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Historic Rondo church to plant “mini-forest” in St. Paul

Urban Farming Garden Alliance (UFGA) co-coordinator Melvin Giles , Pilgrim Baptist Church Garden Coordinator Nate Galloway and others at the 2023 Greens Celebration at the church. (Photo courtesy of Melvin Giles)

Pilgrim Baptist Church is partnering with two nonprofits – the Urban Farm and Gardening Alliance and Renewing the Countryside – to fight climate change while supporting urban agricultural efforts. Their strategy? To plant 450 young trees in just 150 square meters in the church’s backyard.

The Mini-Forest Revolution

The project was inspired by the book the Mini-Forest Revolution, written by author Hannah Lewis, who works with Renewing the Countryside. Based on the work of

Japanese Botanist Akira Miyawaki, mini-forests transform degraded land into a rich, healthy biome up to ten times faster than conventional methods.

Lewis, who was at a recent Pilgrim Baptist Church event, says the mini-forest will help to restore its native woodland soil, enabling the church’s community garden to thrive. She says the trees will also improve climate conditions surrounding the land, and even provide fruit.

“What this can do is create pollinator habitat and also habitat for things that might eat the pests of the garden. Things like ladybugs eat aphids. And it'll cool the area down, since trees cool through shade but also by releasing water. It'll be kind of a humid environment inside, so it'll just create all those kinds of benefits for the community garden, including for the people like cooling down the space a little bit on really hot days in the summer. But also become habitat for birds and insects, and anything that lives in a forest.”

Urban Farming Garden Alliance (UFGA) co-coordinator Melvin Giles advocated bringing the mini-forest idea to the Rondo-Frogtown Area.

Revitalizing Urban Green Spaces

UFGA Co-coordinator Shari Cueto says she has witnessed the importance of urban soil regeneration through the non-profit’s eight community gardens across Saint Paul. She says UFGA has been working hard to nurture their gardens because green spaces are a source of wealth, especially against systemic oppression.

“We just want organic, sustainable living to be a right for everybody,” said Cueto. “It's just sad when you look around at how everything is depleted because without healthy soil you cannot hope to grow healthy foods that can sustain us as a people.”

Cueto says UFGA’s goal is to provide the community with quality, locally-grown food and she's excited to see how the mini-forest project can support that.

Two men shoveling mulch out of a wheeled container.
Pilgrim Baptist Church Garden Coordinator Nate Galloway puts down mulch with a college volunteer. (Photo courtesy of Melvin Giles)

Deep Roots in Rondo

Nick Galloway is the community garden coordinator at Pilgrim Church. He says he was thrilled when he was asked if hosting the mini-forest at the church was an option. Galloway is passionate about gardening; he says this work is about continuing his family’s legacy of serving the community.

“My dad really loved to garden. And he wanted to make sure that he shared his produce with everyone, whether it was friends, neighbors… And he didn’t have a large space.”

Galloway says he took over gardening duties when his father got a job on the railroad, one of the few options available to Black men in the early 1900s.

“My dad… didn't really have a chance to garden like he wanted to because he was on the road for five days, at home for five days. So he taught me the basics at about six years old,” Galloway recalled.

Galloway says he has deep roots in the local community as a former school educator and master gardener committed to teaching people about the impact of tree canopy loss. He says Pilgrim Church’s community garden and mini-forest projects are powerful because they’re intergenerational.

“We're trying to do something productive for the community and have more green space,” said Galloway. “We just have to make sure that education starts with the young people in the area.”

Galloway says the mini-forest will be planted in collaboration with students at Maxfield Elementary, a school in close vicinity to the church and project site. In addition, college students are helping to restructure the outdoor space in advance of the planting.

“It's going to be really neat to see the transformation of the garden area,” said Galloway. “A lot of the students that are out here right now are with Engineers Without Borders, and they'll be working on making the garden area more accessible to everyone – redoing the shed areas with a ramp for anyone with a wheelchair or walker to get in. We're going to make some garden boxes that are raised that are hopefully accessible for anyone that is in a wheelchair or walker, and create benches for people to come and enjoy the area and make it more of a community space.”

The mini-forest planting is scheduled to take place in May 2024.


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