A source of food and unity: South Minneapolis garden tackles issues of diversity, food security and sustainability

Claire Baglien
Claire Baglien, the garden’s coordinator, says the garden explores the intersection of food, faith and climate change. (Anne Omer/ThreeSixty Journalism)

At the Gandhi Mahal Interfaith Garden in south Minneapolis, food brings people of diverse faiths and circumstances together. 

The garden is a collaboration between three local groups: Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light (MNIPL), Gandhi Mahal restaurant in Minneapolis and First Nations Kitchen, a ministry of All Saints Episcopal Indian Mission in Minneapolis.

Half the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden during growing season are used to create traditional South Asian dishes at the nearby Gandhi Mahal Restaurant. The rest of the produce is used by First Nations Kitchen to prepare free weekly meals for members of the community, including some who are homeless.

“The most basic thing in life is food,” said The Rev. Canon Robert Two Bulls, the founder of First Nations Kitchen. “The people we work with at First Nations Kitchen are living on the margins of society, the very people that most folks in America have a disdain for because of preconceived notions of how folks got to where they’re at.

The Rev. Canon Robert Two Bulls (left), founder of First Nations Kitchen, and Claire Baglien, Gandhi Mahal Interfaith Garden coordinator, survey the garden on a July afternoon in Minneapolis. Through a partnership, the garden provides produce for Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in Minneapolis and First Nations Kitchen. (Staff photo)

“What we try to do is provide really good food to people who couldn’t otherwise afford that kind of food and have access to fresh produce.”

Following weekly Sunday dinners, leaders of First Nations Kitchen invite guests to walk four blocks from the mission to the Gandhi Mahal Interfaith Garden. The garden practices regenerative agriculture—cultivating healthy soils to create a sustainable food system and a stable climate, according to the website for MNIPL, a nonprofit that works with faith communities on climate change issues.

At the garden, visitors can listen to local musicians and poets, while also interacting with community members of all faiths in an “Open Garden Night,” according to MNIPL’s Claire Baglien, the garden’s coordinator. 

“The idea behind Open Garden Night is that it’s a continuation of the space created at the meal,” Baglien said. “... It’s a way to bring people from all different backgrounds together. People need to know other people that are different from them. That’s how we eliminate some of the fear.”

Two Bulls also says the garden, with its lush green space, rows of tomatoes, squash and other produce ripening on vines and stalks, brings unity.

“What I think is really interesting about the garden itself is that it does bring together all sorts of different people—Christians, Muslims, a cross section of society that has come together for one purpose,” he said.

Conversations over food also take place at the Gandhi Mahal restaurant, where the produce from the garden ends up on dinner plates for customers. 

The Gandhi Mahal restaurant opened in 2008. Owner and Executive Chef Ruhel Islam, an immigrant from Bangladesh, aimed to create a source of fresh, sustainably farmed produce for the restaurant. Through a yard-sharing partnership with MNIPL, Islam started a productive garden on a plot near the restaurant in 2012, according to Baglien. First Nations Kitchen joined the partnership in 2016.

Together, the three groups now explore the connection between “food, faith and climate change,” Baglien said. 

Baglien says the garden’s greatest benefit is that it teaches people “what that means to care for something that’s growing and caring for life.” 

“Not just dominating over nature,” she said, “but nurturing, realizing that we’re really dependent and connected with the Earth.”

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