Maybe it happens to you every year about this time–the idea of tending a garden rises like an incredible mirage. You see yourself (tanned and fit from so much time outdoors) surveying vegetables, flowers growing with abandon accompanied by a steady hum of pollinators and grateful birds. Your family and friends marvel at your growing ability.
Well, that’s my dream, anyway. The reality is large portions of my yard are too shady for a garden and the parts that aren’t, the soil is so sandy it’s more suited to kid’s play than growing anything.
And what do I know about gardening? I’ve tried starting seeds indoors, “easy” plants seeded directly, adorable little plant starts from greenhouses–everything failing either quietly or spectacularly. I know enough to truly appreciate Farmer’s Markets and my friends who have been gardening for years.
Enter the Minnesota Horticultural Society. They have six tips for beginning vegetable gardeners. I think the most important tip may be the first one: “Don’t go overboard.”
We have a saying about living sustainably and resiliently–”start where you are.” So today I want to let you know why I’m starting with my local Community Garden.
For me the word “Community” is just about as important as “Garden.” I don’t want to be gardening on my own. In Pine River, the Community Garden is starting its 12th year. It is organized through Pine River-Backus Schools’ Community Education with a board of volunteers who manage the details like guidelines, classes, work days and communal projects.
Cass County has eight community gardens: Walker, Onigum, Hackensack, Backus, Longville, Remer, Pine River and Pillager. They are supported by Cass County’s SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Program) and the University of Minnesota Extension Service.
In many areas, Community Gardens donate produce to the local food shelf. In some community gardens, like Walker’s, there is even a plot designated for the food shelf. Each Community Garden has guidelines determined by its members or governing organization. Plots are affordably priced, usually ranging from $10-$30 for the season.
This will be the third growing season for Shirlee A. at the Pine River Community Garden. She mostly loves to grow fresh herbs.
“A thing my sister and I have always said is ‘Dirt before dishes!’ We would much rather be outside digging in the dirt than in the house cleaning.” Last year Shirlee discovered some volunteer tomatoes from the previous season came back on their own and were better than ever. “I always seem to have too many projects and too few hours of sunlight.”
Shirlee has really appreciated the advice and helping hands that other Community Garden members have given her.
Barb Mann was one of the founding members of the Pine River Community Garden. "I've been gardening since I was 8 years old and I STILL feel like a 'newbie'!"
"There are so many variables, some of which you have some control over, most of which you do not. It is always a mystery why one veggie or flower grows great one year, and 'piss poor' the next. Even so, the joys far outweigh any challenge and I cannot NOT garden, even if it's just a few things."
"Flowers are my absolute favorite ‘beings’ to help grow,” Barb explains. “They're food for my soul in every way! Being able to share them with others just by growing in the garden and as cut flowers, brings me great joy as well."
Community Garden Resources
To learn more about all the Community Gardens in Cass County & Crow Wing counties, please visit
To learn more about Community Gardens in the Driftless Region, please visit
Other Resources for Beginning Gardeners
Garden Information at Back to Basics Spring Fair
Our free outdoor fair on May 21 will feature mini-workshops on Rain Gardens and Soil Health and vendors such as the Pine River Seed Library and Jim Etzel (Earth is Our Home Environmental Solutions) & more! Get more information about Spring Fair here.