Tour of Melrose Area Food Shelf garden promotes local food production

Stearns County master gardeners walked around the Melrose Area Food Shelf garden early evening Sept. 6, stopping to check out produce or ask fellow gardener Jim Beaver questions. Peppers and tomatoes in color-turning mode were evident on the tall plants, some hidden deep within the leaves, but long-time master gardener Evelyn Budde did spy a few red ones. 

The garden and food shelf tour was a component of the monthly meeting of the Stearns County Extension master gardeners, who meet during summer months at master gardener homes, nurseries and other places of interest to gardeners. The food shelf tour was followed by a meal catered by Cornerstone Catering and a meeting at the Melrose Senior Center when the group was introduced to new extension educator Quincy Sadowski who will work with the master gardeners. 

“Local food production and food security is one of the priorities of the master gardener program so visiting the Melrose Area Food Shelf and the associated garden was a good fit,” said Beaver, of Melrose.

 Lisa Leen, food shelf coordinator, provided the group with an overview of food shelf activities, and Beaver provided the group with a history of the food shelf garden and described the different vegetables produced during the current growing season.

“I identified some of the challenges we encountered producing the vegetables and provided them with suggestions on how the management of the garden could be improved during the upcoming year,” Beaver said. “Learning how to manage Colorado potato beetle was the biggest challenge this season in the garden.”

Food shelf volunteers Candy and Garry Freeman provided assistance to help establish the garden this growing season. Rod Thompson set up the drip irrigation lines, and Beaver’s wife Linda helped most weeks with the harvest. 

“Linda and I enjoy producing vegetables in our garden,” he said. “Work at the food shelf garden provides added satisfaction in that what we produce will be used to benefit local families.” 

Beaver is in his first year in the master gardener program, and the food shelf project is part of his internship. 

The University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program started in 1977 with its first class of 25 people, according to its website. Since then, it has grown to include more than 2,700 active master gardeners who share U of M horticultural expertise in almost every county of the state of Minnesota. 

The mission of the program is to use research-based horticultural knowledge and practices to deliver educational outreach and project-based efforts to inspire change and promote healthy people, healthy communities and a healthy planet.

Beaver encourages people interested in becoming a master gardener to check out the internet link: Become a Master Gardener Volunteer|UMN Extension at mgapp@umn.edu. There is an initial interview to enter the program, followed by a semester of online coursework covering all areas of horticulture. Candidates serve a one-year internship before becoming a master gardener.

For Beaver, becoming a master gardener is a perfect fit.