Growing a community garden in partnership with Nature

The Partnership Garden is a new community garden at the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, MN. This garden and its parent organization, Growing Community, are the dreams of Apple Valley resident Pat Schoenecker, who longed to bring together two of her lifelong passions.

“Our garden is as much about growing community as it is about growing food,” says Pat, who loved her big backyard garden and orchard that nourished her childhood family of 12. Admiring community gardens all her life, Pat began searching for collaborators, partners and land to start a local community garden in 2008 after she retired. Two long years later — after many presentations across a wide spectrum of potential allies and partners — Pat presented her visions to the faculty at the School of Environmental Studies. They enthusiastically embraced the idea of a partnership between a group of community volunteers leading the development and management of a garden while offering ample educational opportunities.

With Pat’s dreams finally landing, community members of all ages, backgrounds and gardening abilities are coming together to grow a sustainable organic garden while learning, sharing and teaching each other about gardening in partnership with nature. For us, gardening in partnership means looking to nature as our teacher.

Nature shows us that many different species of plants perform better together, so we will plant “companions” densely, rather than in rows, to minimize weeds and water. We will experiment with “insect attractors” such as asters, nasturtium, fennel and borage to attract beneficial insects like bees, ladybugs and butterflies. Aromatic “pest confusers” such as onions, mint, sage, thyme, rosemary and bee balm are also our friends to politely discourage “pests” from snacking on our valued crops. No pesticides or herbicides will be used in our garden and we will nourish and tend our cherished soil and land gently and lovingly.

Serendipitously, we crossed paths with Dan Halsey, permaculture designer and teacher of SouthWoods Forest Gardens in Prior Lake ( With his healthy visions a perfect complements to ours, Dan generously offered to design our garden, though we had no budget to pay him. Our circular “mandala” garden maximizes growing space and supports conversation and collaboration.

Seventeen gardeners have committed to personal circular “key-hole” plots to plant and will share planting and caring for taller and vine crops growing within and on the tall perimeter fence. Gardeners share in tending to the bounty, along with disappointment if anything does not thrive. We look forward to exploring cross-cultural and native crops. The Partnership Garden will also donate 20 percent of the garden’s produce to local food shelves and individual families in need.

Generous partners keep showing up and growing, including District 196 Community Education, Valley Natural Foods of Burnsville, Boy Scout Troop 290 and their dads and Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church across from our garden spot. Growing Community and the Partnership Garden received a $2,000 grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), one of seven grants awarded through the Dakota County Public Health and non-profit partner Gardening Matters. SHIP is an integral part of Minnesota’s nation-leading 2008 health reform law, creating sustainable, systematic changes in schools, worksites, communities and health care organizations to make it easier for Minnesotans to incorporate healthy behaviors into their daily lives ( Gardening Matters is a Twin Cities nonprofit dedicated to promoting and preserving community gardening (

Although all plots have been reserved for this year, the Partnership Garden team also offers classes, volunteer opportunities and community activities focused on healthy gardening and healthy food. The last evening of a free “Nourish to Flourish” series hosted by Growing Community and supported by Valley Natural Foods of Burnsville and ISD 196 is Thursday, May 5 (6:30-8:30 p.m.) at the School of Environmental Studies, 12155 Johnny Cake Ridge Road in Apple Valley. For details see For further information about Growing Community or the Partnership Garden, contact Pat Schoenecker, Founding Director, at 612.965.3372 or

Our dream is incredible edible communities with gardens and orchards everywhere — in front of city halls, in our school yards, at the entrance to our cafes, in our parks, in our local greenhouses — with food connecting us all into one happy, healthy community. Join us in planting and growing wherever you are!



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