Giving Gardens: How Our Urban Center Is Vital

IMG_0322Russ Henry grew up with cows, chickens and hogs in Southern Illinois, and loved it. A childhood move to Dallas was a bit of culture shock, but his mother – no matter what environment they lived in – taught him that it was not only possible, but healthy, to keep your hands in the dirt.

As part of a family of camping enthusiasts, he learned about the natural world. He worked at a landscaping nursery as a teenager. As a young homeowner in Chaska, he joined with neighbors to contest development on a prime area of parkland. In his 20s, Henry focused his energies on restorative justice, neighborhood empowerment and safety, community garden development, and raising his son. In his 30s, he helped develop a new city compost ordinance, and has been working on city and statewide policies and laws to encourage ecosystem restoration approaches to land and food system management since.

In short, Russ “Rooster” Henry has become a rebel with a cause. A dirt politician with a spade.

Digging in the Dirt With Urban Farming

Russ HenryIn his earlier years, Henry was a gardening enthusiast who automatically used Miracle Grow and Round-Up. He was disappointed at how puny his garden looked. After seeing robust plants fed with compost, he dropped the use of all chemicals. He now creates his own brand of rich compost, experimenting with a University of St. Thomas team to test variables (like the use of beer mash) to jumpstart living systems.

Now a mayorally appointed co-chair, and founding member, of the HomeGrown Minneapolis citywide Food Council, Henry works to create sustainable landscaping for clients with his Giving Tree Gardens company. He recently helped convene an urban Chicken Summit. He collaborated on an effort to pass state legislation — a model for the country, a few short steps away from becoming law — to lighten restrictions on seed library sharing.

Currently one of Henry’s passions is to improve land-use access for a diverse audience of urban farmers. He is engaging with Hmong, Latinos, East Africans, Native Americans, North Minneapolis residents, and disabled neighbors to convert empty lots around the city into urban gardens.

The Pollinator Pledge

Four Tips to Sustainability at Home

For Minneapolis residents who don’t have the time or space to farm in their backyards, Henry has this advice:

  • Buy local organic food, which supports the farmers who are protecting everything from the pollinators we need to the microbial nutrients our diverse underground requires for healthy, sustainable food and water sheds. That means more shopping at local farmer’s markets (find list here).
  • When you plant this growing season, “plant bee and butterfly friendly plants to encourage a healthy ecosystem that protects our water, contributes to our food shelf, and sustains food system pollinators.” [Learn more about the pollinator pledge campaign here.]
  • No more Round-up! “We have no business spraying as much pesticide as we do, because we don’t know how it’s affecting the little critters we need. Some of the toxins stick around for many years, breaking down the environment. We need a safe and clean food shed and water shed. Stop using poisons willy-nilly!”
  • Less lawn, more garden. [More to come on why]

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