Susan Reed/Dowling Garden
Piasecka recalled being awakened at 3 a.m. on early May mornings to accompany her father to their garden in Poland. There, they would build a fire to prevent frost from damaging young plants, including Manilovyi.
“When he found a fantastic variety, he would save it. That was just what people did,” she says. “The Manilovyi was a family favorite and one he saved seeds from for years and years. We didn’t realize how special that was. When he died, all his seeds were lost.”
Piasecka says sharing seeds and being reintroduced to a favorite variety that awakens old memories are reasons enough to join a community garden. She also believes strongly that it’s important to know you can grow your own food. However, it’s the people, she says, who make community gardening so special.
“You meet such wonderful people in community gardens,” she says. “You start a conversation, and you hear stories you would never expect. There is such a variety of people with so many different gardening practices and different ways to do things. Knowing Dowling Community Garden was here was one of the reasons I moved to Minneapolis.”
Vaughan echoes Piasecka in suggesting community gardens teach more than just gardening. “Dowling Community Garden is a model for how we have to learn to live better together,” he says.
After two decades of intensive gardening with raised beds on city lots in Minnesota, New York and Iowa, freelance writer Jim Ruen moved his family to a 3-plus-acre lot in the bluff country of southeastern Minnesota. He only wishes he’d known about Dowling Community Garden when living in the Twin Cities — he might never have moved.
Rules of Survival
As great as the sharing and camaraderie found in community gardening is, surviving for 68 years doesn’t come easily. A volunteer steering committee of coordinators manages garden activities and legal matters, such as the lease with the school district. The coordinators handle 13 tasks, ranging from weed surveying to path maintenance to water coordination. The Coordinator’s Handbook runs more than 40 pages with clearly detailed responsibilities and instructions for each position.
“Coordinators put in 80 to 100 hours a year,” says Jeffrey Loesch, who serves in finance and communications coordinator roles. “The philosophy is that those who do the work make the decisions. It has kept the gardens going for 68 years.”
Members like Philip Vaughan are required to provide sweat equity, volunteering at least four hours of service at some point during each growing season. They work with coordinators to maintain the gardens and tools as well as other tasks, such as delivering surplus produce to area food shelves. They can also volunteer for various special events and cleanup days.
The website (www.dowlingcommunitygarden.org) is a resource for members as well as anyone wanting to establish or refine a community garden. Garden rules, handbooks for members and coordinators, bylaws, newsletters and a plot map can be found there. During the growing season, a spreadsheet listing how many hours a member has worked during the season is updated weekly at the garden.
Paperwork and rules can make things run more smoothly, but in the end, it takes people working together. While Loesch, website coordinator Charlie Bowler and their fellow coordinators would likely give credit to their fellow members, it’s clear that they and their predecessors deserve a lot of credit for the long-term success of the victory garden turned community garden.
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