After nearly two growing seasons, Eden Prairie High School senior Calista Swensen’s garden is still thriving in what seems like an improbable setting.
Tucked away on the side of a large industrial building at 7550 Corporate Way in Eden Prairie is the People’s Patchwork Community Garden, which Swensen began in April 2021. Her father owns one of the businesses housed there.
During a visit to the garden last month, Swensen describes it as her “little oasis in industrial Eden Prairie.” Botany, she added, is a big interest of hers.
“I find it very relaxing to be out here with the bugs and the bunnies,” said Swenson, who is eyeing a double major in music and plant biology in college.
So far, Swensen has donated about 1,100 pounds of produce grown in the 4,800-square-foot garden to the PROP Food Shelf.
According to the website, the People’s Patchwork Community Garden’s goal is to unite the community, utilize sustainable practices, and, most importantly, donate fresh produce to PROP.
She said the garden is a true patchwork this year, with lots of different vegetables like cucumbers, potatoes and cabbage, to name a few, randomly peeking out from dense vegetation.
“Instead of fighting the weeds so much, we are letting some of them grow,” she said. “Some of them are good, like milkweed. We have a lot more native bugs and stuff here.”
New this year are straw bales that line the edges of the garden.
“That’s a new concept I’m trying,” she said. “It’s straw bale gardening, where we take these straw bales, fertilize them and soak them in water in April and May. I planted all my tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in them and the straw decomposes. That’s where there are some mushrooms also growing from them.”
The fence around the garden hasn’t deterred many critters from visiting, but she’s OK with that. She’s seen deer, rabbits, squirrels, and even a massive tortoise.
“I have some tomato plants coming up randomly because the bunnies must have distributed the seeds last year, which is kind of nice because now I have tomatoes that I didn’t have to plant,” she said.
This season, she’s been working on developing her own cucumber variety.
“I have a few historical varieties (of cucumbers) over here,” she said. “Like a Polish one and an Armenian one. I’m trying to mix them all together to make kind of a patchwork species of cucumber to grow in the garden.”
After she leaves for college next year, Swensen plans to keep the garden going by using volunteers.
That makes sense. After all, she said, the garden is a patchwork of many people’s efforts.
Most garden volunteers – consisting of EPHS students or friends – helped in May and June as the garden was being set up, especially with the straw bales.
“I think I’ll run the garden again next year, and start to set up younger student leadership,” she said. “I have some friends who are going to be sophomores. I’ve also established a botany club at my high school. So, I’m trying to involve them and get some younger leadership so it can be passed down.”
A rustic sign on the wooden gate leading into the garden greets visitors. The sign boasts the garden’s name, what is grown there, and the year it was established.
“My plan for the gate is to get it stained,” she said. “We’re going to have it where all the volunteers can write their name on here. We want to have a place for them to write their name.”
For more information on how to help grow the People’s Patchwork Community Garden, visit the website.