Peace activist Melvin Giles was raised in the Rondo neighborhood, next to the site of the garden he founded and called the Aurora Peace Sanctuary Garden. The son of a gardener and grandson of sharecroppers from Mississippi and Alabama, he has always had a passion for growing food. He partnered with students from Gordon Parks High School as well as his brother, Metric, and artist Seitu Jones to establish the Peace Sanctuary Garden in 2004.

Melvin Giles’ long history in the neighborhood informs his work in the Peace Garden

Melvin wanted the garden to inspire people to think about how they could bring more peace to the community. “Community gardening is an organizing tool to start conversations with neighbors about restorative justice,” he says. As an experienced diversity educator, Melvin promotes Peace Pole awareness in hopes of decreasing violent crime and creating spaces for racial and cultural appreciation. Melvin’s brother used to live in a house on the lot that now hosts the Peace Garden. After a fire, the lot was divided and repurposed, evolving into a garden that complements Melvin’s activist work.

Today, Melvin calls the Peace Sanctuary Garden an environmental learning center. The narrow lot hosts events throughout the growing season, including a weekly Children’s Gardening program that’s open to any and everyone. At least 50 adults and 50 kids gardened here over the course of the summer, learning about watersheds, healthy eating, and composting.

Peace Garden
Dreams for the future of the Peace Garden include adding a permeable pavement walkway that’s ADA accessible

 

Gardens bring Rondo neighborhood together

The Peace Garden is now a part of the Urban Farm and Garden Alliance (UFGA), a network of community gardens in St. Paul that work together to share resources and host educational workshops. Officially organized in 2014, the UFGA has deep roots in the Rondo neighborhood. Lead volunteers Melvin Giles, Diane Dodge, and Megan Phinney work hard to create community connections through these green spaces. The UFGA now includes more than ten community gardens that bring peace, beauty, and healthy food to local residents.

Urban Farm and Garden Alliance
Megan Phinney, Diane Dodge, and Melvin Giles are lead volunteers with the Urban Farm and Garden Alliance

Although volunteers Megan and Diane are master gardeners, Diane never uses the word “master” when she’s working in the Peace Sanctuary Garden. “We think of ourselves as land connectors,” said Diane, noting that the UFGA’s focus is to build relationships within the community as well as to connect people to the land. “Gardeners age 5 to 105 are welcome,” said Megan, adding that many participants in this past summer’s Children Gardening program were passersby who joined in out of pure curiosity.

The effects of the UFGA extend far beyond the square footage of each garden plot. A partnership with nearby Maxfield Elementary School gives students plenty of opportunities to dig in the dirt. At the end of the summer, the Peace Sanctuary Garden hosted a screening of Black Panther, and it’s often used for community gatherings like birthday and graduation celebrations.

 

Reconnecting a divided neighborhood

In order to visit the three UFGA gardens located along Victoria Street, you’ll inevitably cross Interstate 94. Melvin spoke about the devastating effect that highway construction had on Rondo, demolishing homes and businesses. He sees these three community gardens, located on either side of the highway, as part of a larger effort to reconnect the historic Rondo neighborhood.

In contrast to redlining, which has historically deprived this neighborhood’s residents of resources, Melvin sees Victoria Street as a “green line” that generates hope. Many of the gardens in the UFGA feature a peace pole, a monument to Melvin’s sustained effort to manifest a more peaceful, healthy community.

Peace poles
Melvin has planted more than 100 Peace Poles around Minnesota

 

Prepare your vegetable garden for winter

Here in Minnesota, we recently saw snowfall in mid-October, a reminder that it’s time to put vegetable gardens to bed. This is what the UFGA gardeners recommend to get vegetable gardens ready for winter.

  1. Harvest! Make the most of those green tomatoes and kale leaves before winter sets in.
  2. Most vegetable plants are annuals and will be pulled up at the end of the growing season. Different plants can be removed from your garden bed throughout the summer and fall. Check the U of MN Extension website for helpful tips on when to remove each plant.
  3. Compost pulled plants, ideally on-site. Take diseased plants to a municipal compost that can safely kill pests. Click here for our article on home composting, and download our guide to get started. 
  4. Add compost to the garden bed.
  5. Mulch with 4-6 inches of loose leaves or straw to keep prevent soil erosion and runoff during winter storms. Do not mulch with hay, which has seeds that tend to sprout. Using fallen leaves as mulch will insulate the soil from harsh temperature changes while adding nutrients to your garden’s soil.  

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  1. Thank you for all of the work, Melvin, Megan and Diane and other “land connectors” who reach out to folks with such passion, dedication and positive intent.