Community digs organic garden

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Bright red tomatoes and neat rows of onions, beets, corn and turnips are protected by a wire fence in the middle of a lot on Cloquet's Washington Avenue. The scent of delicate dill floats on the air, as do little black-and-yellow-striped flying pollinators. Butterflies dance from flower to flower, pausing to drink the nectar and bask in the sun. Deep pink Cosmos float on long stems as they stretch towards the bright blue sky.

After two years of planning and preparing, the Cloquet Community Garden at Zion Lutheran Church is in full bloom and anticipating its first harvest, thanks to the Community Garden Committee.

"The community needed a garden," said garden coordinator Ruth Jorgensen.

The garden didn't happen overnight. In the summer of 2016, volunteers dug the grass up and planted buckwheat and winter rye to add nutrients to ensure successful garden plots the following year. Jorgensen drew up the design for the plots to have varying sizes and shapes to allow for easy access around the plots as well as reaching in for weeding and harvesting the plants.

"The garden falls in line with United Way's healthy foods and healthy eating [emphasis]," said Ali Bilden Camps, United Way executive director and garden volunteer. Bilden Camps also wrote monthly newsletters to help educate gardeners on topics such as weeding, watering, how to enrich the soil and why. Of course, she also included a recipe each month.

All 36 plots were planted, 26 of them by community members. The organic garden features six raised beds, four which have been rented by senior citizens who find it easier to care for a higher bed. Another plot was a class project for Kids Corner, which is housed in the church. The fifth-grade students helped with planting, weeding and care of the garden. When the produce was ready, the kids enjoyed salads, vegetables with dip and a veggie pizza.

"It's been so gratifying," said Bilden Camps enthusiastically.

While there were a few tools available to gardeners, the majority brought their own.

"The church has been very supportive," said Jorgensen. She explained the church donated the land for the garden and money for the fence and some seeds. The committee members are pleased by the success of the first year of the garden.

There were beets, cucumbers, parsnips, beans, edamame, squash, melons, corn, peas and several other edibles planted, including flowers such as nasturtium and marigold. Marigolds also help protect the bountiful produce by keeping certain pests at bay.

The leftover beds were planted by volunteers, with the food to be donated to Carlton County food shelves. The plots will be harvested by the God's Work, Our Hands group, whose members come from six area churches.

The plots are $20 each, with $10 refunded after harvest if the gardener cleans up his or her own plot, Jorgensen said.

For more information or to sign up for a plot for next year, visit unitedwaycarltoncounty.org/community-garden/.

There will be a harvest celebration garden potluck party for all community gardeners and their friends and families at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, at Zion Lutheran Church.