On any given summer day, you’ll find gardeners working tirelessly to plant, weed, and harvest a variety of vegetables and plants at the Woodbury Church of Christ (WCOC) community garden. The community garden is in its ninth year, and has recently brought together a community of immigrants primarily from West Africa who are eager to grow the familiar foods of their home countries.
When applications opened for the 2023 growing season, nearly 60 people applied to rent the 26 available garden plots. Demand was high among West and East African residents who were interested in not only growing culturally important foods, but also drawn to an activity that would bring the community together, reducing stress and isolation. Many others shared that gardening helped them feel a connection to their homeland and childhood memories.
Much of the success was due to the leadership of Eric Ini, Cameroon native and owner of Influencer Hotspot, an organization that works with government institutions to bridge the cultural gap between counties and migrant communities. Eric worked in partnership with WCOC staff to connect interested residents with garden plots that WCOC made available. Eric also partnered with Washington County Public Health & Environment to purchase culturally appropriate farming tools and a portable storage shed with funding through the Minnesota Department of State Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP). The county also donated and delivered finished Seven Generations Compost to the site, a nutrient-rich product made from mixing food scraps with yard waste at the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Organics Recycling Facility.
Walking through the thriving community garden, you’ll find crops of njama njama (pronounced “jahma-jahma”)—commonly known in English as garden huckleberry. Njama njama is grown for its nutrient-dense leaves and is a staple food in Cameroon and other West African countries. Other popular crops include corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, legumes, and mint.
Given the interest in community gardening, Eric is exploring other opportunities to partner with organizations on land access to increase the availability of community garden plots in Washington County.
With SHIP funding, Washington County Public Health & Environment was able to provide additional support to the West African community by purchasing equipment for a volunteer-led youth tennis program for migrant children. Approximately 40 youth participated in the program in 2023, providing a great opportunity for kids in the community to be active and have fun!
Together, we are working to advance health equity and are thankful to our community partners who are helping lead the way.