Growing the Community While Growing Vegetables

In 2012, something special started growing in Eden Prairie.

The Pax Christi Catholic Community announced a need for volunteers for a new project: the Giving Garden. A community garden entirely run by Eden Prairie locals and parishioners. From seed to harvest, the volunteers would work together to cultivate fresh produce that would be donated to the People Reaching Out to People food shelf, the food support non-profit local to Eden Prairie and Chanhassen that gives aid to over 250 clients each week. These include families with children, our underemployed neighbors, and mobile food delivery to homebound seniors.

Now, coming into its 6th growing season, the Giving Garden has become something much more than a flourishing idea. In their first year, the Garden donated 500 pounds of produce to the PROP food shelf. Last year, that number grew to over 1,200 pounds.

According to propfood.org: “We really cannot have too much fresh produce. During our annual client survey, fresh produce is always one of the most requested items.” PROP’s website lists some of the most sought-after foods which include onions, cucumbers, beans, squash, and potatoes, all of which the Garden grows and gives.

The effort of the community garden grew organically out of Pax Christi Catholic Community’s desire to help their neighbor. Mary Beth Schleif, an original coordinator, said “It started with intention. We said, ‘Till it up. We’ve got dirt.’ Now we’ve gotten to know more people in our community. The fact that people come back week after week or year after year is the message.”

While some community gardens are partitioned off into rented plots where the gardeners grow and reap their vegetables individually, the Giving Garden is truly a team effort. “Come once or come often,” says the Giving Garden’s page on paxchristi.com. You can sign up to volunteer on this page, and plenty of volunteers have come via word of mouth. While it seems like a huge undertaking to produce such a bountiful yield, it actually happens quite naturally. “I send out the email, we gather, we do the work,” said Schleif. “It’s been one of the most amazing experiences.” Uniting in service to the community is what it’s all about. The fact that there is no leader, but an ecosystem of volunteers, is what makes the Garden thrive.

Each part of the Garden was donated, including the time and love that it takes to bring it all together. Volunteers emphasize the importance of fresh as opposed to processed food in the diet, no matter your circumstance. The volunteers saw an opportunity to fill this need, and they took it. “We shouldn’t just go to mass on Sunday. Live your faith every day,” says Schleif. “We grow the community as we grow vegetables.”