Growing for good at Glensheen gardens
Fifteen varieties of carrots, a dozen or so types of tomato plants and a giant bed of lettuce that, while immature and still growing, was in the shape of a rubber duck.
Name any vegetable, and there's a good chance it was growing this summer in the gardens at Duluth's Glensheen Mansion.
But with nobody living on the historic estate, where does all that fresh produce end up?
For a little more than a decade, Glensheen and Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank have been working together to help feed hungry people in the Northland with the fruits and vegetables grown in the lush, fenced-in gardens near the shore of Lake Superior.
Over the course of those 10 years, Second Harvest has received more than 13,000 pounds of fresh produce from the gardens at Glensheen.
"That's a little over 10,500 meals," Heather Murphy, food resource developer at Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, said during a gathering Tuesday at the gardens.
Murphy said about 27 percent of the food the organization distributes to the eight counties it serves in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin is fresh produce.
The gardens at Glensheen serve a scientific purpose, too.
Glensheen director Dan Hartman said Tuesday that for the better part of 20 years, the University of Minnesota Extension has been providing seeds to see what types and varieties of vegetables grow best in the cooler conditions near the lake.
"We've got a number of new varieties that we are trialing here," said Bob Olen, a U of M Extension educator. "We are taking weights and we are taking counts. And also looking at some of the eating quality."
Every year, Olen focuses on a specific vegetable in the Glensheen gardens. Last year was the year of the potato. This year is the year of the carrot.
"I made an extra effort to bring in all kinds of carrots of all types," said Olen, who likes to experiment with heirloom vegetables. "We will be digging these up soon and evaluating for yield as well as the eating quality. We have about 15-17 different varieties, many of which are the old heirloom varieties."
Because each season is a bit different, Olen said he likes to run trials on certain plants for at least two to three seasons in a row just to make sure one year wasn't an outlier. The findings he gathers from the gardens are used not only for planting next year's crop, but also shared with the community.
"It's a nice trial this close to the lake because it gives people in the area an idea of what we can really grow," Olen said.