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Rinta Community Gardens project moving forward

After last week's snow, the thought of gardening is probably the last thing on most people's minds.

However, that was exactly the topic of discussion at an informational meeting April 9 over Afton's Rinta Community Gardens project.

The Rinta Community Gardens, approved last year by Afton City Council, will be located on the Hudson Road frontage road off of Interstate 94, and have about four acres available for use.

"(Applicants) are looking for a good green site and that's what we have here," said Planning Commission Chairwoman Barb Ronningen, a master gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension Services who will be heading up the project.

The community garden is planned to allow Afton residents, and residents of neighboring communities, to plant vegetables or flowers on their own private plot.

"We encourage you to grow whatever you want - within the law," Ronningen said. "It will be fun to see what people plant."

Currently, the city has a total of 19 applications for gardens from around the lower St. Croix Valley, Woodbury and St. Paul.

"It was real slow at first," Ronningen said. "It was just a matter of people not being ready to garden until the weather gets better."

All applicants will be able to have gardens, Ronningen said.

The community garden is being paid for through a grant from the Lower St. Croix Valley Foundation.

The only stipulation of the grant is that the community garden cannot be used for commercial production.

"It's not a commercial endeavor," Ronningen said. "If you grow too much, donate it to the food shelf, hand it off to your neighbor, can it or whatever."

Ronningen said the timeline for planting the gardens is uncertain because the weather has been so unpredictable.

Once the weather warms up, Ronningen said tilling is the first thing that needs to happen at the property.

"Who knows when that will be," she said.

Next, the brush will need to be cleared, compost will need to be put down and a soil test will need to be conducted.

The city will also be moving a picnic shelter from Steamboat Park to Rinta Community Gardens as well as laying a path of ground up tree stumps between the different plots.

Once all of those elements are completed, Ronningen said applicants can start planting.

Last week, Ronningen discussed with applicants some possible factors that should also be considered.

First off, Ronningen asked applicants to be considerate of the fact that Afton relies heavily on its ground water.

"We would really encourage you to be a 100 percent organic if possible," she said. "We ask you to be good stewards of the land."

Another factor people should be aware of, Ronningen said, is that the property won't have any water on site, outside of rain barrels.

"I strongly encourage you to use mulch as much as possible," she said. "Drilling wells is far beyond our budget."

Ronningen said she is also working to install a deer fence at the property.

"If you like Bambi that's all well and good, but nobody likes him eating your tomatoes," she said.

Lastly, Ronningen informed gardeners that next year's growing season is uncertain since Rinta Community Gardens is a pilot project and the city won't have any grant money coming in next year.

Additionally, Ronningen said there could be a small fee next year since the grant money will be spent by that time.

Ronningen said she is excited to see the Rinta Community Gardens through to fruition.

"It's an exciting project," she said. "As far as I know it's the furthest out community garden from the cities, so we're breaking new ground here."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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