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Afton City Council to consider community garden idea

Afton is known for its large farmsteads, but a community garden?

On July 17 Afton City Council will review a proposal from the Afton Parks Committee to build a community garden in Afton, thanks to a grant from the Lower St. Croix Valley Foundation.

Earlier this spring, Afton Planning Commission Chairwoman and master gardener Barb Ronningen heard of a grant opportunity from the Lower St. Croix Valley Foundation.

The foundation was looking for grant proposals to use $2,500 for community building.

Ronningen said she thought of the idea of creating a community garden because it would solve several issues facing the community.

"It occurred to me that Afton has a number of very small parcels," she said, "and in the current climate there's a lot of interest in gardening - especially growing your own.

"A community garden would enable people who didn't have space at their own home where they can plant vegetables and it would also be a way of making that land better - this is a good way to accomplish a number of things."

Ronningen said the community garden concept would also help eradicate invasive species such as buckthorn and help with erosion prevention.

Since the grant is from the Lower St. Croix Valley Foundation, the garden must be available to all residents of the five cities - Afton, St. Mary's Point, Lake St. Croix Beach, Lakeland and Lakeland Shores - that are members of a joint powers agreement.

"I think it will be a lot of fun to garden collectively," said Council Member Bill Palmquist, who is a member of the Afton Parks Committee. "It's a nice way to build community and fill a need for some people around here."

Palmquist and Ronningen said the Parks Committee is proposing the community garden be located at Rinta, which is an open space area off Hudson Road on Interstate 94.

"Most of the parcels we have are terrible - they're just garbage," Palmquist said, "but this one's kind of pretty and there's some open space."

The parcel has about four acres available for use.

The only stipulation of the grant is that the community garden cannot be used for commercial production and excess produce is encouraged to be donated to the local food shelf.

Filling a need

Even though Afton residents have large lots, for the most part, Ronningen said she still believes there is a need for a community garden in the community.

"The other communities don't have those larger lots that we do in Afton," she said.

Additionally, Ronningen said the community garden can benefit Afton residents who have both large and small lots.

"Even those residents who have large lots may have a need for the community garden, Ronningen said.

"You may have a lot that's large, but you may not have a space that's suitable for growing vegetables," she said citing lots that might have hills, rocks or a lot of shade.

Palmquist agrees with Ronningen that a community garden will be a benefit to Afton.

"There is some dissension on whether or not this is a good idea - I think it's a fine idea," he said. "I think people in Afton will use it because I think it could be fun gardening as a community kind of thing."

Planting next year

Since the planting season is already half over, Ronningen said they are looking at starting to plant in the fall.

However, this spring the grant money could be used for the clearing and tilling of the property in preparation of planting.

Ronningen said they are also looking to move a picnic table to the property as well as install some rain barrels to collect water since there are no water lines at the property.

The grant money will also be used for fertilizer and soil.

"Whatever people want to plant there, they will be responsible for getting it," she said.

Palmquist said another possibility for the grant funding being tossed around is to install some sort of lock box to hold gardening tools for the community gardeners to utilize.

Ronningen said they are hoping to start small for next year by tilling and clearing about 1 acre or so to accommodate 10 garden plots.

"We're starting small, making sure we have interest, making sure we have a size we can manage," she said. "This is a trial."

The community garden isn't quite a reality though, Palmquist said. It still needs to receive City Council approval.

"I think it will likely pass, but I just don't know," he said. "This is kind of an interesting experiment."

Palmquist said he is hopeful that the community garden does move forward.

"The thing that I really like about it is being able to find a use for one of our parks," he said. "We have all these plots of land throughout the city that really have no value - they've just sat there forever - and if we can find a value for this one, I think it's great."

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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