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  • Jenny Hill

Grow with Community Gardens & Seed Libraries

The latest snow/rainstorm may have sent you back indoors to try to plan your garden. Maybe you are an experienced gardener and you have rituals, traditions, and just plain old good practices that you know will work. Maybe you are brand new to gardening or just thinking about getting into it. See this blog post from 2022 on getting started as a gardener.

Whether you are a new gardener, or want to expand what you grow, or have been planting and plotting (Ha! That’s a pun!) for years, two great opportunities are out there to connect you with others who have heard the siren call of seeds: Community Gardens and Seed Libraries. Let’s explore some local opportunities and resources!

New Community Garden in Winona

The garden season begins May 1 at the new Hiawatha Valley Community Gardens in Winona. But don’t wait until then–sign up began March 1. The garden is located behind the Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center, 420 East Sarnia Street in Winona. Thirty plots will be available as well as basic tools. Plot sizes range in price from $24 to $47 and are available on a first-come basis. Volunteers, including Winona State University students, constructed the garden last fall. Engage Winona and Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center joined together to organize the garden and received funding from a State Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) grant. It will be overseen by a community advisory panel made up of garden members.

Winona is also home to the East Recreation Center Community Garden when plot prices range from $10-$45 for the season. The season runs April 1 to October 1, 2024. To reserve a plot, call the Friendship Center at 507-454-5212. Of special note: bees will again be part of the garden this year!

Pine River-Backus Community Garden

The Pine River-Backus Community Garden, located behind the Pine River-Backus High School is now in its 14th year. Sign up is open now for plots and/ or raised beds.  All the plots and raised beds are in full sun and the area is fully fenced to protect from deer and other critters.  Hoses are posted throughout the garden for easy watering. Compost, leaf mold, soil nutrients and tools are also available for gardeners.

Young boy in grey sweatshirt pulling onions in a garden
Gardeners of all ages are welcome! Harvesting onions.

Additional benefits include a shared orchard and hoop house for extended season growing. There are on-site educational garden classes and a few work days through the season for communal projects to keep the gardens functioning well and addressing common needs/concerns.  Fees go towards: composted manure; natural soil amendments; straw for mulch; garden tools; soil testing; and tools. 


There are 15’x15’ plots ($15), a few raised beds 4’x8’x3’ ($10), and about 10 raised Garden Circles of various sizes ($10) available. Sweat equity (as in garden labor) is also an option for the fee where the gardener can work with projects in the garden in exchange for a plot.  

A garden orientation session will be held Saturday, April 27, 10-11 am, at the garden site. See the options for this great gardening opportunity with many amenities for ease of gardening.  Those still unsure of gardening, can visit with past gardeners to learn more.  New gardeners may register on-site this day.

“If you are new to gardening, renting a plot is a great way to learn from other gardeners and you can participate in classes offered,” said Barb Mann, one of the founders of the Community Garden. “Learning is on-going for all gardeners and takes place as you work on your own plot(s).”

There are guidelines to follow: using organic / natural gardening methods (no chemical fertilizers) and strong encouragement to garden using no-till gardening method in order to build healthy soil with an  active microbiome.  Each gardener signs an agreement agreeing to follow these guidelines.

The Community Garden is organized through PRB Community Education with a group of volunteers to oversee and manage the particulars.  The monthly meetings are open to all gardeners.  Call Troy Gregory, PRB Community Ed Director at 218-587-2080, to indicate interest or for more information. Plot sign up is through PRB Community Education at

Seed Libraries Aid All Types of Gardening, Build Sustainability

Seeds are a significant part of garden planning and the fundamental building blocks of our food system. Knowing where your seeds come from, knowing they are appropriate for your local climate, and being able to save seeds so you can grow those same outstanding green beans again next season are all essential knowledge when it comes to better appreciating and understanding what it takes to garden.

In the bigger picture, preserving seed diversity protects the food system. Genetically engineered plant varieties are a significant threat to biodiversity. In the United States, about half of all American cropland is planted with genetically modified crops. These seeds are patented and cannot be saved or planted again in future years. Seed Savers Exchange, located in Iowa, is both an expert resource and advocate for the importance of saving seeds. 

Both the Driftless and Northern Lakes Region are fortunate to have a local seed library.

Seeds in the Driftless Area

Besides a community garden, the East Rec Center is also home to the Winona Seed Bank & Library, which is open to all. The seed library strives to educate, exchange, and preserve seeds for the Winona Community. The library is sustained through seed donations. So while seeds are free, you are encouraged to save seeds to return to the Seed Bank & Library as well.

Seeds in the Northern Lakes area

The Pine River Seed Library is now open for the season. Thanks in part to seed

donations from local gardeners, there are increased varieties of seeds available.

Borrowers will find many full seed bins, especially with multiple varieties of

squash, cucumbers, beans, lettuce and flowers. Other available seeds include

peas, radishes, spinach, corn, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, carrots,

beets, rutabagas, and melons.

The Seed Library encourages people who borrow seeds to grow some of their

produce to full maturity so they, too, can harvest seed in the Fall. Seed Library

staff are available to provide guidance and information sheets for seed-saving.

When more gardeners are able to return “borrowed” seed, the library can become

more self-sustaining.

A cabinet containing green bins with seeds

Housed in the Pine River Public Library, hours are 12:00 to 3:30 on Tuesdays and

Thursdays, or by appointment. To make an appointment, learn more about the

Seed Library, or ask questions about saving seed, call Barbara at 218-587-2326.


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