2014 was one of the best production years Cimarron Youth Garden and CSA has had. Our CSA boxes were brimming with a large variety of produce. We grew many of the staples but added new vegetables like edamme, broad beans, and bunching onions to our boxes. The weather was reasonable, raining close to once a week, keeping the watering management down and aiding in our ability to have a good production year.
In 2014 we sold a total of 12 shares in the CSA, 6 of them were for the entire summer, and then another 6 came on board about halfway through the season. On any given day, we had a total of five youth working in the garden, with two regulars there each day. Jasmine and Sean were our rockstars throughout the summer! They showed up on the hottest, coldest, rainiest of days to help keep our
crops going. The whole crew of did an amazing job of working together and developed a rhythm of teamwork. They shared adventures with more than just the food, such as building things like wheelbarrows and fences, trapping pests like cute baby bunnies and preparing beautiful bouquets of flowers for the flower share. In August, two of the youth went on a field trip to the MN Food Association with Ann. There they met with immigrant farmers and got a glimpse of market gardening and farming on a large scale CSA operation.
Tyler Abrahamson was our back up farmer, a graduate from the University of St. Thomas, he provided the science and biology lessons as we double dug the beds. His youthfulness and curiosity led us to establish a lean-to cold frame and a water collecting system that we are using again this spring. We had a great crew of volunteers last year including Joia, and Suzy, Promise Fellows from Oakland Junior High who helped us organize our first Community Corn Roast in which 40 residents attended. The Coffee Girls from Stillwater including Tuyet, Susan, and Dana came out to enjoy the joyful ambiance the garden provides and took home some extra veggies.
One of the best part of the garden has always been our lunch time. Each day during the growing season the garden crew would cut lettuces, pull carrots, pick tomatoes and other veggies as they became ripe and made a garden salad. All the volunteers, and garden crew sat down together and had lunch. We learned about each other and about food. Coming from a Lebanese background Ann shared lemon salads, hummus, luban (yogurt) and pita bread which became the staples. Other foods like mangos, brie cheese, and eating nasturtium flowers were introduced too – “try it you’ll like it” was the theme for lunch. Some of the foods were new to the youth and some of the volunteers, but by mid summer everyone learned the art of a balanced lunch using simple ingredients.
Our great success with the garden last year was partly due to the fact that the garden doubled in size giving us more land to work with, a more experienced garden crew, and an increase in support from our partners. One fourth of the new section of the garden was put in a soil building cover crop that will be used this year as part of our rotation plan for the garden. Having almost a fifth of an acre more for crops was very helpful. Jasmine and Sean our Workforce teens, had worked in the garden since it opened in 2010 and were able to take on more planting and harvesting tasks. A small grant provided by Wells Fargo through Family Means supported infrastructure purchases like a tiller, washing tubs, and storage containers. The Whitson Foundation, the Stillwater Elks, along with Cimarron Management supported our new water system and electricity hook up and Minnesota Food Association provided technical support and transplants. We are grateful for all the improvements and support we had last year and plan on a stellar year in 2015.
Oh, and did I mention our Community Garden had 5 residents last year growing their own food? Lots of food too. All 5 are coming back and we had additional requests already to have plots so once again we are planning to expand the garden to accommodate those who would like to grow their own food.
We will again stick to growing most of the staples – lettuces, cukes, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, squash, root crops etc. and work on increasing yields while focusing on quality. NEW this year we will accept EBT/SNAP benefits for veggies shares to encourage all members of the community to participate in our CSA. In comparison to other East Metro CSAs we are still the best value for the money at $350 for 12 weeks of 5- 15 lbs of veggies each week. A membership in the Cimarron Youth Garden supports a whole community building a food system from the youth up. We hope you will consider becoming a member of our CSA or be a sponsor for someone in the community who may not be able to afford a season of fresh produce.
We set up a new washing and packing station last year that we are planning to improve on this year. A new cooler will be added to our shed, and our new add on shed (thanks for Susan Jackson and Tyler) will store our tools. Susan Jackson is a resident of Cimarron who we love working with and look forward to working with her again this year. Susan will be starting up our new Cimarron Market Stand opening in July. In the fall we will have access to a certified kitchen through the Youth Center located in Cimarron. Classes on preserving, and cooking will be offered as the garden begins to go into peak production. 2015 will be an exciting year for us as we continue to build a local food system embedded in a mobile home park community.
As we closed up the garden last fall, we took stock of all that was accomplished during the 2014 summer. Our plan to grow food and grow people seemed to be working. The youth are coming back in 2015, we are starting to accept EBT, we will plan our Second Annual Corn Roast, open a new Market Stand, teach classes in a certified kitchen, and we will continue to support The Lake Elmo Market. Our goal to create a local food system that becomes part of the fabric of Cimarron, a mobile home community of over 450 diverse households in the Eastern Metro, is taking shape.