Straw bale gardening may change the way Hennepin County looks at future gardening projects

This growing season, Hennepin County is experimenting with the method in a small vacant tax-forfeited property on 24th and Penn. Though it is the second community garden the County has built in North Minneapolis, it is the first use of straw bale gardening.

Access for everyone. This summer, tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, collard greens, pumpkins, watermelon and cucumbers are growing in 80 bales on the site. Sentence to Service workers are maintaining the gardens, which requires one hour of watering each day. The treated bales provide a weed-free, accessible growing environment.

The County worked with community members and representatives from Northpoint Health & Wellness Center to decide what crops people wanted grown in the gardens. Residents will be able to pick produce from the garden and the extras will be donated to the Northpoint Food Shelf.

Kara Zenith, a consultant for garden co-sponsor Insightformation, Inc., said versatility and accessibility make straw bale gardening an effective technique. “The straw bales can be placed on grass or in a parking lot,” Zenith said. “The garden will also be easier to access for people with disabilities.”

Straw bales also allow for the County to start their growing season earlier indoors, and end later in the fall, with coverings.

The straw bale plan. The project began as an initiative to get Sentence to Service workers to work more collaboratively within communities.

Hennepin County Sentencing to Service is a structured work program that provides a sentencing alternative for low-risk adult and juvenile offenders to work, learn new skills and gain self-confidence, while completing community improvement and restoration projects.

Community Offender Management program manager John Ekholm thought the 24th and Penn location was a perfect spot for the new garden because of its size and visibility. “We were really looking for quality over quantity,” Ekholm said.

“The County has never done straw bale gardening before so they didn’t want to go too big with this first one, Ekholm said. With community support, the County will look at expanding the current garden or building another one. We really want the community to be more a part of the process from start to finish, but more in the prep stages, since we will maintain it.”