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Edible estate: a fresh novelty

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One Woodbury family is putting a whole new meaning to the “Hey neighbor, can I borrow a couple of eggs?” idea.

John and Catherine Schoenherr’s front lawn of 18 years became a full-blown vegetable and fruit garden this summer as one of just 15 “edible estates” in the world.

The house, located smack dab in the middle of town and surrounded by typical suburban homes, is decked out with more than 100 plant species — from purple cauliflower and rare artichokes, to pungent herbs, peppers and eggplant.

The project was a Walker Art Center endeavor that sought suburban homeowners in the Twin Cities to plant a vegetable garden on the same year of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s 25th anniversary.

Catherine Schoenherr, an avid gardener who had a plot in West Lakeland last year, wrote in and volunteered her yard. Instead of driving 10 miles, she thought it’d be nice if it was right outside the front door.

Little did she know her edible estate would draw so much media frenzy from local and national publications. Just last week, National Geographic came out to Woodbury to photograph her garden for a spring 2014 edition.

The most rewarding part, though, is the sense of community the garden has brought to her neighborhood, she said.

“I can walk out to get the mail and see someone picking some kale,” Schoenherr said. “Occasionally it’s people I don’t even know, which is really nice.”

Some neighbors were shy at first and a few weren’t sure if it was OK to walk up and clip a few basil leaves, a couple of tomatoes or pick an apple or two.

“I tell everybody if you see something you need, just take it,” Schoenherr said. “I push a lot of vegetables on everybody that comes over.”

The project was designed by Fritz Haeg, an artist and architect whose work includes edible gardens, documentary videos and exhibitions. Most of the plants came from Gardens of Eagan in Farmington, while fruit trees were donated by Gertens.

More than 100 volunteers dug up the front yard over Memorial Day weekend to help get the garden started.

“Definitely a lot of people that thought this was a good idea and donated time and donated plants and supported it,” Schoenherr said. “I was overwhelmed with the generosity and kindness. There was so many people that came to put this garden in. I didn’t know them, spent a whole weekend here.”

Not long after that holiday weekend, the Schoenherrs started to see results.

“Everything just took off like crazy,” she said, and suddenly she had eight tomato species, lots of peppers, berries she didn’t know existed and 30 different types of eggplants.

“What in the world are we going to do with this many eggplants?” she thought at the time. “But they are gone.”

The Schoenherrs hosted edible estate nights every Wednesday over the summer where neighbors and members of the community can visit the yard and take their pick.

The couple, who also installed a wood-burning brick oven in the yard this year, hosted a pizza party two weeks ago where John Schoenherr, an avid baker, baked the dough and neighbors brought different toppings to add to the veggies from the garden.

“Eating fresh, organic vegetables just tastes better,” Catherine Schoenherr said. “Anything you eat here is going to taste better than what you find in a grocery store.”

The edible estate stands out in the Seasons Park neighborhood and many think it’s more maintenance than it actually is, when in fact it’s been therapeutic for Schoenherr to get her hands dirty.

And seeing a few vegetables that are normally hard to find in this part of the world doesn’t hurt either, she said, especially those purple cauliflower and artichokes.

“Those are kind of strange for this area,” Schoenherr said.

The family plans to continue Wednesday night gatherings for now, but come fall, they said they may switch to weekends and have more baking parties. The Schoenherrs said they’ll also maintain the garden into the future.

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.