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.