Rochester (Minn.) Community and Technical College is home to a community garden that, in my opinion, is definitely worth a visit. In 2002, the school’s horticulture program developed the SMART-Garden as a hands-on, living laboratory for students. It has grown into a place of restoration and relaxation for many — an idea that’s reflected in the name of the garden.
S stand for sustainableM stands for medicinalA stands for artisticR stands for resourcefulT stands for therapeutic
”I appreciate the restorative value of green spaces,” says Robin Fruh-Dagstad, an RCTC horticulture science instructor. “I love being outside in my own garden. But even when I’m out there with students, I find that it’s therapeutic to be outside of the classroom.”
Fruh-Dagstad, who directed RCTC’s horticulture program, guided the students as they developed, created and maintained the garden. She says what was once just a patch of weeds is now a nearly three-acre oasis, which includes a pollinator garden, meditative labyrinth, pergola, native prairie, rose garden, raised vegetable beds, 59 species of trees and a fish pond that’s home to a waterfall and resident painted turtle .
”The garden is close to Olmsted Medical Center and patients and their families visit the garden all the time,” says Frug-Dagstad. “People in the neighborhood do too. One woman told me spending time in the garden helped her cope with a divorce.”
But the SMART garden is facing a bit of a challenge. Fruh-Dagstad says that in 2020, the the horticulture program was suspended, which means the garden lost its funding. Several individuals and community organizations, including the Olmsted County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, the Rochester Flower and Garden Club and Shades of Green Hosta Society, have stepped up to help with upkeep and maintenance. Fruh-Dagstad adds that a volunteer board is working to develop a budget and funding plan in order to support the SMART-Garden’s existence in the future.
”It is such an asset to the community,” says Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick, OCEMGV vice-chair. “Its close location to OMC makes it ideal for meditation and healing. And it’s the closet thing we have to a botanical garden.”
Jane Barton, an OCEMGV past chair, also believes the SMART-Garden is a huge asset to all people of the community. For her, the space has been a place of calm and restoration.
”Peace lies within these walkways,” says Barton.
The SMART-Garden always needs volunteers and support. And there’s no gardening experience necessary! Fruh-Dagstad says if you want to help out, they will pair you with an experienced gardener and you can learn as you go.
Contact the Rochester Community and Technical College Foundation for more info on how to get involved.
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