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Green thumbs up: County offers support for community garden

WORTHINGTON — Nobles County commissioners on Tuesday offered their support for a collaborative project between the local University of Minnesota Extension SNAP-Ed program and the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) to develop a community garden on a piece of tax-forfeited property in Worthington.

Cecilia Bofah, a SHIP coordinator based with Nobles County Community Services/Public Health, and Leticia Rodriguez, based in the county’s Extension office, said the garden will be available to low-income families — a place where they can grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and perhaps even flowers.

Bofah said a community garden would stimulate social interaction, improve the quality of life for people, preserve green space, produce nutritious food and reduce food costs and encourage people to be active.

Nobles County was awarded a community wellness grant, which will help develop the community garden and see it through its first year.

“Our whole mission of a community garden is to make health better,” Bofah said. “We’re just helping to start the initiative.”

Already, the two have issued surveys to low-income households. Of the 55 returned, Bofah said 95 percent of people expressed an interest in participating in a community garden. Their next step is to identify individuals willing to complete a Master Gardener class and then share that knowledge with community gardeners in various languages.

A gardening workshop is planned, with tilling of the soil slated for this spring to prepare the ground for 2017 planting.

“We thought we could do this in 2016, but unfortunately that’s not going to happen,” said Rodriguez. “There’s a lot of steps that need to be done.”

Two soil tests have been done on the parcel, located at the intersection of Eighth Street and Eighth Avenue, and they determined this particular parcel was more fertile than two other tax-forfeited parcels that had been considered in the city limits. The land is former railroad property.

Gardeners will have their own plot, once they are developed on the site, and Rodriguez said her role will be in educating the new gardeners about how to prepare the foods they are growing.

“A lot of the minority community love to garden — it’s just educating them on what will grow in Minnesota,” she added.

Commissioner Marv Zylstra said the community garden will be an “excellent educational opportunity.”

County Administrator Tom Johnson said the lot has two easements running through it, and it would never be considered a buildable lot. As it is, the garden could be susceptible to being dug up if any utility work needed to be done on the parcel.

Commissioner Matt Widboom asked if there was a possibility, because of the momentum, that the garden could be developed this year. He said he knew of someone who could till up the property, and Bofah and Rodriguez said they could use assistance with the tillage.

The women need to present their plans to both the Worthington City Council and its planning commission to get their support for the project.

In other action, the board:

  • Approved plans to construct a conference room within the Nobles County Attorney’s office at Prairie Justice Center. The space has been discussed for more than a year. 

Nobles County Attorney Kathleen Kusz said the space will be used by staff, as well as visiting attorneys, and is needed for both security purposes and space constraints. County Administrator Tom Johnson was directed to develop and sign an agreement with a contractor for the project.

  • Accepted the 2015 annual county feedlot and performance credit reports. The reports must also be approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Environmental Services Director Wayne Smith said his department anticipates getting a performance credit bonus — possibly for several thousand dollars — based on the number of feedlot inspections performed last year.
  • Amended the Rock River Subsurface Sewage Treatment Systems loan program, extending the program that began in 2010 through 2017. With the extension, Nobles County will receive $150,000 in state funds to loan to individuals replacing systems within the Rock River subwatershed. 

Smith said loans are issued at 3 percent interest for up to 10 years. As the money is paid back, he said the money will be loaned to Rock County to be reloaned.

  • Approved revisions to the Nobles County comprehensive land use and feedlot ordinances. The revisions were the result of several meetings with the county’s planning commission, along with attorney recommendations. The revised document will take effect March 1.

Commissioner Bob Demuth Jr., who represents the county board on the planning commission, offered thanks to Smith and his staff for the “many hours that went into this project.”

  • Discussed, but delayed action on, a request brought forth by Widboom to purchase interactive (radar) speed limit signs. The county has two options — a transportable, solar-operated speed sign or fixed speed signs like those posted along Oxford Street near Worthington Middle School.

Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder recommends portable signs that can be moved occasionally to different county roads or rural communities. However, there has been no discussion on whether the cost and responsibility for moving the signs will come from the public works budget or from the sheriff’s budget. Schnieder was directed to discuss signage with Sheriff Kent Wilkening and bring a proposal to the March 1 board meeting.

  • Received updates from Auditor-Treasurer Beth Van Hove on the amount of unpaid taxes within the county, as well as a tax delinquent report by township and an overall tax delinquent report. The annual report of individuals who are delinquent on their taxes is published in March.
  • Approved the 2016 township road allocation so funds can be distributed to townships by March 1.
  • Approved an extension of an agreement with Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership to continue providing nuisance compliance and healthy housing inspections for Nobles County.
  • Granted final approval to proceed with plans for diagonal parking on Dundee’s main street.
  • Granted a 30-day extension to a leave of absence for a county employee who has been on leave since June 2015.
  • Set the county’s annual Board of Equalization meeting for 6 p.m. June 14.
Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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