In winter of 2018, on one of the coldest nights of the year, I struck up a conversation with a stranger at my favorite local bar. We got to talking about how the neighborhood is changing, with rents going up, and many low-income people like myself struggling to stay put. After awhile, I learned that he was the owner of a vacant lot on the street where I live.
Every day I passed this lot on my way to the bus stop or to work, and I often wondered what else a space like that could be or do for our community. It seemed like such a waste of space to have an empty lawn, which had to be mowed by someone regularly, and offered no amenities at all to the people or other living things around it.
As a renter of a small apartment, I had no yard of my own in which to grow food or to host neighbors for social activities. As the mother of two young children, I wanted them to have the experiences I had as a kid in the country, digging into the soil and growing something that could nourish them, while also getting to know the other life that shares this place.
When I met the owner of this vacant lot, and learned he did not live in our neighborhood, and had no immediate plans to build on the site, I asked him if he’d allow me and other neighbors to use the space to grow food and community. To my surprise, he agreed - and we drew up a simple lease on a bar napkin, that holds the space in public trust for $1 per year, until he’s ready to build.
Dirt Party is what emerged from that chance encounter. It is a wild-built community garden and gathering space located in northeast Minneapolis. It was created, and continues to be cared for, by a group of neighbors and friends who are getting to know one another in the process. It is an emergent, public, communally-imagined space that we create and tend together.
Our first growing season in 2018 was spent removing as much turf grass as we could by hand, and planting vegetables gathered from gardeners in the surrounding community. We also started to host neighborhood get-togethers in the space. We invited anyone who was curious to enjoy the space, to plant what they needed to plant, and to join us for gatherings and for work days. We did not section off individual plots, and instead kept things a little bit chaotic.
Soon, someone had build a pizza oven and fire ring with brick from his old chimney. Someone else planted sunflowers, and another person planted food for the local food shelf. The City of Minneapolis donated a mound of compost, and a girl who lived across the street said it looked like a dirt party… Which is how the space got it’s name.
In 2019 we will continue to expand the beds for growing, and will start to incorporate sculptural elements, new signage, and a small platform stage for performances by community residents. We share Dirt Party happenings from this Instagram account.