Hope Community, a development organization in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis, owns a community garden in the center of what they call the “Hope Block.”
Hope owns 176 units of affordable housing, almost all of which are on one block of the corner of Portland Avenue and Franklin Avenue. In the center of this unconventional housing development is a 16-plot community garden, which is within view of many of the houses on the block. Right next to the community garden is a children’s playground, where many of the neighborhood kids hang out and play.
The first few years the garden was in operation, the children were naturally curious and wanted to help adults in the garden. Unfortunately, many times their help would become a hindrance, and adults began complaining about the presence of the children. The kids would climb into the garden and throw ripe tomatoes, generally wreaking havoc on people’s carefully prepared gardens.
That’s where Land Stewardship Project intern Sam Johnson stepped in. During the 2012 growing season, “I originally volunteered with Hope to work in the garden, and when I let you guys know about my background work with kids, we all saw the opportunity,” he told me. “A lot of the kids that were interacting with the garden were not in the fold. They didn’t understand the rules, and gardeners didn’t know how to interact with [the kids]. There was high pressure, high anxiety, a lot of emotions and frustration. The original goal was to be able to engage these kids in gardening, and be there as someone who could be a bridge between the kids and the garden.”
Since 2012, Sam’s role in the garden has grown with the children he engages.
“When we started, we were meeting two days a week, very informally. I would come with activities and count on the fact that the garden was right next to the playground; the kids were going to be there,” he said. “The hope was that if we could hook them with fun activities, they would start coming back intentionally. We started doing it informally, because we didn’t want to foist a program on kids—we wanted to see if it was something that would happen organically. Last year we had a core of about five to six kids and two to three of them would be there every single week. Three to four others would be familiar faces that would come every couple of weeks.”
Sam added that, “In the wintertime, we had to bring things indoors. The amount of kids decreased. We only had a few that came in, but it was nice to have those few. We recognized that this was something that had some legs to it, and would be more long-term than we originally envisioned, so it would probably be more appropriate that I would work with Dhop to do this youth work.”
Dhop, aka Andrew Hopkins, has worked as a Community Outreach Manager at Hope Community’s Community Engagement program on several initiatives to engage young people. One of the most significant contributions has been a program called Learning in Community. Hope’s website describes Learning in Community as “a community literacy program for children ages 6-9 where children thrive and learn in a community environment.”
This past winter, Sam led the kids in indoor gardening activities such as vermiculture (worm composting) and seed starting.
“My hope for the garden this year is consistency. We’re meeting once a week on Saturdays, and I’ll be around for the other two work days,” Sam said. “If we can put in that consistency, we’re hoping that the kids will respond in kind and we’ll have a handful of kids that will be there every week. Registration is happening now. This year, we also have a little plot of our own in the community garden. In those terms, I would like to see those kids really invest in that plot and see how those plants are doing, and get the kids excited to come back every week and care for the plants.”
Anna Cioffi is a Land Stewardship Program organizer working in the Hope Community on developing community based food systems. She can be reached via e-mail or at 612-722-6377.