These letters from the community were sent in to Southwest Voices after Hennepin County held an open house about a specific path being proposed to make the Midtown Greenway more accessible. The planned path would go through the Soo Line Community Garden. Hennepin County has a public survey open through Dec. 15 about the project.

We have a deep partnership with the folks at Soo Line.  Every Whittier student takes at least two field trips to the gardens.  We have planted hundreds of pollinator plants and harvested countless vegetables and herbs over the course of ten years.  Soo Line reserves 10 plots each year for Whittier school families, mostly immigrants, who make full use of the soil to plant veggies for their families.  Each year, I have the joy of helping recruit families for that opportunity.  Here in Whittier, we don’t have a creek, lake or formal nature area.  Soo Line is our most beautiful, ecologically diverse place for Whittier students to connect to nature in our neighborhood.  

Now, the county would like to pave two very wide paths that would destroy so much of the beautiful nature that is there.  The drawings I’ve seen thus far show big areas of pollinator habitat completely paved over.  These areas have been meticulously tended to by our students over all of these years, and include areas of WILD LUPINE, the larval host plant for the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. Fruit trees, milkweed patches, and mature prairie planting would also succumb to bulldozers.  Every day throughout the summer, our biking groups use the Soo Line Garden to access the Midtown Greenway.  For us, the greenway access as it exists now is perfect-  in fact, far better than a wide paved path.  Our students walk their bikes through the gardens, always stopping to notice bumblebees, moths, and monarch butterflies, or munch on some dill, basil or mint.  It is true that current wood chip path is not ADA accessible.  However, If wheelchair access is to be built here, any design should be guided by the people who know the garden best and it should be built in a way that does no harm to this precious neighborhood resource.  -Jeff “Nacho” Carlson, coordinator for Whittier Community Education

I feel like building a pathway there would be like destroying the history embedded in that area. The memories and joy, built from 1991 to now, all gone, for a pathway that would do more harm than good. The area will be trashed by people who don't respect the surrounding wildlife. The stunning nature will be replaced with loads of trash, everywhere. Furthermore, it would disrupt the ecosystem. Killing the beautiful butterflies, bees, flowers, and more, because of the future dump it could become. This place makes me feel at home, the people there make me feel welcomed. Last summer, I used to go with my parents to the garden. Always bringing my sketchbook with me. I used to walk around, drawing the flowers and crops in gardens that people have taken time to create because I thought it was beautiful. It made me happy to see everyone enjoy gardening and having fun. But now the thought of the garden in the future being destroyed, saddens me. There won't be a safe space for people who need it if this road is established, and it is something that I cannot bear to see. I am very quiet, but I feel like this is something I need to comment on because I believe that this pathway should not be built. -Briana Castellanos, Whittier Elementary School student, 14

Hennepin County has been trying to deceive the public throughout the process of planning to construct a 12-foot paved pathway through the heart of the Soo Line Community Garden- a community center that provides Whittier with natural space for neighbors to come together to share and connect in growing vegetables, flowers, and pollinator habitats. Although I am in support of greater ADA access to the Greenway, it simply does not make sense why the county’s plan needs to be constructed to threaten a space that has been cultivated for over 30 years and brings Whittier neighbors from all backgrounds together. The county has claimed to “keep the Soo Line Garden in place,” when they will really uproot contaminated soil and divide the garden with a bike path, and have not done equitable outreach by not offering materials or translators in multiple languages at their open house.

I joined the garden in 2020 and helped create the Community Outreach Program to connect with Whittier neighborhood residents who would not otherwise hear about the Soo Line Garden plots or are from underrepresented communities. Each season, I attend Whittier Elementary School events and see families’ faces light up when they learn they can have a piece of land all to themselves to replicate what they cultivated back in their home countries of México or Ecuador. Throughout the season, the Soo Line Garden is filled with Whittier school children running under the sunflowers, tasting their parents’ tomatoes and peppers. Every time I walk through the garden, I learn about new ways to grow corn, am gifted seeds for pápalos, a Mexican herb that grows in hot weather when cilantro does not, and witness countless exchanges of tomatillos and salsa recipes among gardeners and those passing through.

If we decline to divide the garden with a wide bike path, the Soo Line Community Garden will remain a space of sharing, of peacefulness in nature, of meeting new neighbors with different stories, recipes, and knowledge, of play and joy for children, and of connection with my neighbors. Please extend your support to this special place.  -Malone DeYoung, Soo Line gardener, 26

I had just moved into my new apartment in November of 2020. I would walk by Soo Line garden daily as it was on the route I take to walk my dog. It was still a little warm outside so I was able to still see the plants dying back but I knew they were so beautiful during the summer. I knew I had to be part of the garden.  Fortunately, I was able to join the garden in the summer of 2022 (Summer 2021 I was put on a waitlist. Goes to show you how popular the garden is). I shared a plot with a lovely woman and her amazing kids. The garden has a knack for attracting such kind hearted humans. I feel as though the vibration bouncing throughout plots drew in kin like spirits from all walks of life. I have met some amazing people who have become great friends of mine.

Soo Line has always been a safe haven for my family to retreat to when city living gets a little too much. Reading a good book on the bench while overlooking the garden brought a sense of peace. It’s important people understand how necessary these types of spaces are. As a generation, (Millennials and Gen z) we have lost what was once called the third place. Unfortunately, I cannot get into what that is right now but essentially it is a location outside of school, work, and home that people can gather and connect face to face. I have noticed an uptick of people in my generation yearning for community and more so a community centered around the outdoors. I know that Soo Line garden serves as an amazing third place for gardeners and nature enthusiasts where we can sit around and share companionship. - Summy Banjo-Arebojie, Soo Line gardener

I am a Soo Line gardener and I oppose Hennepin County’s plan to pave through the garden. I feel strongly that in our individualistic society, third spaces are so important. Soo Line is a gathering space where I have developed friendships with my neighbors, who I otherwise would never have met. I have pulled weeds, attended workshops, and shoveled compost alongside neighbors of different ages, ethnicities, and language backgrounds who have nothing to do with my work or home life, but who are now my community.

The garden connections I have made are powerful because we are growing food, stewarding the land, and sharing knowledge of native plants and growing techniques. As we face worsening climate threats, we need more of these human connections to nature and local resilience in the food system, and more permeable, green space–not less. We can’t afford to sacrifice a community garden for more built environment.

As a bike commuter, I support improved bike infrastructure to the Greenway, and access points that are ADA-compliant. It is shocking to me that newly built apartment complexes on the Greenway that benefit financially from their location were not required to include any public ADA access.The south side option for an ADA-compliant bike ramp that the garden has been proposing would connect to a commercial district, and wouldn’t destroy an organic, community garden. It’s a no-brainer. The County has the authority and funds–it just needs the political leadership to make it happen. -Jessica Kochick, Soo Line gardener and Whittier resident

I'm concerned about Hennepin County's plans to develop part of Soo Like Community Garden into an access path to the Greenway. Toxic chemicals would be used next to plots where we currently grow food and pollinator habitat. There are many other places this path could be built that doesn't negatively impact our precious green space. -Leah Mark, resident of Powderhorn Park

Soo Line Community Garden's board president wrote a piece about the garden's significance to the community and argues the paved path would disrupt the garden's activities.