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Community garden in Woodbury? Officials dig into the possibility

Woodbury is hashing out details of a community garden near La Lake. (Bulletin file photo)

Proposed plans for some open space in Woodbury include new trails, recreational activities like fishing, canoeing or kayaking and possibly a community garden.

The city has received some interest in community gardens especially in urban settings where homeowners may not have enough room to plant their own fruits and vegetables.

But city officials are hesitant to get into the business of running a community garden without some sort of public-private partnership, said assistant parks and recreation director Mike Adams.

Preliminary plans for the La Lake open space, which is north of La Lake and south of Bailey Road, call for trail connections to the existing retreat center and to Woodlane Drive and Military Road.

The city has been buying four parcels of the La Lake open space in phases since 1998 with the most recent acquisition made last year for $715,000, including $247,500 from Land and Water Legacy funds.

The latest purchase, the former Lone Kennel property, is about 30 acres of land that farmers and city staff agree would be the best fit for a community garden.

“The land is very fertile and it’s level, flat I should say, and it has very few rocks in it,” said Wayne Schilling, whose family owns and farms 146 acres of corn and soy beans. “Those three things make for a good garden for producing anything.”

Schilling had expressed interest in starting some type of community garden because he sees the growing interest and has noticed it’s been successful in other communities.

“There is a lot of interest in people who like to grow their own food and we know that that land, because it’s close to where we live, it’s very productive and it would be an opportunity for people to be able to do that,” he said. “They do that in other communities. They figured out how to do it.”

Afton, which borders Woodbury to the east, started the endeavor last spring with city funds and grant monies that helped fertilize the soil.

Afton City Council Member Bill Palmquist said it was very well received by the public, however, not completely free of challenges.

The land is rural and open to deer and turkey. Without a fence it was difficult to keep animals out of the garden, he said.

Another big challenge was water, Palmquist said, as there isn’t a well connection there. It was hard for people to keep up with last summer being so dry.

Afton will begin charging $25 per plot this year to help pay for a fence the city plans to put up.

“This new fence will cost several thousand dollars,” Palmquist said. “I would say that’s the first major expense with the public garden.”

In Woodbury, water isn’t a challenge on the La Lake property. The city has a water source nearby from the former dog kennel.

Whether the city has the resources to run the garden is the question.

“Does the city want to get into the business of providing a community garden?” Adams said was the main challenge.

To kick off the garden, a lot of staff time would be involved in the first season and every year thereafter to prep the area and maintain the park, he said.

Someone would also have to deal with reservations and working with the public to reserve the garden plots.

“That would also be in the spring time, which is also a very, very busy time for the recreation department,” Adams said.

If the city decides to offer a community garden, the parking lot needs to be addressed, the soil will have to be amended and prepped and the water source would need to be reconfigured for easier access.

A picnic shelter and some type of programming that would demonstrate ways to garden and cook the food are also being considered.

“A lot of that would depend on the partnership and what we plan on moving forward with and how elaborate that would look,” Adams said. “Where people’s food comes from is a pretty hot topic right now.”

The property doesn’t currently allow for much access; it lacks trails, parking and access to the lake.

The plans call for complete redevelopment to make the retreat center more visible and easier to visit with future recreational activities.

City staff plan to continue planning, seeking grant opportunities and private partners through 2014 and start moving forward with development in 2015.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.