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Erik Burgess, Published March 13 2014

Community leaders issue challenge for 1 million square feet of gardens by 2015

FARGO – Community leaders planted seeds Thursday for a metro-wide challenge to have 1 million square feet of gardens by the end of the year.

City Commissioner Mike Williams, who helped kick off the challenge at a news conference at Baker Nursery in south Fargo, said that’s enough fresh fruit and vegetables to cover the Fargodome floor about 13 times.

“We’re going to blow this out of the water,” Williams said of the challenge.

The goal behind the challenge is to encourage healthy eating for children and adults and make Fargo, Moorhead, Dilworth and West Fargo the healthiest metro in the country, said Rory Beil, director of CassClay Alive, the Dakota Medical Foundation’s healthy eating and active living initiative.

Adults that grow gardens eat more fresh produce throughout the year, and the same applies for kids who grow up gardening, Beil said. Another goal of the challenge is to make healthy eating routine for young kids, he said.

“Our eating habits are largely based on convenience and habit, and if we’ve got apples growing in our backyard and we’ve got vegetables in our garden, it’s much more likely that it’s going to become a reality,” Beil said.

The metro had around 318,000 square feet of gardens in 2013, so those are already being counted toward the 1 million square foot goal, Beil said.

An additional 34,000 square feet have been logged this week, bringing the total up to 352,000 on Thursday afternoon.

People can register their gardens online or by picking up a “Gardens Alive!” card at participating local nurseries and garden stores, said Anita Marocco, the challenge coordinator.

Any size operation is counted – from a fully-fledged garden to a single apple tree, berry bush or pot of produce, she said.

“Even containers count. We’ll count your potted strawberries,” she said.

The website will also track food donations. Beil said he hopes the challenge will “overrun our food shelters with healthy food.”

The initiative was inspired by healthy eating challenges in other parts of the country, but Beil said they wanted the challenge for the Fargo-Moorhead area to be “a little more contagious.”

“You can drive down the street and you can see a garden. And that will live on year after year,” he said. “So we think it has the potential to create a little bit of a social movement.”

If the challenge is successful in the immediate metro area, Beil said it could expand into greater Cass and Clay counties.

To register a garden or track the community’s process, visit www.fmgardensalive.org, or call (701) 241-1367.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518