Chard Your Yard: Bringing Gardening Home

Ecolution reporting made possible by Seward Co-op, which has been a community-owned grocer since 1972: Together, we continue to cultivate a cooperative economy.

Mónica Romero in her backyard garden in Longfellow, Minneapolis

During the World Wars, the United States government encouraged citizens to plant vegetable “victory” gardens in every yard, park, and spare patch of dirt. The term and the practice decreased after World War II, but backyard vegetable gardens are still common. People today plant gardens for many of the same reasons they did back then: to reduce grocery costs and increase self-sufficiency.

What if you do not have a garden? How does one turn their yard into a space that grows food?

In South Minneapolis, Chard Your Yard (CYY) volunteers install raised garden beds on residential properties to increase food access. Transition Longfellow initiated the program, which was founded by a group of neighbors to “reduce dependence on fossil fuels, increase energy efficiency and conservation, relocalize our economy, build a more resilient and healthy food supply, and reduce unnecessary consumption and waste.”

Mónica Romero started participating in CYY in 2021. She says she wanted a garden for several reasons, including to mow less grass in her yard. “I am a morning person, and I love to wake up early, especially during the summer, and walk around my plants and look at them grow.”

CYY installs three-by-five-foot raised beds made of wooden planks and fills them with a dirt and compost mix. Raised beds drain water well and allow better control of soil and weeds. Program recipients pay for the materials at cost, although subsidized beds are available for low-income households and people with disabilities. People with limited mobility can request taller beds.

Volunteers transport materials to the recipient’s yard and assemble the bed. They also advise the recipient about the best placement of the garden. Installing beds for renters requires permission from a landlord, and Romero thinks landlords should consider subsidizing the cost for interested renters. Since 2013, volunteers have constructed 190 beds.

“What motivated me to join were definitely the community [building] components,” says Romero.

Romero would also like to see more diversity in race and age in the recipients of the garden beds and the volunteers who help put the beds together. She is translating CYY materials into Spanish to help advertise the program in Latinx neighborhoods.

Not every garden will immediately produce food, but Romero says that is simply part of gardening. “You water the plants, and you do not know if they will give you produce. You do the work anyway,” she says.