Gardening Matters launched the Local Food Resource Hubs in 2011 with input from the City of Minneapolis and community gardening stakeholders. It was modeled after a program in Detroit. Since then, the original three Hubs, now Neighborhood Garden Networks, have grown to seven, representing: Northside Minneapolis, Southside Minneapolis, NE/SE Minneapolis, the Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis, the Frogtown/Midway area of St. Paul, the Westside/W 7th area of St. Paul, and the East Side of St. Paul.
The initial intent was for these networks of gardeners to become self-organizing, and to share skills, wisdom, food, and community. Membership dues allowed for the collective purchasing of bulk seeds, plants, and compost for neighborhood-based spring distributions. These dues also supported classes and community events during the program’s early years. Unfortunately, the resources needed to intentionally build the capacity and support the networks were never realized.
During the fall of 2014, we began to listen to our gardener stakeholders in deeper ways. Over the spring of 2015, Gardening Matters completed a strategic planning process and rewrote our mission, vision, and guiding values. We articulated a commitment to equity and justice, a commitment to partnership, and to transformational, rather than transactional, relationships. We were becoming a learning organization, and understood the need for participatory processes to surface solutions to complex community challenges. We decided to engage the community in a redesign of the Local Food Resource Hubs programming.
In July of 2015, we extended a broad invitation to a wide variety of stakeholders to join a Core Team. This group would engage in team-building and capacity-building related to community engagement and facilitation/hosting. They would then design a broad community engagement process. Our invitation was crafted based on ideas we gleaned from Peter Block’s “Community: the Structure of Belonging.” By mid-September, sixteen diverse individuals -- representing a wealth of identity, multiplicity, and neighborhoods -- had responded and began meeting.
The Core Team met weekly for three months to learn and plan together. In January, the team co-hosted six community engagement events in six different neighborhoods, gathering information from the nearly 300 youth, olders and elders who participated. And while there were unique themes in each location, there was one common thread woven through each of those gatherings: people desperately want to build relationships and community in the context of growing, cooking, sharing and preserving food. People want Gardening Matters to organize gatherings similar to good old fashioned barn raisings; they want to be convened to can tomatoes, make jam, have potlucks and share. They want to learn from each other in relational ways, using food as the context, in their own neighborhoods.
This membership program reflects what we have all heard!