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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Cook making progress towards a community garden


“And we’ve got to get back to the garden….”

Joni Mitchell

Perhaps the word is out by now! An ambitious group of people in Cook have been initiating efforts for a Community Garden to be located behind the Cook Area Food Shelf distribution site. Inspired by the patients of Scenic Rivers Health Clinic whose medical conditions could be improved by adding more vegetables to their diets, clinic staff led by Nursing Supervisor, Pam Rengo, have been convening local enthusiasts to ready the plot and get seeds into the ground! I attended one the first meetings and learned that this garden plot, located behind St. Mary’s Catholic Church, and fallow for the past several years, was once cultivated by a former pastor. It looks like this plot of earth will be rescued from neglect and turned into something very beautiful and beneficial for the people of Cook.

Reports indicate that significant progress has already been achieved. Organizers submitted a proposal to the Iron Range Partners for Sustainability and were awarded a $500 grant to launch the project. The Cook Fire Department offered to conduct a controlled burn to eliminate the weedy ground-cover. Folks from Cook’s Country Connection have loaned their equipment and labor to give the plot its first major turning. A rototiller has been donated to further prepare and maintain the garden space. And offers of “demonstrations” on gardening tips and techniques, as well as some supplies, are already coming in from more experienced gardeners who are excited to share what they know with “beginners”. The evidence is clear. This truly will be a “Community Garden”!

In addition to the Scenic Rivers Clinic patients who helped inspire this project, folks who actually “dig in” and work in the garden will receive some of its bounty. It’s been suggested that high yield items could be donated to the Food Shelf to help supplement food boxes with fresh produce. Some volunteers want to reach out to young people, giving them the opportunity to learn first-hand where their food comes from and discover how fun it can be to get a little dirt under their fingernails! Invitations have also been made to residents of the Pioneer and Homestead apartments to join in. Many would agree that planting a garden produces more than just food for the body. It also provides food for the soul! And so the invitation goes out to anyone and everyone who wishes to partake in this wonderful experience of growing our own food!

Productive gardens, especially in their early stages, call for a hefty dose of energy and muscle to prepare and build a fertile bed of soil for planting. And throughout the later stages, watering and a good dose of tender loving care are required. This garden will be no exception. Its success will depend upon how much of these basic ingredients — labor and love — can be mustered. And although we can’t predict just how much passion the garden will trigger, organizers are urging us to think in terms of “one small step at a time,” accomplishing what we can in this first year and seeing where it leads! Looking at the evidence so far, their advice appears to be right on!

Like many other activities in our small rural community, this budding idea seems to be taking root! The Community Garden has great potential to grow and succeed on its own merits, and eventually be among those projects where individuals with a bold idea can take action, and become the spark plugs to ignite others. Who with their imagination, positivity, and strong sense of community, leave legacies that have enriched us all. I am excited to be a part of this work in progress!

When I look around Cook, I see many examples of other individuals who have sown the seeds of their civic-minded and entrepreneurial visions. Thanks to their indomitable spirits, and the many people who have stayed involved, Cook is a more vibrant place in which to raise our children and to retire! Here are a few examples. Thanks to those “spark plugs”, we have the Cook Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store, Northwoods Friends of the Arts, Virgie Hegg Hospice Partners, the Cook Community Center, our Annual Timber Days Committee, Northern Progressives, the Lions Club, Cook Country Connections, the Comet Theater and Montana Cafe. And then there are services provided by devoted volunteers working quietly behind the scenes in organizations like the VFW, Meals on Wheels and a host of programs for our youth. The Cook Community Garden may be the next addition to this long list. It deserves our attention and whole-hearted support!

Another meeting is planned for May 22 at 5 p.m. “garden-side”, weather-permitting (if rainy, it will be held at the Cook Community Center-Doug Johnson Field). We’re asked to bring our lawn chairs and ideas. We’ll receive a progress report, inspect the site, and get details on how to be involved. All generations, abilities and experience levels are welcome! Registered nurse and garden organizer, Pam Rengo, sums it up. “It will take a village to make this happen.” This is its first year so there’s no way to predict our ultimate progress or the exact outcomes. In the spirit of adventure, we’re encouraged to act “one step at a time, one idea at a time.” We’ll aim high, do our best, and be thrilled to see just what we can create together, confidently anticipating harvest time with joy and gratitude for the fruits (and veggies :) of our labor!

Please come to the garden and show your support on May 22 at 5 p.m. behind St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Marvel at freshly-turned soil. Bring your ideas. Agree to do whatever excites you and become part of that “village”. So, plan to return often throughout the season, doing what you can, even if just to watch it grow! It’s meant to be “ours” and there to enjoy!


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