Monarchs fluttered through the giant red zinnias during the Merriam Station Community Garden Day. A few people listened to the program as I wandered through the gardens, snapping photos of pumpkins and flowers. Some 70 well-tended garden plots occupy this spot, a block north of I-94 and not many blocks east of my home. Volunteers run the sign-up and clean-up details for the community garden. People grow vegetables and flowers in their individual plots, and also donate food to Keystone Midway Food Shelf, both from individual plots and from a plot dedicated to producing for the food shelf.
The Ox Cart Trail Garden, a few blocks west of me, offers an oasis of waving grasses and late-summer blooms. I remember when this corner of Raymond and St. Anthony Avenue was a vacant lot, with a large historic marker commemorating the Ox Cart Trail that once ran along this part of what is now the I-94 corridor.
“The Red River Ox-Cart Trail ran from the Red River Valley to St. Paul in the mid-19th century. Ox-carts, with wheels as tall as a person, creaked along the trail, bringing fur to the city and taking supplies back. The ox-carts had large, all-wood wheels, and the axles made a very loud creaking noise.” [From Desnoyer Park website]
In 2000, Karen Wargo, a neighbor and Master Gardener, stepped up and got city permission to plan and plant a flower garden, taking the triangle “from a city-mowed blandness to a beautiful flower garden with benches and paths.” About eight years later, she moved away, but volunteers keep the garden growing. Now they are also raising money to repair some of the benches and place a small plaque with the garden’s name. (You can contribute here.)
Along the freeway, another volunteer effort brightens the sound wall with sunflowers, roses and ivy. Another neighbor organized that effort when the sound wall went up a few years ago, and continues to organize volunteers for regular weeding and watering and maintenance parties.
I remember volunteering as a child, the kind of forced volunteering where Mother says, “This is our Saturday to help clean the church, and you are going to dust the pews.” Later, I begged to volunteer as a door-knocker on political campaigns with Dad, because that seemed exciting and important. And, of course, every community organization from 4-H to church needed volunteers to help with meetings, food, fund-raising and projects.
Life in community means more than voting in elections. Communities, like gardens, are intricate ecosystems that need all kinds of input to keep them vibrant and alive. Volunteers play a key role in community life, as they do in our varied community gardening efforts.
From gardening to tutoring children to replacing carpet in a shelter to washing dishes — volunteer opportunities abound. Or, if you are looking specifically for a garden connection, click on over to Gardening Matters.