Community Peace Gardens

Tranquility by the Freeway

A garden plot helps neighborhood residents stay healthy and build community ties.

In the late 1980s, an oasis of peace emerged from tragedy. A Korean mother, mourning the loss of her daughter, started gardening under a nearby freeway as a way to deal with her grief. More Koreans joined her, finding peace of mind and a connection to their homeland through gardening. Most lived in The Cedars apartment complex near I-94 and Cedar Avenue, or in nearby Riverside Plaza. Some had planted small gardens in front of the apartment buildings.

Eventually the Korean Service Center helped the gardeners establish a permanent plot, tucked under the freeway. Today, on land near Cedar Avenue, the Community Peace Gardens provide a haven in a busy city environment where cars and trucks speed by on the highway, high-rise apartments loom above and light rail cars glide along.

But these gardens are more than just a place to grow food and flowers. In the 1980s, older Koreans were brought to the Twin Cities by their adult children who had studied or taught at local universities, or by other relatives who were able to take advantage of family reunification immigration policies. Many of these elders came from rural backgrounds. Many have cited the importance of growing their own food, which keeps them connected to Korean culture and helps them maintain a healthy diet based on vegetables and herbs commonly used in Korean cuisine. The Gardens also give them an opportunity to be outside, get exercise and socialize - isolation is a problem faced by many older people in high-rise residential complexes.

In the Gardens you will find popular items such as peppers, greens, chives, green onions, garlic, and lettuce as well as vegetables and herbs specific to Korean tastes. Napa cabbage is used to make kimchi, a favorite Korean dish served with many pickled vegetables. The roots of toduk, a climbing herb with a bell-shaped flower, are used for energy; kochu, a hot pepper, is a favorite addition to many dishes.

In 2000, the Peace Gardens were threatened because they lay in the path of the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit line. The Korean community, neighborhood activists and local politicians fought back. The struggle to preserve the Gardens, which became a high-profile battle between the Minneapolis City Council and the Korean community, echoed earlier disputes over land and urban renewal in Cedar-Riverside. Today more than 40 gardeners use the Gardens at their current site on Cedar Avenue. Most are Korean elders but at least a quarter are other neighborhood residents. Initially known as the Korean Peace Garden, the name was recently changed to reflect a growing diversity of people using the site.

Images

Community Peace Gardens Sign, 2012

Community Peace Gardens Sign, 2012

The entrance to Community Peace Gardens on Cedar Avenue, near I-94 and Cedar High Apartments. The Gardens have provided Korean elders and neighborhood residents with a space for growing vegetables and making friendships since the 1990s. The original gardens were destroyed to make way for the Hiawatha Light Rail project in 2000. Community members and neighborhood organizations collaborated to create a permanent garden plot in the neighborhood. The new Gardens opened in 2005 and have been thriving ever since. Image courtesy of Korean Service Center View File Details Page

Finding a Permanent Home

Finding a Permanent Home

The Community Peace Gardens are a green oasis in an otherwise concrete jungle of streets, sidewalks, highways and high-rises. But urban gardening can face many challenges. In 2000, when a proposed light rail line threatened the existence of the Korean Peace Garden, an agreement was worked out among community and city organizations to find a new location. Local architects were called in; the City of Minneapolis allowed the use of a fire hydrant for watering; community groups and individuals provided fences, tools, benches, signs, and a blue gate at the Gardens' entrance on Cedar Avenue. The final space emerged in 2005. Although there have been some problems with violence and vandalism, most gardeners see the garden as more than just a physical space: it's a mental and spiritual oasis as well. Image courtesy of Korean Service Center View File Details Page

Original Gardeners, 1991

Original Gardeners, 1991

Korean elders began gardening near Cedar High Apartments in the early 1990s. Gardeners found green space wherever they could, including near and under I-94 and around the apartment buildings they lived in. In 1991, the Korean Service Center worked with gardeners to establish plots that were safer to access, though still wedged next to I-94. Image courtesy of Korean Service Center View File Details Page

