Grand Portage—Getting fresh vegetables to the table is a community affair in Grand Portage, with the health clinic, school and community members all working—and enjoying the harvest—together.
Andy Schmidt, tribal State Health Improvement Program (SHIP) agriculture coordinator, oversees two community gardening initiatives—three large hoop houses and garden plots on Mineral Center Road. Schmidt cultivates the myriad vegetables in the hoop houses. The fruits of his labor go to the Elder Nutrition Program, the Community Center lunch program in the summer and the Head Start food program in the fall.
Schmidt also provides materials for the 15 families who have garden plots, but he said they do all the work. Families start their own plants inside or purchase them, sometimes from the Grand Marais Great Expectations School greenhouse sale in the spring, and carefully plant and tend them in 10×12-foot garden plots.
Unable to have a garden because she lives in an apartment, participant Billi Carlson signed up as soon as she learned of the opportunity. She said gardeners are provided with a watering system, black dirt, and even use of a tiller.
Carlson has been enjoying the harvest, which so far has included peppers, carrots, different kinds of lettuce, peas, cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes (for Fried Green Tomatoes), and more. She is growing a new vegetable—kalettes, a cross between brussels sprouts and kale.
“It’s easy as can be,” Carlson said. “We’re having an awesome time up there.”
Schmidt said everyone seems to feel that way. “It’s a fun spot. There is a steady stream of people coming and going. People linger and visit and have a good time.”
Community members currently working a garden plot get to keep it in subsequent years if they wish. Keeping the same plot encourages a family to care for the soils, said Schmidt. There are two more plots available, so anyone wishing to sign up for a spot next year can contact (218) 475-3014 or email@example.com.
In addition to the garden plots used by community members, the Mineral Center Road site also has a 90×90-foot school garden, supervised by SNAP Nutrition educator Tess Bailey. Oshki Ogimaag students start planning their garden in March with discussion about the types of vegetables and strains that grow in this area, followed by the planting of seeds. Students tend the seeds in grow stands until they are ready for planting at the school garden or in the large planters that line the school/community center parking area. This year, each student has his or her own three-foot section to care for.
In addition to learning about planting, teachers asked for instruction on what to do with the harvest and Bailey said the school added meal preparation lessons. For example, students learn to shuck peas, blanch and freeze them for use throughout the school year. They also prepare a vegetable dish.
It is nice to see youths try something new, said Bailey. “Because they grew it, they are willing to try it. If they try it, they normally like it. And they are learning to enjoy fresh foods.”
In addition to the space and materials for gardening, there is also an educational component of the community garden program. Once a month there is a get-together at the Old Log Building with dinner and a presentation. The dinner, usually the third Wednesday of the month, features healthy local food.
The presentations are timely and open to the public. They started off with tips for getting seeds growing, and tips on using fresh produce. This month, the presentation will be on canning and pickling.
The gardens and the presentations are conducted with support of the Grand Portage Health Clinic, said Schmidt, “Because good food is key to good health.”
And getting that good food is sometimes difficult, noted Bailey. “We’re at the end of the road here. It’s hard to get fresh produce. The programs offered by the clinic and the school help people gain the skills to grow, pick and prepare their own food,” she said.
ENP director Patty Winchell Dahl said everyone benefits. “We have a terrific community organization of interested people that are volunteering their time and talents to promote locally grown food and sustainability in Grand Portage,” she said.