The lot at the corner of NE 15th Avenue and 3rd Street NE in the Sheridan neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis used to be overgrown and forgotten. Today, it is lush and blooming with zinnias and marigolds, a grape arbor, fruit trees and rows and rows of vegetables. The Sheridan Neighborhood Organization (SNO) Community Garden is in its first year of production and its bounty is feeding the community in a multitude of ways.
Hilari Bandow had her eye on the lot for years. It was flat and sunny, the perfect spot for a community garden. Bandow, the head of Dangerous Man Brewing Company’s Community Volunteers, is a woman who makes things happen. Her vision went beyond creating a garden for the Sheridan neighborhood; she wanted to donate the crops to a community in need. Dangerous Man Community Volunteers had been helping The Sheridan Story, a local nonprofit working to fight childhood hunger, with food packing events since nonprofit started, and Bandow thought the garden could implement fresh produce into their food program.
After digging through city tax records to find out the lot’s owner, Bandow spent months trying to get in touch with the right person at The Islamic Community Center of Minnesota–Masjid Al-Iman. When Bandow finally reached Imam Dr. Hamdy El-Sawaf, he was thrilled. The Islamic Community Center has been in the neighborhood for 12 years. They’ve had interest in using the space to serve the community, and considered a small-scale garden but hadn’t gotten much traction. Aside from supporting families in need, El-Sawaf saw the garden as a way “to serve the community and strengthen the relationship among our neighbors,” he says.
The mosque agreed to lease the land for the garden, and Bandow went about rallying more support for the project. The Sheridan Neighborhood Organization (SNO) donated materials and a shed. Lakewinds Food Co-op donated the garden seeds and starters. Bandow recruited Hilary Hazzard, a fellow Dangerous Man employee and avid gardener, to be the Garden Manager. Volunteers from Dangerous Man show up every week to help work in the land and harvest the produce. After two years of plotting, the space has truly become a fruitful endeavor.
Every Tuesday, Christine Dummann, program management coordinator at The Sheridan Story, arrives at the garden to collect three huge bins of produce. She takes it back to the nonprofit’s Roseville facility where it is packaged and distributed to 15 families. She collects everything from eggplant to hot peppers to carrots and “zucchini the size of baseball bats.”
“It’s the highlight of my week. I get to connect with the volunteers, it’s a fun atmosphere, I know the food is getting into the right hands […] it is super rewarding,” Dummann says.
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Photos by Max Lee
Dummann can’t reveal the total weight of the produce donated; the SNO Community Garden has a friendly competition with Surly Brewing’s community garden to see who can harvest and donate the most. But she assures us that the project is well worth the effort.
Aside from the plots dedicated to growing vegetables for The Sheridan Story, the garden rents 10 plots to SNO Community Garden members, offers four plots free-of-charge for the children of families who attend the mosque to grow vegetables, and one communal plot free-of-charge for the mosque.
There have been plenty of growing pains during the project’s first year. Balancing the needs of each stakeholder can be challenging, and a partnership between a brewery and a mosque is an unlikely alliance in many ways. This, however, is the beauty of the project. “Our motto is grow strange, grow beautiful, grow Sheridan,” says Hilary Hazzard, the garden manager. The beauty is in building something despite difficult partnerships. It’s what makes a community worth living in.