University Communications

It takes a garden

Nick Hainlin in community garden

Criminal Justice Studies internship intersects with community engagement

With a garden comes risk. The elements are a constant factor – pests, drought, and even human error.

There is also the potential of great reward

This summer, the St. Cloud Rotary Community Outpost (COP House) dug in and added a community garden as one of their many ways of connecting and engaging with the community.

“The south side of St. Cloud is a food desert where it is difficult to buy affordable and good quality food,” said Taylor Richmond, a St. Cloud Police Officer working in the Community Engagement Division. The idea of community garden was born while speaking with CentraCare employees, Hani Jacobson and Mahado Ali, who also work at the COP House.  

On a hot summer evening in early August, the garden is producing. A group of women pull up in a minivan and come in to pick a few items for their salads that evening. They are met with a few eager and curious children who learn what each plant is producing.

Though the kids were really there ice cream from the freezer inside, the adults in the garden took the opportunity to introduce them to the food growing within the garden. A green tomato was mistaken for a pumpkin by one young girl, but she quickly learned that is what ketchup is made of.

Nick Hainlin, a junior Criminal Justice major, was one of three COP House interns this summer. On day two of their internship, the garden task was charged to them. Within a week grass was cut out of the lawn and soil tilled.

With donated plants and seeds, Nick and the other interns started planting with the help of kids in the neighborhood. One intern was present each Monday evening throughout the summer for Gardening Club at the COP House.

“If you want anyone, but especially kids involved in any activity, you have to be willing to do it yourself,” Nick said.

It is this inset he practiced throughout the summer – inside the garden and out – at the COP House. A future peace officer for the state of Minnesota, he is solidifying a deep foundation in community policing. “You have to show you care about the community and the community will show it cares about you,” Nick said. “It’s a two-way street.”

The Community Engagement Division’s goal with the garden was to provide community members the opportunity to grow their own food and, perhaps, learn a new skill in the process. The garden is especially well received among its younger clients who have a desire to be helpful and whose curiosity cannot keep them out of the wood pallet fence surrounding the garden.

Audrey Hepburn once said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” The COP House has established the roots for many more years of community engagement with the surrounding community.