruit trees on the boulevard provide habitat for migrating birds and meeting places for neighbors.  
A city full of healthy gardens is a sustainable city full of happy people.  Each city in Minnesota has it’s own unique approach to sustainability.  In this volume of the Seed, we’ll have a look at two cities in the metro area to see some great examples of how local governments work with residents to incorporate all kinds of great gardening into their sustainability plans in order to grow happy, healthy cities.  


Homegrown food, local food, or food security, however you want to look at it, Minneapolitans' taste in food is rapidly evolving.  
According to Gayle Prest, the city’s official Sustainability Director, “Gardening is an integral part of the long term sustainability plan for Minneapolis”
With more then 100 community gardens and 33 farmers markets, this city is obviously hungry for healthy change.  Leading the charge for this change is an official city organization called Homegrown Minneapolis  which is dedicated to nothing less then building a healthy, local food system for all Minneapolis residents. 
Homegrown has recently been hard at work on an Urban Agriculture Policy Plan that will guide city land use decisions related to urban food production and distribution. The plan will help identify where and how land should be used to grow and distribute food through community and commercial gardens and urban farms.  In short, this new ag-plan will help Minneapolis scale up to the next logical step in urban food production.  By defining and allowing for urban farms, and market gardens, and by amending the zoning code to better accommodate urban agriculture this innovative plan will allow Minneapolis residents to have more control over their food choices, and more access to healthy homegrown food.
The time to support the Urban Ag Plan is now, call your city council person today!
-Update: Your Support Helped Get This Passed!-

“The key to all of this is to start with deep rich organic soil made from our own compost” 
Gayle reminds me as we talk about the city’s goal for having curbside residential compostable waste pick up by 2014.  This point is especially powerful as it shows yet another great way to improve our environment and our gardening habits at the same time.  When we compost we reduce the amount of garbage going to burners and landfills and we improve our garden soil, that’s the kind of sustainable solution we can all grow from. 

Oakley Biesanz, Naturalist for the City of Maplewood, explained to me some of the gardening strategies that are helping to grow a sustainable future for residents there. 
 Maplewood is a statewide leader in controlling water quality through rain gardening.  With over 620 city installed rain gardens now thriving in residents yards, 60 more growing on city owned land and many more to come Maplewood is proving that rain gardens are an effective and beautiful way to keep waterways clean and healthy.  With the city’s support and promotion rain gardening has become the  standard for dealing with storm water run-off in Maplewood.
At the Nature Center where Oakley works, the mission is to enhance resident’s awareness and understanding of land, water and wildlife resources; to empower the community to become stewards of the environment. This mission is clearly evident in the Demonstration Gardens, which include rainwater gardens, woodland wildflower and prairie butterfly gardens and a small section of no-mow grass.
For lawn enthusiasts, Maplewood has developed the Mow-Hi Pledge This pledge to cut the grass no shorter then 3 inches and leave all the clippings on the lawn will help residents reduce fertilizer and watering costs and environmental impacts.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that there’s a grand prize drawing for folks who are willing to take the pledge. 
Community gardens are sprouting up in Maplewood this spring as part of a multi-city effort to improve access to food growing space.  Working with the Maplwood-North St. Paul Parks and Rec. department, School District 622 and a local church, the two cities will now be able to offer over 650 community garden plots available to the public this spring.

In the long run, sustainability is just the only common sense approach to life, and gardening is the simplest approach to sustainability that we have available.  
Whether you’re filtering rain water run off through rain gardens in order to keep the ground water, rivers, and lakes clean or keeping nutrients in your neighborhood by composting in your back yard, or maybe even growing your own food and medicine at home or with neighbors in a community garden, these are all among the most Earth friendly, community building habits humans can all share.  
It takes a village to raise a garden and no one should be left out of the process.  From youth to elders, from city council members to dirt gardeners, we all have a stake in helping to grow a sustainable city right where we live and we all need to work hard and connect with our community if we are going to see success.
Gardeners, take the opportunity this spring to think globally, garden locally and start to grow a sustainable city!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Photo contest winner!

This ant visiting a forsythia picture took a second place in the Men's Garden Club of Minneapolis Photo Show!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Magnolia in the Breeze

Best in Show!  This picture I snapped last spring of a magnolia in the breeze was awarded a prize by The Men's Garden Club of Minneapolis. 

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