In 2012, the National Gardening Association estimated there were one million community gardens in the United States. Community gardens are valuable to the local food system, providing economic, public health, social and environmental benefits. Below are three such community gardens located in La Crosse and nearby La Crescent.
La Crescent Community Garden is a project of the La Crescent Area Healthy Community Partnership in collaboration with Messiah Lutheran Church. Since 2006, the garden has promoted organic methods and encouraged people to eat seasonally and locally by bringing local residents together to grow and harvest vegetables. Located at Jonathan Lane and North 9th Street, the garden is divided into plots for community members, who share their produce with the local food shelf.
The Kane Street Community Garden, established in 1998, is a program of the Hunger Task Force. It is located at the corner of Kane and St. Cloud streets on La Crosse’s north side. The community garden grows nearly 30,000 pounds of produce each year, which is distributed on-site to individuals and families, the majority of whom are low-income. Surplus produce is incorporated into the Hunger Task Force Food Recovery program, which collects the donated food and distributes it to 64 meal sites, food pantries, and youth programs in La Crosse, Vernon, Monroe and Trempealeau counties. In addition to growing, the garden program educates recipients, volunteers and community members on growing, preparation, storage and use of the produce received.
The Washburn Community Garden, founded in 2010, is on the 900 block of Division Street in La Crosse, on property owned by Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare. The Washburn Neighborhood
Association manages the area, which started with 18 gardens and has grown every year. In 2014 there were 54 gardens. One hundred percent of the garden-rental proceeds are donated to St. Clare Health Mission ($1,600 in 2014), and 10 percent of the harvest is donated to charities, food banks and families in need. In 2013, 1,300 pounds of produce was shared.
The garden provides many benefits to the community: it is a neighborhood green space, a gathering place where neighbors can get to know one another, and an opportunity for the neighborhood to support the hungry in the La Crosse area. Teachers and students from the nearby Lincoln/SOTA II/Coulee Montessori Middle School visit the garden for hands-on learning. Volunteers from the La Crosse Fire Department constructed a shed (paid for with money donated by the Lincoln PTO) where tools are stored and gardeners can weigh their produce and record the totals. Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare donated funds in 2013 for a hoop house, which was built by Hillview Urban Agriculture Center. Hillview gardens in and maintains the hoop house and offers space for Washburn gardeners. In 2015 the gardens will expand to include a rain garden/butterfly garden—an area of flowers and plants that will attract butterflies, bees, and birds, to aid in the pollination of plants in the garden.