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AICHO youth garden aims to expand, seeks plot of land in downtown Duluth

“We’re on traditional Anishinaabe land, but we don’t have access to it."

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Christy Martin and Patience Thompson stand on the AICHO rooftop garden in downtown Duluth on Monday, April 19, 2021. Thompson was a green gardener when they started participating in AICHO's youth gardening program at age 8, but since then, the 12-year-old has done it all: planting, berry-picking, selling goods at the market. “I have a lot of fun meeting new friends and I get to feel more cultural," they said. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

AICHO has outgrown its rooftop garden and is looking for land to plant more.

The American Indian Community Housing Organization is looking to lease land in the Hillside neighborhood to expand its youth gardening program, Giinawiind Giginitaawigi'gomin, or Together We Grow .

“We wanted to build off what our program has been doing: getting kids in the garden learning how to grow food, learning about Indigenous foods and medicines and using the gardens to connect kids and families to culture,” said Katie Schmitz, AICHO’s children's program coordinator.

With funding help from the Department of Agriculture and Blue Cross Blue Shield Center for Prevention, Schmitz is working with Duluth Community Garden Program members, who have previously worked with the city on bids for land. The city planner and some private landowners also are involved.

There are some leads, but nothing definite.

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“We’re on traditional Anishinaabe land, but we don’t have access to it,” Schmitz said.

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They hope to have something set by May 3 so they can prepare for the gardening season. There will be a point where it’s too late this year, and they’ll have to expand the on-site gardens, but there’s not much room for that. The ideal additional space will be close to their downtown location at 202 W. 2nd St., and accessible for at least five years.
Part of the youth gardening expansion plan involves collaborating with Indigenous food producers David and Patra Wise of Native Wise Farm so participants can learn hands-on skills and cultural food practices. In addition, YES Duluth will help teach entrepreneurial skills and community awareness to middle- and high-schoolers.

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Youths work at the Gimaajii Youth Market stand at AICHO's Indigenous Foods Expo in September 2019. They sold wild berry jam, indigenous teas and beverages, healing salves and lip balm, pesto with herbs from the garden, granola bars featuring Indigenous ingredients and more. (Photo courtesy of Katie Schmitz)

There will be continued work on food sovereignty and economic development to increase food access and awareness about Indigenous food and Niiwin Indigenous Foods Market , which is being developed on Fourth Street.

“This is health equity work happening for Native people, by Native people,” Schmitz said.

Patience Thompson, 12, started participating in the youth gardening program at age 8. The youngster was new to gardening at first but has now done it all: planting, berry-picking, selling goods at the market.

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“I have a lot of fun meeting new friends, and I get to feel more cultural,” Patience said.

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AICHO's rooftop garden in full bloom with strawberries, basil, lettuce, squash, sunflowers, potatoes, various herbs and flowers. Youths of all ages can participate in the garden. (Photo by Katie Schmitz, AICHO)

Patience and other youths have learned to forage and make a popcorn snack mix using Indigenous ingredients. They helped design the packaging for the products with the guidance from Indigenous ethnobotanist Tashia Hart and Indigenous multiplatform artist Jonathan Thunder.

You get to know people in the community, and you get to be known, Patience said.

Patience’s mother, Christy Martin, said she is proud of her child.

“These kids get to learn responsibility. … they learn what they’re doing and then they want to share it,” she said. And an added bonus: “I get to see what the kids do out there and test out the vegetables.”

  • If you have a land lead, contact Katie Schmitz at 218-722-7225 or katies@aicho.org .

Related Topics: GARDENINGNONPROFITS
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