Dawn Gaetke wanted to grow and sell mushrooms from her suburban yard for some extra income.
After a year of working with Inver Grove Heights officials to change local rules, Gaetke's wish was granted this month — and she already has a modest crop of mushrooms sprouting from logs on her property.
"Having suburban market gardens is going to make our food system more resilient," she said. "What I'm doing is part of the local food movement."
Across the metro, suburban communities are allowing — and in some cases encouraging — residents to grow produce in community spaces or their own yards. The trend appears poised to grow to more communities, proponents and city officials said.
Inver Grove Heights changed a city ordinance to allow "market gardens," where residents can grow and sell food or flowers. In Burnsville, a grant-funded city initiative called Grow Burnsville includes a market garden, a community garden where residents can rent a plot and a "food forest," where people can pick free fruit and veggies to take home. Falcon Heights now allows edible landscaping and Maplewood began permitting market gardens, front yard gardens and permaculture in 2018.
Hayley Ball, executive director of Urban Roots, a St. Paul-based nonprofit contracted to help implement the Grow Burnsville project, said she hasn't seen the food forest model elsewhere in Minnesota.
"It's really interesting that a suburb is leading the way," Ball said, adding that suburbs often have more stringent zoning ordinances.
The gardens build on other agriculturally oriented ordinances cities have passed in recent years, such as those allowing residents to keep bees or chickens.
Proponents say they teach people how to grow food themselves, are good for the environment and provide fresh, affordable produce to those who need it.
But getting a community to allow them can be challenging. In Falcon Heights, the details of an edible landscaping ordinance — which essentially allows front yard vegetable gardens — led to a contentious debate last year.
"It took a lot of effort to define all those things," said Mayor Randy Gustafson.
Gaetke persuaded Inver Grove Heights to permit market gardens on her own, she said.
When city staff told her no, she persisted, doing research and helping draft new ordinance language, she said. The ordinance took effect last week.
"We didn't have anything in the city code that allows for this," said Allan Hunting, Inver Grove Heights' city planner.
Hunting said residents worried about added traffic to homes while city officials had to weigh how gardening compared with other home-based occupations — some of which are allowed, some not.
Gaetke heard other concerns, including how the gardens would look in front yards.
"The manicured front yards seem to still be sacred in the suburbs," she said.
A survey, however, confirmed that a majority of respondents favored allowing market gardens.
Gaetke said she chose mushrooms for her own garden because they thrive in the shade and require little watering.
The gardens provide a small-business opportunity and curb suburbanites' reliance on just a few produce distribution centers, she said. Eventually, she said, suburban neighbors could get together, with each growing different things, and trade among themselves.
In Burnsville, residents are already joining forces around community gardens.
City officials in 2019 were updating the city's sustainability plan, which had a chapter on local food production, when the chance came to apply for a sustainability grant. They created the Grow Burnsville initiative, and in January learned they'd been awarded a $125,000 grant from the United States Conference of Mayors and the American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America.
The plan involves three projects. All are on city property, two of them near City Hall.
At the market garden, five interns and a garden manager tend to beans, zucchini and carrots, which will stock hungry kids' backpacks and be given to a local nonprofit. A community garden is located near multifamily housing where residents without backyards can rent a plot and grow what they want, said Sue Bast, the city's sustainability coordinator.
The food forest is a garden where visitors can harvest fruits and vegetables on their own. Forty kinds of produce grow there, including 14 types of fruit trees and plants like asparagus and strawberries. It requires little to no maintenance because it features perennials, which come back yearly.
"All three gardens are up and running," Bast said. "We've really moved it along at a very fast pace."
Bast said that the city will wrap up its growing season with harvest parties in September.
"I just can't say enough about how the community has come together," she said.