GreenCorps places AmeriCorps members with local governments, schools and nonprofits to work on environmental projects. And the 2012-2013 “class” of GreenCorps members has been making their mark in communities around the state.
Duluth native Rheanna Letsos did her GreenCorps service with the Duluth Community Garden Program, starting in September 2012. The garden program has been around since the 1970s, promoting self-sufficiency and access to healthy food for the city’s residents. Seventeen garden sites comprising 200 garden plots — each roughly 20-by-20 feet — have been developed by the program and are available for small fees to people interested in growing food. It’s a popular program; all the plots are taken year after year.
Rheanna’s job was to coordinate the creation of the newest garden — The Emerald — located in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and it looks like there will be other new gardens available soon. “We have potential for five more in the next five years,” Rheanna says.
Building a new garden requires more than just digging up some dirt. “I coordinated more than 550 volunteer hours and 130 volunteers, from April to July,” Rheanna says. Her crews removed rocks, tilled up the land, and built a fence. “We had to rent a Dingo (post-hole digger) that would dig four feet deep. We set 10-foot posts in the ground and hung the fence.” The process also required some fundraising; it’s supported by grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cities of Service and the city of Duluth.
The Emerald also features rainwater catchment structures, a first for the garden program. The two 50-square-foot structures (also built by volunteers) support roofs that capture rainwater and funnel it into 250-gallon tanks, so it can be used to water the garden. They were designed by Dan Kislinger, an architect and a member of the garden program’s board of directors. The garden also got a three-bin compost system.
Who are the people using the gardens? “A lot are people who are a generation or two removed from gardening in their homes and are wanting to go back to the land and back to healthy food...fresh food from the garden,” Rheanna says. Gardening is also a money-saver, she says, and that attracts interest. “That’s why we provide canning classes, if they want to can and preserve, to make it last longer.”
Among the 11 plots in the Emerald garden are three community plots, meant for people who want to garden as a group. For newer gardeners, the work and learning process can be overwhelming and sharing the labor can help make it less intimidating. “We’re trying to increase our success rate for gardeners,” Rheanna says.
Part of that effort includes education. The program offers classes on garden maintenance, pests, weeds, disease control, caring for your tools and cooking.
The new garden grabbed some attention this summer, when Duluth mayor Don Ness kicked off the city’s National Night Out celebration from the Emerald. “We made the front page of the paper,” Rheanna says.
Now, Rheanna has been hired for a permanent position with the garden program as education and outreach coordinator. She’ll build on her work by coordinating all the program’s educational offerings.