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Too much dog 'doo' closes Fargo's public garden

FARGO — Organizers are shutting down a Fargo community garden for the year after finding out that some people were letting their dogs “fertilize” the soil over the winter.

There is a pervasive and false myth that doggie doo —which can be parasitic — is a viable plant fertilizer, said Cheryl Stetz, a community health educator with Fargo Cass Public Health.

“Most people think they’re doing people a favor and letting their animals fertilize, but actually it’s very dangerous,” she said. “People need to see it as a serious problem. It is a public health risk.”

That’s why the volunteers who run Cooper Community Gardens, off Fourth Avenue North and 12th Street, are doing their duty to get it cleaned up with hopes to be able to harvest again next year.

The community garden probably looked no different than an empty lot under cover of snow this past winter, Stetz said.

But Kay Schwarzwalter, the garden’s volunteer coordinator, said even though there were no signs or fencing, it should have been clear that it is a garden because it had crops in it all last season, the garden’s inaugural year.

Residents grew potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, sweet corn, squash, beets, zucchini and cabbage there last year, she said.

“That’s kind of the frustrating part, is that it had been a garden before,” Schwarzwalter said. “So, there’s an educational campaign involved with this, too. A lot of people just don’t know how toxic dog feces is.”

Roundworm is the biggest threat from dog feces, Schwarzwalter said. Signs are now posted at the garden warning: “Dog doo is NOT fertilizer – it is toxic.”

No edible crops can be grown in the garden this season. Instead, organizers will work on planting nitrogen-based cover crop that will help clean the soil, Schwarzwalter said.

She said she consulted with extension specialists at the University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University after discovering the garden had been used as a doggie dump over the winter.

The garden has 20 plots that each measure 10 by 15 feet, Schwarzwalter said. A house used to sit on the city-owned land, but after it was demolished, the city designated it as a community garden, she said.

Two plots were donated to the food pantry last year, providing 48 pounds of potatoes, Schwarzwalter said.

Greg Diehl, the food pantry’s administrator, said they receive donated produce from a variety of gardens across the city, but he was still “saddened” that the Cooper garden will be inactive this year.

The pantry even set up a rainwater retention system, which collects rain from the building’s gutters into six large barrels. It was installed last fall to help water the garden this season, Diehl said.

“So, we’ll just have to wait another year,” he said.

Rebuilding year’

Two other plots were given last year to the nearby Cooper House – an apartment complex for the chronically homeless – where residents enjoyed the fresh peppers, Schwarzwalter said. Another plot was given to the Salvation Army. Twelve other plots were rented by residents last season.

The garden coordinators will still be able to set up a butterfly garden there this year and will also work on securing grant funding for fencing and more signage.

Schwarzwalter said she also hopes to do some kind of education campaign about community gardens and pets this year.

“It’s going to be a rebuilding year,” she said. “So, we’re just going to come back stronger than ever next year.”

There are at least 12 community gardens in Fargo, according to the city’s website. Many are coordinated by church or neighborhood groups, and they are promoted through the public health office, Stetz said.

Erik Burgess
Erik Burgess covers city and county government for The Forum. He started as the paper's night reporter in 2012, after graduating from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. He was born and raised in Grand Forks, N.D., and also spent time interning at the Grand Forks Herald.  Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to
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