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Garden project to produce educational harvest

Jill Schramm/MDN Some of the vacant property owned by the Minot State University Development Foundation along University Avenue will become a community garden to showcase indigenous planting traditions.

There’s nothing unusual at this time of year about buying seed and mapping garden rows in anticipation of the approaching spring planting. However, one organization is planning a different kind of garden in Minot that won’t just yield produce but also educate the community.

The idea for a community garden focused on native plants came from a group of educators at Minot State University.

A few years ago, after taking graduate students in the MSU education program to various conferences, MSU associate professor Daniel Conn said he and students began talking about applying what was learned at the conferences to community needs.

“Something that occurred to all of us is there isn’t a lot of opportunity for people in general. and especially young people, to learn about their local ecology,” Conn said. “So we formed a nonprofit organization and are interested in trying to promote ecological education in different ways.”

The nonprofit, dream BIG Green Schools, formed the Red and Green School, which was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Bush Foundation through its Change Network Program to plant a neighborhood garden based on indigenous planting traditions.

“We want to recognize the people that lived in this area once upon a time and their wonderful ways of gardening and managing the earth, and then try to replicate that in the garden,” Conn said.

The group looked at the Knife River garden in the New Town area and the educational possibilities that model can bring to the Minot project. The community garden will employ traditional techniques from the Three Affiliated Tribes at MHA Nation but also practices of other Native people, including the Ojibwe, Lakota, Dakota and Turtle Mountain Chippewa.

The project has support of Environmentally Minded People of Minot and campus groups that include the MSU Native American Center, Biology Club, Sustainability Committee, Teacher Education and First Year Experience.

The goal is to make the project an annual one, with events at which people of all ages can interact with the garden, Conn said.

The initial plan was to invite the community to a spring ceremony before the annual powwow at MSU this year and involve youth in planting the garden. Restrictions on community gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic have left plans up in the air, but Conn said the garden project will move forward.

“According to some of our research, we should plant when the gooseberries bloom. So that’s kind of our plan. We think that would be in about late May, early June,” Conn said. “We’d like to involve kids, community groups.”

However, if COVID-19 restrictions remain in play, the larger ceremony might center around the harvest.

“We’re going to have some different varieties of corn,” Conn said. “I believe there’s 17 varieties of corn that the Hidatsa used to grow. We’re ordering those seeds right now.”

The Ojibwe called this area Plum Creek because of the lush plums, and there’s interest in bringing back plums and other crops that people might not be familiar with but which have been part of the area’s history, he added.

The garden will be located on the middle of three now vacant lots purchased by the Minot State University Development Foundation after the flood. The property is on the south side of University Avenue, east of Eighth Street Northwest.

Conn said the idea is to work with child-care providers and other children’s groups to pick produce and learn how the garden works. Signs will be erected to explain the crop traditions and provide information on the plants. Tools also will be reminiscent of those used in years past, such as antlers held together by leather straps to serve as a rake.

“We’ve been working a lot with the State Historical Society of North Dakota to try to really understand what would be appropriate,” Conn said. “I have a little bit of an agricultural background but I have learned so much in the last few months trying to put this together, and we’re still learning.”

The nonprofit group is continuing to finalize its garden plans and will be releasing more information as those plans come together.

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