By Steve Razidlo
Superintendent District 181
Nearly three years ago members of the Brainerd Senior Center approached the school district with a request to use school district property to grow vegetables. Those involved in these discussions talked a lot about the value of connecting community members to gardening and to the idea of locally grown food.
I remember earlier discussions with Paul Bloom, Rudy Hillig, Senior Center Director DeAnn Berry, and others who envisioned the possibility of sharing school property with our community. In introducing me to Mr. Hillig, Paul Bloom, the district’s former director of community education, described Hillig as a visionary, a treasured community asset, and a horticultural genius.
In some of these first discussions, this group talked about the possibility of creating multiple garden plots. A small group walked the Franklin site with Rudy (many who remember Mr. Hillig will remember he wore his slippers everywhere). Our group met with Brainerd city officials and with Earl Wolleat, our district’s director of building and grounds. I believe Bonnie Cumberland, representing the Brainerd City Council, was also involved. Along the way, school personnel and members of the Brainerd Senior Center got to know one another.
The discussions led to rough drawings of a fenced, protected facility. Eventually, however, the slope of the Franklin site, the city’s need for a snow-removal site, and other challenges stalled further development of the community garden plot idea. Though the Franklin site idea did not materialize, the spirit of partnership and cooperation has led to valuable outcomes.
On July 9, representatives from the Brainerd Senior Center approached the Brainerd School Board to speak about this year’s Senior Center plant sale and to ask the school board to renew the agreement we have had in which the Senior Center is able to use the school district greenhouse from March through May. The greenhouse, located south of town at the site of the Brainerd High School Farm, is a fantastic facility built from the vision of Denise Reeser, our BHS agriculture instructor, who secured major grant funding for its construction many years ago. Unfortunately, it is used too little after we moved our agricultural classes back to the BHS main campus.
Darlene Painter and Kathy Tusa, members of the Brainerd Senior Center Board, told the school board the story about the annual plant sale. They spoke of the 2,002 volunteer hours, the 26 Senior Center volunteers who worked at the greenhouse, and the nearly 8,000 plants grown and sold as part of the Senior Center’s sale. Painter and Tusa spoke about the ownership and pride taken by the Senior Center members regarding the contribution the annual plant sale makes not only to the Senior Center but to our larger community. After their presentation, the Brainerd School Board approved a continuation of the agreement for the use of the greenhouse space.
I can’t help but believe the dreams and vision of Mr. Hillig and others had have taken root in this partnership today.
Steve Razidlo is the superintendent of Brainerd District 181 schools.