In downtown Duluth, an urban community garden managed by BIPOC youth is blooming upward. Giinawiind Giginitaawigi’gomin, or “Together We Grow,” is a 16-month program for urban BIPOC middle and high school youth from Duluth and the surrounding areas created by the American Indian Community Housing Organization.
AICHO started when a group of Native community members met in a parking lot outside a social service agency and discussed the lack of resources, community spaces and services to meet the cultural needs of the Indigenous community. It provides an array of resources for the Indigenous community in Duluth.
The Together We Grow program originally created to serve families who lived in the 29 permanent supportive housing units under AICHO. Youth were encouraged to suggest items that they wanted to see grown in the garden. The garden quickly took off, leading to more spaces being built to accommodate the produce being grown.
Now the garden has expanded and other local BIPOC youth are also allowed to participate.
With nearly 65% of the Indigenous community in Duluth living below the poverty line, many of the families supported by AICHO lacked access to healthy and nutritious food. The garden was created to help close the disparities seen throughout the city by using a unique way to educate and provide for the community.
“We started the gardening program in order to not just reintroduce or introduce our youth and our families to Indigenous good practices and healthy food, but to give them an opportunity and a say in what they were growing,” said Daryl Olson, AICHO’s director of programming.
The youth participating in the program acquire a wide variety of skills while working on the garden.
“Specifically exposing them to Indigenous food practices, gardening, farming, entrepreneurial skills and communication skills, and then it’s also a way to connect them with opportunities to earn money,” Olson said.
After the produce from the garden is harvested, participants learn to create their own products with them. These items are then sold at local farmers markets twice a month. They also learn video and photography skills to be able to document their experiences.
All of these skills can be applied later on in different aspects of their lives. The produce is also taken home to their families and shared with the community, promoting a healthy and nutritious relationship with food.
As the garden continues to expand, AICHO is struggling to find more green space in downtown Duluth.
“We haven’t necessarily had support from the city and the county,” Olson said. “We did partner…with another agency where they already had landed some space, but they just didn’t have the capacity to expand it the way that they would have liked to and we would’ve liked to.”
AICHO hopes to secure more land or an undeveloped building to expand its community housing, garden and other programs within the next five years. As long as there is a need and desire, AICHO will continue to use arts and culture to support the community.
“Our mission and vision is to honor the resiliency of Native American people. And we do that by strengthening communities and centering our Indigenous values in all of our work.”