Growing food and community
City garden plots encourage good health, interaction
Throughout his life, Albert Lea resident Steve Ball did not eat many vegetables. Today, thanks to community gardens in the city, Ball and other residents have found their passion in growing and eating fresh vegetables.
Ball and fellow Albert Leans Peggy Havener and Nick Kruse garden in close proximity to each other at the Brookside community garden.
Ball gardens a 20-by-40-foot space consisting of russet, red and purple potatoes; red and yellow onions; eight types of peppers, as well as tomatoes, carrots, peas, ground cherries and squash.
“I enjoy the time down there,” he said. “I didn’t eat vegetables, very few vegetables growing up, and I actually enjoy eating them now. The satisfaction of putting the seed in the ground and watching it grow, honestly.”
In addition to Brookside, community gardens are also on Spark Avenue behind Lou-Rich and on Margaretha Avenue. The introduction of those sites came with the advent of the Blue Zones Project in 2009.
Ball said he enjoys gardening.
“The satisfaction — you did it all,” he said. “I kept potatoes. I’ve got a lot of potatoes, and I put them in a 5-gallon bucket, and they were good until February.”
Sometimes during the summer, Ball will go to the gardens in the afternoon, and he views the $20 nominal fee he pays as well worth the investment. Ball sometimes trades vegetables with other growers.
“We’re always trading,” he said. “It’s an area to grow vegetables and fruits that are good for you, for one thing. It gives you a pretty big area.”
Havener grows tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, leeks and squash. Some years she grows spaghetti squash.
She said she began gardening at Brookside when the Blue Zones Project began in 2009. Having a plot the first time turned into “the best thing for me,” Havener said.
She sometimes gardens for hours at a time while listening to audio books.
“It’s a very good time just to breathe and relax,” Havener said.
“It’s just a very pleasant time.”
Albert Lea Recreation Department Director Bob Furland said 51 people had plots last year at Brookside, along with 24 combined at Sparks and Margaretha locations.
Furland, who used to operate a community garden, said they allow users to eat healthy vegetables, socialize and exercise.
The city typically sends letters to previous garden spot renters in February. They then have until March 31 to renew their lots.
Brookside and Margaretha locations allow for 20-by-20-foot plots for $20. It is $15 to rent a 10-by-13 plot on Spark. Approved fertilizers and insecticides can be used. Herbicides are prohibited.
Anyone interested in having a community garden is advised to call the city at 507-377-4370.
“It’s healthy for the community to be out doing things, meeting people out there,” Furland said.
“It’s socializing, being a part of community, and then also the fact they are eating healthy vegetables,” said Albert Lea recreation program supervisor Jennifer Davis. “Typically, that’s good for their diet, I guess.”
Albert Lea residents Mike and Renee Lee planned to have two plots this year at the Spark location. The couple comes from a long line of gardeners and spoke highly of the high-quality ground at the community garden at the Spark location. They decided to use community gardens about 10 years ago because of the insufficient soil at their residence.
“I grew up on a farm, so it’s kind of getting back to my roots,” Mike Lee said.
The couple grows tomatoes, potatoes, peas, peppers, onions, carrots and other items at their garden.
Community gardens allow Mike Lee to pull weeds and enjoy the community atmosphere of the gardens.
“I highly recommend gardening,” Renee Lee said. “I think it makes your happy factor go up.”