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High Rise Garden Mentors

When driving past the towering public high-rise buildings that make up the St Paul Public Housing Agency (SPPHA), you may have wondered if residents in these buildings have access to green spaces. But did you know that all 16 of these buildings have community gardens that Ramsey County Master Gardeners have helped support?

The seeds for the High Rise Garden Mentors program were sown in 2015 when Ramsey County Master Gardener (RCMG) Roger Hintze and several other RCMGs began mentoring residents, working in these community gardens twice each month. By 2017, RCMG had developed a train-the-trainer program in collaboration with the SPPHA and the Ramsey County Public Health Department. Adapting select modules from the Master Gardener Core Course, they taught best gardening practices to 5-10 SPPHA “Garden Mentors” each year, providing knowledge mentors can share with their neighbors and local gardening clubs. High Rise Garden Mentors participated in a 6-week program of 2.5-hour sessions scheduled biweekly.

In 2022, the program expanded to other opportunities, with RCMGs working with SPPHA residents at fairs and teaching gardening classes at selected sites such as McDonough Homes. In 2023, the High Rise Garden Mentors program shifted into a new phase when RCMGs began to offer classes to a larger number of residents at more SPPHA sites in St. Paul. The current approach is modeled after the Speakers Bureau format. On a cold rainy day in late April, RCMG Jamie Aussendorf taught “Growing Microgreens” at the Cleveland Hi-Rise near Highland Village to a group of residents with a wide range of gardening backgrounds. Jamie expertly led the small but lively group through a short presentation on growing microgreens and followed up with a hands-on demonstration and seed-planting activity. One resident, who confessed initially to not having much interest in gardening, grew more excited throughout the session, sharing that her mother had been an avid gardener. When the class ended, she beamed, cradling her container of newly planted seeds and exclaiming “My mother would be so proud!”

One week later at the Central Hi-Rise in the Summit-University area, residents arrived for a “Nature Heals” class. One of the residents who previously trained in the Garden Mentor program greeted Jamie enthusiastically. The assembled group gathered to learn the importance of staying connected to nature to foster health and well-being. The presentation offered a calming respite from the monotony of another gray weekday afternoon when everyone’s thoughts were on the slow-arriving spring. This session also transitioned into a hands-on activity where residents used dried flowers and other materials to create keepsakes reflecting the themes of the presentation.

In 2024, RCMGs who are part of the Speakers Bureau were invited to join Roger and Jamie in teaching these classes. This year, “Growing Microgreens” was offered at all 16 sites, and each site chose a second class based on residents’ interests. RCMGs are proud to be part of this initiative supporting gardeners in this diverse low-income community to develop their skills in vegetable and pollinator gardening.

Laurel Watt

Ramsey County Master Gardener Volunteer


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