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Transforming land, nurturing community: Living Earth Center

Entrance to gardens as Living Earth Center in Mankato, Minnesota

In 2021, the Living Earth Center, a sponsored ministry of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND), took over the management of the Blue Earth County Farm in partnership with Blue Earth County in Minnesota. The Blue Earth County Farm consisted of an acre-and-a-half plot of land, which the Living Earth Center turned into a community growing space. This partnership with Blue Earth County has allowed the Living Earth Center to expand its Produce Donation Program, where they grow food to be donated to local partners like ECHO Foodshelf and Feeding our Community Partners. “Our farm manager runs the community farm, which is all volunteer,” said Laura. “It's planted by volunteers. It's harvested and weeded by volunteers. Then once it's harvested, we donate it to local food shelves in the area.”

The Blue Earth County Farm has also provided space to begin the Emerging Growers Program, where the Living Earth Center partners with community members who have expressed concerns about being unable to access culturally significant foods and/or being unable to grow larger amounts of produce. Mostly, because they do not have access to the land they need to do so. “With the emerging grower’s program, we're able to provide a little bit bigger of a space. Bigger than what we would have at the community garden,” said Laura. “Therefore, they're able to grow food that they would eventually be able to sell or contribute to the local food economy. This is important because most of the growers there are from East Africa. They are growing crops that we normally would not be able to find within our local food economy at all. If we wanted to access some of those crops, we would have to drive up to the Twin Cities. So, this is a food justice issue. If we have pathways for people, not only to be able to have access to land, but also to be able to grow food that is inherent to cultural tradition, then we are opening a lot of doors that are not only economically driven, which I think is also very incredibly important.”

In 2023, the Living Earth Center expanded by opening up a community garden site at the Homestead Apartment complex, which is not far from Minnesota State University’s Mankato campus. “It's a site that has a fairly large population of low-income housing residents,” said Laura. “The Living Earth Center wanted a way in which we could make sure that people could have access to land and healthy food in that location."

Our Lady of Good Counsel Hill - Barn located within gardens

The Living Earth Center will continue its work at the former Our Lady of Good Counsel campus in Mankato, for the next three years. The Living Earth Center is busy planning and fundraising for its future. The Living Earth Center’s vision is to address food insecurity, land access and community building through a semi-urban and rural approach. Therefore, finding new in-town locations for their community gardens to ensure ease of access for gardeners inside the city limits would be the semi-urban approach. The rural approach consists of finding the future Living Earth Center Rural Campus, which would be a larger (10+ acres) incubator agriculture space of land. The location would include aspects of community-supported agriculture, the Produce Donation Program, education, and community building. Following an incubator model, the new Living Earth Center Rural Campus would provide emerging or small growers exclusive and affordable access to parcels of land, training, and support with the goal of introducing them or providing access points to the local food economy. Additionally, the space will encompass aspects of community art, music, educational workshops, and interactive events. The Campus will be a community-wide engaging space, open to other nonprofits and organizations to utilize.

By bringing this vision of a future Living Earth Center Rural Campus to reality, the Living Earth Center will continue to fill food insecurity gaps, create economic opportunity, build a diverse and healthy community, and promote sustainable environmental and social practices that bolster long-term health in the region. Since the Living Earth Center is also dedicated to land conservation, they would also like their future home to have a space for prairie restoration or a similar project of that nature.

“The Living Earth Center is like a good weed," said Laura. "One that has grown and gotten our roots into a lot of different spots with the whole idea being that we want to provide community growing spaces in the literal sense, being able to grow healthy, fresh produce, but also being able to cultivate that community aspect. I think those spaces are incredibly important to building thriving communities. That’s how we see the Living Earth Center as moving forward and carrying on the legacy of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.”


Learn more about Living Earth Center and SSND commitment to the land.


Want to learn more?


School Sisters of Notre Dame

320 East Ripa Avenue

St. Louis, MO 63125

Phone: 314-561-4100



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