by CESAR SALAZAR
The city of Winona’s Citizens Environmental Quality Committee (CEQC) plans to present to the City Council in October its proposal to develop new community gardens in the city. If the proposal goes forward, city staff said Winona could have a new community garden ready for next year’s planting season, following future discussions with city staff and officials.
During its latest talks, the CEQC and the mayor’s Community Garden Task Force are tentatively planning to go forward with their draft recommendation to the city to utilize a portion of West Lake Park as a site for a future community garden, with the caveat that the new community garden would be in addition to the current East Rec Center (ERC) community garden, according to Natural Resources Sustainability Coordinator John Howard. The committee is also eyeing some alternate sites that could become community gardens in the future.
According to the CEQC’s agenda, the task force plans to make the following recommendations: retain the ERC garden in its current form to maintain the vitality of that gardening community; establish a garden on the west side of town, ideally at least the size of the ERC garden; and consider smaller gardens in outlying areas of the city.
The community gardens at West Lake Park are planned to be approximately 230-by-50 feet located near the corner of Dacota and West Lake streets, according to the CEQC’s report.
Among the alternate sites discussed for a new community garden are the city’s portion of the former Madison school property, Sobieski Park, and Knopp Valley Park. Howard said that while these sites are proposed alternatives, the city could look into using these sites as additional community gardens in the future.
“The key factors are, it needs to be near where people would be and want to use it,” Howard said. “We found from our survey of gardeners that people want them, really, to be in their neighborhood … So that constrains the number of locations. It also means having water access really impacts the cost. If there’s already an existing fence, that also will reduce the cost.”
Howard said that having water access already present would be cheaper for the new gardens versus having to develop access to it. He said other factors include having a sunny location and space availability. He said that the presented locations meet some or all of the criteria.
Howard talked about the pros and cons of some of the sites. “With any of the spots, there’s something that would not be perfect,” he said.
For West Lake, the committee originally wanted the site to be filled and graded, but the group is recommending going forward with the site as is, Howard said. Leaving the site unfilled would still fit anywhere from 50-70 garden plots; however, the site would be sitting at a slight slope, making it not ADA accessible, according to Howard. He also said the site would also need a fence if it’s something gardeners would desire. The site would also be very flexible in terms of scalability, with the ability to add more plots based on demand in the future, Howard said.
Howard is unsure about whether water access is currently available at the city’s Madison property. The site is also part of the city’s future plans to build a new play space, so Howard also is unsure what portion of the property the new playspace would take up. He clarified that the garden would supplement the play space, not replace it. The CEQC discussed that a garden there could see use from the Madison Place apartment building next to the property, as well as other residential properties in the area. The garden would sit on the Olmsted Street side of the property.
Sobieski Park’s main issues are that it sits too close to the ERC with a portion of the community already being served by the ERC community gardens, and too close to the edge of the city to conveniently serve other neighborhoods. The park is also smaller and there wouldn’t be too much room for a community garden, only being able to provide about 20 garden plots, Howard said. The garden would be near the corner of Buchanan and East Eighth streets.
Another new recommendation the CEQC has recently discussed is Knopp Valley Park. Howard added that the 3-4 acres of the property could house a community garden for the residents in the area, but would be very far from the core of the city. The community garden would sit on the southeast end of the park.
Similar to the ERC’s community garden, the cost of building new community gardens could be around $150 per garden plot if the city had volunteer help, with smaller costs for soil and tools, Howard said. After that, the cost concerns would mostly be on building a fence or ongoing maintenance, he said.
For the 2023 city budget, the city cut a request for $60,000 going toward community gardens, Howard said. If the City Council goes forward with building new community gardens, the city would need to find funding for the development, he said. Some options include getting state and federal grants, or potentially setting up fewer plots and gradually building more over time.
The Task Force and CEQC are also heavily stressing to the city that these recommendations are in addition to the ERC community gardens. Essentially, members of these groups want the city to not demolish the existing site. “Maybe [let’s] just add another statement that we see these as good additional potential sites, but still lower in the rankings than retaining the East End Rec,” CEQC member Niki Ciulla said to the committee in regard to the draft recommendation. Some commenters stated the importance of the ERC community gardens to the Winonans during the July 5 City Council public hearing.