Defending the Garden, 2000

Defending the Garden, 2000

In 2000, the development of the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit project threatened to displace the Korean Peace Garden (its original name). The transit project called for a maintenance and storage facility near Hiawatha Avenue, which would take up substantial green space near and under I-94, where Korean elders had been gardening for more than a decade. Korean community members, the Korean Service Center, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (which manages nearby Cedar High Apartments where many Korean elders live), neighborhood activists and local politicians rallied to support the gardeners. Eventually, through collaboration with multiple city, community and neighborhood organizations, a permanent garden was established on Cedar Avenue. Image courtesy of Korean Service Center View File Details Page

Toduk, 2005

Toduk, 2005

Toduk is a climbing herb plant with bell-shaped flowers and it is special for many Korean gardeners. It is commonly harvested for its roots, though many enjoy the beauty of the flowers. It takes three years for the roots to grow before they are edible. Toduk is usually eaten for medicinal purposes, for energy. "Many Koreans believe it is a superfood," said Kwangja Kwon, program coordinator at the Korean Service Center. The root's importance comes from an old Korean story, "There was once a father who was seriously ill. No medicine could cure him, so his daughter went out searching for toduk. Only those who have care and respect for their father can find this plant." Image courtesy of Korean Service Center | Source: Susan Davis Price, Growing Home: Stories of Ethnic Gardening (2000) View File Details Page

Ggaennip ("wild sesame") 2005

Ggaennip ("wild sesame") 2005

A Korean gardener stands in the midst of a grove of wild sesame plants, also known as Perilla, a member of the mint family. Wild sesame is a popular ingredient in many Korean dishes, and a bountiful item in the Community Peace Gardens. Fresh leaves are used as side dishes and can be marinated (often with red pepper), eaten raw in salads, or used as wraps. Seeds are dried and crushed for oil. Image courtesy of Korean Service Center View File Details Page

Harvesting Kochu (Goh-Choo), 2005

Harvesting Kochu (Goh-Choo), 2005

Bok Yong Kang, the original gardener of the Korean Peace Garden, dries out kochu (hot pepper) grown in the new garden near Cedar Avenue. Kochu is used in many Korean dishes and is a popular item grown in the Community Peace Gardens. Image courtesy of Korean Service Center View File Details Page

Harvest Festival, 2005

Harvest Festival, 2005

Each fall gardeners celebrate the harvest. In 2005 many Korean gardeners dressed in Korean clothes, enjoyed the sounds of Korean drums, and connected with other gardeners and supporters of the Gardens. During harvest time many Korean gardeners use mooh (white radish), bae-choo (Napa cabbage) and kochu (hot pepper) to make kimchi (kimchee), a spicy pickled salad that can be enjoyed all winter long. Image courtesy of Korean Service Center View File Details Page

Community Collaboration

Community Collaboration

Augsburg College is one of several organizations that help to support the Community Peace Gardens. Augsburg students help a Korean gardener with some heavy digging in the garden. Image courtesy of Korean Service Center View File Details Page

Korean Service Center, 2016

Korean Service Center, 2016

The Korean Service Center (KSC) is located in the basement of the Cedar High Apartments on Cedar Avenue and 7th Street South. Cedar High was built in the early 1960s to provide housing for seniors. Grace Lee, who had been offering ESL classes for Korean elders living in the building, organized the Center in 1989. With funding from Hennepin County more programs were added, including citizenship services and the Family Crisis Advocacy Program for victims of domestic violence. Today, the center offers a variety of programs and services for youth and families to address social, cultural and health needs. Image courtesy of Anduin (Andy) Wilhide View File Details Page

Street Address:

808 Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55404 [map]

Official Website:

Korean Service Center, http://www.koreanservicemn.org Community Peace Gardens, https://sites.google.com/site/commpeacegarden/home

Cite this Page:

Anduin (Andy) Wilhide, “Community Peace Gardens,” Augsburg Digi-Tours, accessed September 20, 2017, http://digitours.augsburg.edu/items/show/8.

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