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Community garden grows after flood

Victory Garden volunteer site coordinator JoJo Coffin-Langdon prepares her garden bed after the opening event. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 5
Mayor Emily Larson shovels dirt around the trunk of an apple tree in the Denfeld Food Forest commons area. The tree was planted in lieu of a ribbon cutting. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 5
Architect and Duluth Community Garden Program board member Dan Kislinger drew the potential design for the commons area incorporating ideas from a community meeting held on Feb. 11. (Photo submitted)3 / 5
Eight rain-catching barrels will provide water for 90 percent of the Victory Garden's needs. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)4 / 5
Dan Kislinger stands upon the brick from the former Westminster Presbyterian Church building. The church building was compromised after the 2012 flood. Today the Denfeld Food Forest and Victory garden stand in the former church lot. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)5 / 5

Exactly four years after the 2012 flood damaged the Westminster Presbyterian Church beyond repair, the Duluth Community Garden Program (DCGP) celebrated the grand opening of the new garden and gathering place on the former building's grounds.

"When the church was destroyed in 2013, one of the stipulations was that there would be no other structures built on this land because of the culvert that runs underground," said Dan Kislinger, architect who designed the new garden space and DCGP board member. "But we wanted to see the space used for something good for the community."

In 2014, the DCGP submitted a design to the City of Duluth for what would eventually become the Denfeld Food Forest and Victory Garden. The Denfeld Food Forest and Victory Garden is a new community garden located across Grand Avenue from the Whole Foods Co-op Denfeld, next to Denfeld High School and the future site of the Seeds of Success deep winter greenhouse. The final design was created by Kislinger, incorporating ideas from a community meeting held on Feb. 11.

The space consists of two sections. First is the Victory garden, which has space for 23 raised garden plots that can be leased, a garden fence and eight large rainwater catchment barriers.

Second is the commons area and food forest, which includes a public gathering space, and edible plants such as apple and pear trees, rhubarb, berries and grapevines, to be enjoyed by all.

"It's up to you how much you want to get involved. People can get involved by watering the trees and pruning them. Or if you want to get more involved you can lease a garden space," Kislinger said.

While the garden construction is complete, the public space has a little more work to be completed this weekend. The space was created partially by a contracted landscape and partially by about 50 volunteers who spent every Saturday in June on the lot, putting in a total of 150 volunteer hours.

The grand opening didn't include a ribbon cutting. Instead an apple tree was planted by Mayor Emily Larson and other attendees.

"This feels like a rebirth. Four years ago, this space looked really different and the community was in a really painful place, recovering from the flood that had really torn the whole city apart. So this place is one of rebirth and growth," Larson said.

During the opening, Kislinger held up a brick he'd found earlier that morning while digging space for the tree.

"This is a brick from the church that stood here before the flood," Kislinger said. "It seems fitting to find it this morning."

Following the ceremony, Victory Garden site coordinator JoJo Coffin-Langdon immediately got to work tilling her family's garden plot.

"It's a little late in the season, but I'm hoping to plant a lot of kale, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, squash and my kids are hoping for pumpkin," Coffin-Langdon said.

Coffin-Langdon was most impressed with the rainwater collection space and how close this garden is to her house. She recently moved from East to West Duluth and the garden site is within biking distance from her home.

"It's a great thing to have in the neighborhood. Otherwise I'd have to go as far as the zoo to garden," Coffin-Langdon said.

Although she is pleased with the design, Coffin-Langdon said she'd like to see a few features added to the space such as a compost place and shed to store tools.

"Otherwise people are schlepping them [tools] all the time and that doesn't make it easy to stop by after work," she said. "But I can't wait to see people working in their gardens."

As of the Budgeteer's deadline, there are two and a half plots in the Victory Garden available for rent.

There is also space in the 17 other community garden sites spread across the city. Fees range from $15 to $75 per plot for individuals, groups or families. Contact the Duluth Community Garden Program at (218) 722-4583 or email for more information.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176