This opinion piece is a companion to our article, "Soo Line Community Garden, County Work to Balance Accessibility Needs."

By Corinne Segal, gardener and Soo Line Community Garden liaison committee member

The Soo Line Garden is a green space with native habitat, in a densely populated neighborhood. You may have passed by it if you travel along the Midtown Greenway under Lyndale Avenue South. Hennepin County wants to pave over the areas of the garden with a 10-foot wide petroleum-based access path that criss-crosses through the garden to reach the Midtown Greenway.

Plans for this paved path have been developing behind the scenes for at least six years. The Soo Line gardeners only learned of the plans in early summer of 2021. Since then, there have been meetings with the county and businesses in the Lyn-Lake area. During these meetings, Hennepin County has not been willing to provide clear information on what they plan to do in the garden. Some of the gardeners have identified two other locations where the bike trail can be built on the other side of the Greenway. Hennepin County has refused to consider these other options, due to the Rail Authority reserving that space for future high-rail projects. Therefore, the county is proceeding with two plans of their own, which they will present to the public for comment, however a date has not yet been set.

In 2010 the Soo Line Garden was placed under the umbrella of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to protect and preserve it for generations to come. Gardeners are advocating for maintaining the garden, as is, at Park Board meetings.  People concerned about preserving the garden have spoken to the board as to the value of the garden for themselves and the community. At the March 23 Park Board meeting, President Meg Forney acknowledged a letter from the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis regarding the proposed paved path through the garden.

A proposed design plan by Hennepin County that shows the ADA-compliant ramp meandering through the garden. Source: Soo Lines Community Gardens

An image of Soo Line Community Gardens in April, showing the large swath of area typically filled with community gardens during the growing season. Photo by Melody Hoffmann

Soo Line Garden history

Thirty years ago in South Minneapolis, a group of people got permission to create a garden in a vacant lot off of what was the Soo Line Railway. The ground was tilled, garden plots were measured out, and the Soo Line Community Garden was created. There are now 100 plots in the garden.

Our gardening practices are organic and there are places for composting. Gardeners formed a community and developed by-laws for the running of the garden. Gardeners created an orchard, and a native habitat was planted on the south slope. Our connection with Joyce Food Shelf allows us to donate hundreds of pounds of food. We have a monarch garden and bird houses. Gardeners have worked to increase the amount of native plants for pollinators. At the nearby Whittier Elementary School, some teachers bring students to the garden for science class. The school children also have their own garden plot. A current project is developing a garden plot for someone with vision loss. Many local residents enjoy walking through the garden.

The Soo Line Community Garden provides critical green space in a highly urbanized inner-city neighborhood. Though less than an acre in size, the Soo Line Community Garden is the only parcel of safe, public, untamed nature in the Whittier neighborhood. There are countless locations for the new ramp that would do more good and less harm than running it through this neighborhood’s only thriving native pollinator habitat and untamed greenspace, where children can explore, climb trees, find rocks and bugs, and get their hands dirty.

More information may be found at the Soo Line Community Garden website on the history of the garden, and efforts that gardeners are making to stop the destruction of the garden. If you’d like to join our movement to stop the paved path, contact Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene and the Minneapolis Park Board commissioners at 612-230-6400.