Gitigaan Garden at Bemidji State Grows Community and Sustainable Horticulture

BSU's Gitigaan Garden

BSU's Gitigaan Garden

As a leader in Minnesota’s indigenous studies and Ojibwe language programs, and with a commitment to environmental stewardship, Bemidji State University remains firmly invested in its on-campus “Gitigaan,” or “garden” in Ojibwe.

The garden, established by the BSU Sustainability Office in 2011, offers students and the Bemidji community an opportunity to grow their own food on one of 28 rented parcels. Located on the corner of Birch Lane and 16th Street in Bemidji, the lot was formerly home to a residential house but converted to a community garden after spending a short time as a public playground.

Renters tend to their plots and are asked to adhere to organic growing practices, meaning that no pesticides, herbicides or artificial inputs are used.

“The garden filled particularly quickly this season, and all 28 plots are currently being tended,” Jordan Lutz, BSU’s sustainability project manager, said. “We encourage folks to walk around the garden for inspiration as many different and unique growing styles and strategies are on display.”

In 2011, a group of Bemidji State University students enrolled in a People of the Environment course, dedicated to exploring the relationship between humans and the world around them, helped clear the site and construct a tall enclosure for the plots using cedar fence posts. At the completion of the build, edible native plants were planted around the garden and compost bins were constructed on-site. Later, a rain barrel was installed at the John Glas Scholars house next door for regular water access, a rock garden was assembled with various perennials and plum trees were planted nearby.

In 2019, an art piece completed by the Red Lake Nation’s Oshkiimaajitahdah women welders group at BSU’s annual Arts of the Earth Festival was donated and placed in the Gitigaan rock garden.

Every spring, staff and student workers in the sustainability office prepare each 11×12 foot plots by adding organic soil and laying mulch. They also tend to the perimeter of the garden where there are several native and edible plants available free for the community. This year, the perimeter is planted with strawberries, rhubarb and peas, Beltrami County’s vegetable of 2020.

BSU alumna Anna Haynes ’20, a former student worker in the BSU Sustainability Office and current garden tenant, finds herself seeking inspiration from her fellow garden members. This year, she is growing numerous things in her plot, including carrots, bell peppers, corn, watermelon and flowers.

“This is only the second year I’ve ever had a garden so I’m still figuring things out as I go,” Haynes said. “It’s a lot of fun to see different gardening styles and try out new techniques to see what works for me. Everything is always a work in progress.”

Originally from Albany, Minnesota, Haynes graduated with a degree in mass communications and a minor in indigenous sustainability studies with a writing emphasis.

The garden is open to students, faculty, staff and community members on a first-come, first-served basis. The rental fee is $5 for students and $10 for community members. There is also a $5 weeding deposit.

  • Jordan Lutz, sustainability project manager; (218) 755-2979,
  • Erika Bailey-Johnson, sustainability director; (218) 755-2560,