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Sowing the Seeds of Success

Emily Kniskern (left) and Michael Latsch, with the urban gardening program Seeds For Success, prepare a new garden plot on a vacant lot in Duluth's Hillside neighborhood by digging up the ground and removing the roots and rhizomes of the ubiquitous quack grass. (Photo by Bob King)1 / 2
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Everyone has to eat, but how people go about putting food on the table differs from household to household. Concerns about food security, quality, cost and health issues have led to a growing desire for food raised closer to home.

Folks are bringing back traditions that were once integral to life in the Duluth area, with new descriptive names that reflect 21st century twists: urban farmsteading, guerrilla gardening, city chicken tending and crop mobbing.

There's nothing faddish about being more purposeful about growing and eating more fresh and local food; efforts to grow more food here in northeastern Minnesota help strengthen a network of cooperation that enriches community.

"Seeds of Success" is a Duluth-based urban farmsteading program that cropped up, if you will, nearly two years ago. More than just a food-growing operation, the program provides employment opportunities to youth from low-income households, teaches skills through hands-on work with volunteers and staff and produces food for consumption in

our area using pesticide-free, sustainable practices. The produce harvested is shared with income-eligible volunteers and also sold to restaurants, grocery stores and local farmers markets.

When the program launched in 2010, staff members Michael Latsch and Emily Kniskern already had applicable skills from participating in the

Sustainable Farming Association's Farm Beginnings program, as well as their own gardening experiences and the helpful mentoring from several area growers.

Created in partnership with the city of Duluth and the Zeppa Foundation, the program cultivates gardens on small patches of urban land located throughout the city. Fifthteen different sites host gardens of various

sizes that are tended by community members of all ages: two crew leaders, two senior employees from Duluth Workforce Development, one or two college interns, several volunteers and up to six youth workers are responsible for tending a garden site.

Each of the garden plots exhibits unique characteristics influenced by their location in town, which, depending where they are, require different approaches to soil preparation, growing techniques and plant selection.

"All of our volunteers will come away with the skills and knowledge to grow, prepare and preserve fresh vegetables," says Latsch. Improving the soil and learning about plants best suited to each area is the first step in the learning process.

Produce destined for market must not only taste good, it must hold visual appeal for the customer. Meticulous attention at each stage -- seed sowing

and transplanting, cultivation, harvest, cleaning and market presentation -- yields a product with high aesthetic qualities.

Advance planning along with strict adherence to planting and harvest schedules (and help from the weather) will yield more than 15 types of fresh produce by the season's end.

Kniskern oversees the marketing end and communicates regularly with restaurants and grocers to keep them informed about which veggies are at their peak of tastiness and productivity. Local chefs adapt their menus to capitalize on the varied produce, such as fresh kale and spinach, that flourishes during different times throughout the summer.

Susan Darley-Hill is an Environmental Program Coordinator for the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District.

Garden volunteers

Volunteers are always welcome - new and veteran gardeners. you'll learn the secrets of growing market-quality produce and be able to implement them in your own garden. Not a gardener but interested in helping the

program grow? Seeds of Success is always looking for new gardening sites. Contact Community Action Duluth at (218) 726-1665 ext. 45.

Pay a visit to the newly-installed garden located at WLSSD's Yard Waste

Compost Site (27th Ave and Courtland St.) A sturdy 6-foot fence allows easy viewing and keeps deer and rabbits at bay.