A small plot packed with food and flowers grows in the heart of the Mower County Fairgrounds in Austin. The fairgrounds garden is called the Mower County Master Gardeners’ Teaching and Donation Garden and it benefits from both MSHS community outreach programs: Garden-in-a-Box since 2019 and Minnesota Green in 2021.
In coordination with the University of Minnesota Extension’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education and 4H programs, gardeners grow edible and ornamental plants to create pollinator habitat, while also providing education, gardening experience and access to healthy, homegrown foods for children. In 2021, many of these young gardeners entered their homegrown produce and fairy gardens into county fair competitions. Some even won ribbons!
Together, the students and master gardeners built an irrigation system to keep Garden-in-a-Box beds watered during the 2021 drought. The result? They grew 3,000 pounds of fresh produce in the fairgrounds garden, donating it all to the Austin Salvation Army Food Shelf. In summer 2020, they harvested and donated 2,000 pounds of food from the same plot.
“Minnesota Green contributed to our success in 2021,” says Don Smith, master gardener coordinator for the county. Participating in this program, “expanded the number of crops and pollinator flowers and beautified aging flower beds,” he says, ensuring that this little fairgrounds garden gem will continue to grow both plants and gardeners for years to come.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Northern Gardener.