Where does your food come from? Not far, if you are in the Sartell-St. Stephen School District!
A partnership between the school district and the City of Sartell’s community garden is looking to reduce food waste while providing fresh,local produce to students.
The gardens were established ten years ago by volunteers and Sartell resident Dennis Molitor. “When we first got started,people were just starting to ask the question, ‘where is my food coming from?’,” Dennis said. The city saw an opportunity to bring the community together for the greater good.
Sartell has two community gardens. The largest is Northridge Community Garden, which is located next to Oak Ridge Elementary and has 96 plots. The second is East Side Garden, located by the East Side Sartell Water Plant, which has ten plots available.
For $25, Sartell residents can rent a 20’ X 20’ plot from May until October.
“The city tills the land in the spring and fall,” Dennis said. “We fertilize it with composted turkey manure, provide a storage with gardening tools, collect rain water as well as provide well water, and keep a compost site gardeners are able to use.”
The gardens have grown in popularity,so much so that residents often are placed on a waiting list for a plot.
Jayme Steinbach was a lucky resident who snapped up a plot, and while tending her portion of the garden, the seeds of a bigger idea were planted.
“I noticed plenty of good produce being thrown into the compost pile,” she said. “Anyone that has ever had a garden knows that certain plants -- like cucumbers or zucchini -- can provide you with more produce than you know what to do with.” This is what sparked an idea for Jayme,who is the director of food services for the school district. She saw an opportunity to reduce food waste while providing the students of Sartell-St.Stephen with fresh local produce.
Jayme called Dennis, and he was on board!
“We don’t want to see perfectly good produce thrown into the compost,” he said. “Instead of letting it go to waste,donate it!”
Collection bins are now located at the Northridge Community Garden, so gardeners can donate their excess produce. School staff collect donations daily and process the food right next door at Oak Ridge Elementary as a single food item or part of another dish. “That’s the important part,” Dennis said. “We wanted to make sure that if our gardeners are donating produce, it’s being collected and processed properly so it doesn’t go to waste.”
This year,students can look forward to chocolate chip zucchini bread, pickles, coleslaw,marinara, herb roasted vegetables, roasted cauliflower, and green beans. These are just some of the recipes Jayme and her team have developed with the produce received. Recipes are continuing to be developed as more varieties of produce are donated.
The support from the community has been tremendous. “I’m thrilled with where we’re at,” Jayme said. “We have processed almost 400 pounds of produce since we began this partnership.” Jayme also said that no matter the quantity or type of vegetable they receive, her team will process it and freeze it. “We’re here for the excess, and we’ll find a way to use it.”
This collaboration is not only giving students freshly grown produce in school but also providing a small financial break to the district. Some of the items the district was having to purchase through vendors are now being replaced with the donations of produce from the community.
“This partnership wouldn’t be possible without the support of our community and the years and years of effort by Dennis Molitor and the rest of the volunteers that started the community gardens,” Jayme said. “Thank you to everyone who has a plot out at the gardens and has sent their produce our way.”
With a reduction in food waste and her students eating fresh local produce Jayme is excited for the future of their partnership.
For more information on the Sartell Community Gardens visit their website.