Garden study trying out a better way to grow food

In five demonstration gardens, the City of Minneapolis is studying the effectiveness of combining compost with biochar, a soil amendment similar to charcoal. Biochar works with compost to increase crop yields, improve local water quality by reducing runoff, and combat climate change by holding carbon and nitrogen in the soil where they serve as fertilizer instead of being released into the air where they would become pollutants. Minneapolis is one of the first cities in the U.S. to study the benefits of biochar. The focus of this demonstration project will be increased access to locally grown food for historically underserved communities, including Native Americans.

The study is part of a new agreement with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC). The City and the SMSC share common values in environmental stewardship and sustainability. The SMSC operates the Organics Recycling Facility, the largest single compost site in Minnesota. Due to the many benefits of using biochar, the SMSC and the City seek to work together to promote compost and biochar in their respective communities. This program consists of two main components: producing a biochar/compost mix at the Organics Recycling Facility and developing demonstration projects, including education and outreach. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also involved in the study.

Biochar is a charcoal specially developed for agriculture. It can be made from agricultural waste exposed to high temperatures. The City’s biochar is made from sawmill scraps of white oak charred in a zero-oxygen environment at around 500 degrees Celsius. This stabilizes the carbon and prevents it from being released into the environment where it could contribute to climate change. Biochar improves plant growth by making the compost or fertilizer used with it more effective. City and SMSC staff hope to demonstrate biochar’s positive effects on plant growth and soil health in urban environments.

The 24th Street Urban Farming Coalition is using the food it grows in the Mashkiikii Gitigan (Ojibwe for “Medicine Garden,” one of the five biochar demonstration gardens) to help restore traditional diets and combat diabetes, hypertension, obesity and other problems associated with eating processed foods. The Waite House prepares and donates meals made from the vegetables grown in Medicine Garden; at the same time it helps at-risk youths become more employable by training them in the catering business.


The demonstration gardens

·         Dream of Wild Health has a 10-acre organic farm in Hugo. Its mission is to restore health and well-being in the Native community by recovering knowledge of and access to healthy indigenous foods, medicines and lifeways.

·         JuJu Garden in the Philips neighborhood is a community garden run primarily by women in an Ecuadorian community.

·         LaSalle Community Garden was started in 1997 on two vacant lots at 1801 LaSalle Ave. Approximately 45 plots are available for rent in this garden, including a wheelchair-accessible bed.

·         Mashkiikii Gitigan (Medicine Garden) is across from the Indian Health Board at 1316 E. 24th St. It is a project of the 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition. The garden has created opportunities for families to maintain and harvest vegetables, created access to healthier foods, and developed knowledge and practices to maintain healthy lifestyles. The project has grown more than 50 varieties of foods and traditional medicines, harvested thousands of pounds of food, served more than 11,895 free meals in partnership with Waite House Community Café, and hosted more than 40 community events.

·         Trinity Lutheran Church of Minnehaha Falls community garden.


Published Sep 2, 2014



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