A squashy celebration

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Squash bread, squash casserole, squash dessert, squash pasta, and more squash -- who knew squash could be such a versatile veggie? Those who attended the Duluth Community Garden Program's Vegetable of the Year Potluck/ Harvest Dinner now know of new ways to serve a squash dish with every meal.

The dinner was held at The Holy Family Church the evening of Thursday, Oct. 24. At the end of every harvest season, the Duluth Community Garden Program celebrates Food Day and the growing season by putting on a free Harvest Dinner and Vegetable of the Year Potluck for themselves and the community. This year, the program decided to combine the two dinners into one big gathering.

“The garden year is over, and bringing everyone together to eat good food is a great way to end the season,” said Pat Farrell, board member of the Duluth Community Garden Program. “People bring stuff they make with produce from their own gardens, and I tell you, they can grow food and cook.”

This shows how good the food was

At the dinner, everyone brought a squash dish, this year’s vegetable of the year, along with the recipe to share. Michael Gabler, member of One Vegetable, One Community and the Hillside Community Orchard, gave a presentation about what the garden club has accomplished this year. At the end of the evening, he hosted the pitching and voting for next year’s vegetable of the year.

“The goal of having a vegetable of the year is to unite the community by growing and preparing a single vegetable throughout the year,” Gabler said. “We can share stories, recipes, growing tips, enthusiasm, and inspire new ideas for building a better food system.”

The Harvest Dinner has been going on for quite some time now, but this is only the third year of the Vegetable of the Year Potluck. The previous vegetables of the year were kale and beets. The local growers and program members at the potluck nominate options for the chosen vegetable. It is then voted for via a poll on their Facebook page until the end of the year. The vegetable is announced at the start of the next year.

The nomination process works like this: For the last half hour of the potluck, the microphone is handed around to whoever wants to pitch a vegetable for the next year. They have 30 seconds to argue why their vegetable should win. The nominees for next year’s vegetable of the year are parsnips, garlic, carrots, rutabaga, sorrel, borage, kale (again), and beans. Here is a clip of Farrell’s pitch for parsnips.

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There are certain criteria for the vegetable: It has to be nutritious, easy to grow, distributable seeds, and have a really long harvest season. The seeds have to be easy to distribute because the program gives seeds to the community. This year they distributed 6,000 squash seed packets; 4,500 packets to schools and 1,500 packets to the Duluth Public Library.

The Duluth Community Garden Program has been around for 30 years now and is going on strong with 209 plots around Duluth for people to grow food.

“We have really grown in the last two years, with an overwhelming surge of people wanting to learn about gardening and reconnect with their food and the food movement,” said Jahn Hibbs, the program coordinator. “We outreach to the community with the variety of classes we offer and food literacy on the street.”

Some of the biggest highlights of this year were the designing of the new Emerald Garden in Lincoln Park along with their own farmer’s market, implementation of five new public school gardens, and the overall increase of volunteers, classes, and local access to fresh produce.

“We are pursuing our dream of having more urban and rural gardeners,” said Gabler. “Our hope is adding a new vegetable to our repertoire each year allowing more ways to eat from our own gardens.”

The program’s future goals are to perhaps include the public schools in this end-of-the-year celebration of Food Day and the growing season since they are becoming more active in the local garden movements, making it an even more community wide event. In the winter time, they will be hustling to get ready for next year, evaluating working on ways to improve and expand the program.

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