Jennifer Brooks
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Ripe red tomatoes, crunchy green beans, an entire rainbow of chard.

Grown on neighborhood land with neighborhood labor. Grown to give away.

It was harvest time in the greenest corner of northeast Minneapolis. Volunteers worked their way down the rows in the community garden, as they do every week, watering, weeding, filling box after box with ripe vegetables, herbs and fruit. In the space of a few hours, they collected 94 pounds of food for other families' tables.

"It's a cool gift to yourself and to others," said Hilary Hazzard, the garden's volunteer coordinator for the past seven years.

The Islamic Community Center of Minnesota donated the space for the garden. Sheridan neighborhood residents donated their labor. Local garden centers donated plants and seeds. The Dangerous Man Brewing Company manages the garden and rewards the gardeners with the occasional cold beverage on the house.

Into the boxes went all those ripe tomatoes, all those leafy greens. The day's harvest headed to Every Meal, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting childhood hunger that got its start in this neighborhood as the Sheridan Story.

Other volunteers will take the gifts from this garden — and a growing network of Grow and Give gardens across the Twin Cities — and tuck them into tote bags for children at the local Head Start to take home.

The nonprofit distributes shelf-stable foods to families throughout the summer. Fresh seasonal garden produce turns those donations into something special — add some fresh lettuce, crunchy cucumbers, a handful of herbs and suddenly a family has a fresh salad to go with the box of pasta and jar of sauce for tonight's dinner.

Every Wednesday, Every Meal delivers the Dangerous Man harvest to nearby Head Start programs and into the hands of curious little learners.

"They open their bags and just squeal in delight," said Lindsey Torkilsen, Every Meal's director of programs and volunteers. "They might not know what rainbow chard is, but they know the carrots and tomatoes and it matches the books they've been reading about these things."

Each garden delivery is bursting with new colors, flavors and smells. Gifts from friends they've never met.

The children open their bags "and smell the basil and mint," Torkilsen said. "You're opening these substantial bags, and wondering, 'What can we make with this?' Let's get creative! You can see the sparks of ideas — what do I do with this? How do I eat this?"

Twin Cities gardeners have donated 2,300 pounds of produce to Every Meal so far this year. Donations come in from the Dangerous Man garden; the Surly Brewing Company's gardeners; churches; farmers markets; a big community garden at Every Meal's headquarters off Hwy. 88; and produce dropped off by home gardeners who grew enough to share.

Somewhere in Minneapolis right now, someone is tending a garden, nursing a green sprout that's going to grow into the most amazing carrot some little kid has ever seen. They're doing it just to be nice. Just to be neighborly. Just because doing something for others is better than doing nothing.

"I think it just feels really great to be able to do this for folks," said volunteer Mark Snyder, who spends a few hours, twice a week, in the peace of the community garden, in the company of his neighbors. "From working with Every Meal, we know the need exists and it's a way to do a little bit to help out with it."

Last year, Grow and Give gardeners donated 6,888 pounds of fresh produce to Every Meal. If that sounds like fun, visit to find out how to donate or volunteer. The gardens could always use more gardeners.

"Come out and volunteer, if you're feeling inspired," said Hazzard, who sometimes brings her own toddler to the community garden to learn just how much better tomatoes taste when you grow them yourself. "I think everyone should give gardening a try. You learn something when you grow something yourself."