Volunteer Spotlight: Gabriel Pfeiffer

Capital View Park on the South (“high end”) of the High Bridge has been an open grassy area for years. Where did the idea come from to start a communal garden?

Our family had a lot of conversations during the pandemic about how we had taken community for granted before the lockdown. We wanted to find a way to build community and make a difference in our neighborhood.
Like many others, growing up I always wanted to do good. As me and my sisters all went off to college and then came back to isolate at home, we started talking about what doing good looks like for each of us. Is going to protests doing good? How about running for office? The garden idea grew out of personally answering the question “what does doing good look like.” 

We landed on food and community. Rather than a community garden where individuals have dedicated plots to maintain for their own use, we envisioned a truly communal garden where the food was available for anyone and everyone. We envisioned this as one part of a comprehensive food system for the West Side.

Then we started talking about where we could plant food and landed on the open park just down the street from us. We filled out a form from the city and answered a few questions and it all came together. City staff have been amazing and so supportive. We also reached out to our District Council, the West Side Community Organization who is our legal and fiscal sponsor and has helped us get the word out about the garden. 

How did the community respond?

They came out en masse to plant, water and weed. The garden would not exist without the dedicated and enthusiastic work of so many community members. All the plants were donated – many from the Minnesota Horticultural Society that puts out a weekly call about leftovers from growers. We would get the email and drive out to Roseville or Cottage Grove to pick up as many plants as we could fit. 

What’s growing in the garden now?

Peppers, tomatoes, herbs, broccoli, collards, cabbage, okra, eggplant, squash, pumpkins, watermelon, and amaranth. We will be cutting flowers soon so folks can put together bouquets. We built some large rebar structures that we want to fill in with beans.

What’s the future for the garden?

Right now there’s so much work at the height of growing season, but many are thinking long term. We’d really like to build out a model for this type of communal food project with documentation and good practices that we can extend to other lots around the city. As part of that, we are connecting with others doing similar work around the metro to share knowledge and experience. We are also identifying the barriers or dead stops in the process of working with the city and community and working to remove them so it becomes easier for other volunteers.

What do you get out of this project?

Being in that garden on Thursday nights really fills me up and makes me feel so good. It’s an engagement with community that I’ve never experienced. Thursday evenings are the big workday, so come join us!

Inspired? Fill out this volunteer interest form to help out at the Capitol View Park Communal Garden.

Photos: Gabe and Paul Pfeiffer; Capitol View Park Communal Garden, photo credit Saint Paul Parks Conservancy