Fire station cuisine, particularly chili, enjoys a reputation for being hearty and delicious. But, Minneapolis' firefighters include a healthy option in their diets by growing their own vegetables, a long-standing tradition that has recently been rejuvenated by a new city program.

The city's fire stations have had gardens since the first station in the city was built in 1859, says Fire Capt. Colleen Mullens. Some stations do not have the land for a typical garden, so the firefighters have found creative ways to grow vegetables. One station put together a green roof, and others use potted plants. "We take pride in our gardens. [The fire station is] our home for a third of our lives, and [the garden] is just like being at home," Mullens says. "Ninety percent of fire stations are doing this."

Most firefighters do not have access to a farmer's market near their stations to be able to purchase fresh vegetables for station meals, so the gardens fill that need. "[The vegetables] taste better than the store," Mullens says. "It's always nice to have a fresh tomato on a sandwich."

In 2009, the firefighters' gardens got a boost when the city installed raised gardening beds made of recycled materials at 11 stations as part of its Homegrown Minneapolis program. Homegrown Minneapolis is a city initiative begun in 2008 to help grow, sell, distribute and encourage residents to eat more healthy, locally grown foods within the city and the surrounding region, says Program Coordinator June Mathiowetz. "The city [also] provides soil and woodchips for the firefighters' gardens," Mathiowetz says.

Some of the firefighters are members of the community gardens that Homegrown Minneapolis oversees on vacant lots around the city, Mathiowetz says. The community garden program began last year with 18 plots and has since increased to 100 gardens throughout the city. Groups can lease plots for one, three or five years, depending on how much gardening experience the group has.

Mathiowetz says the Homegrown Minneapolis program does not yet have a system to keep track of how much food is produced each year, but it is fulfilling a public need. "We found city property that wasn't being used, [and] we found a great urging for using the land for food," she says. "Community gardens promote access to good nutrition, improve the ecological footprint of the city, encourage active and healthy living and provide spaces for human interaction, food production and beauty in our daily lives."

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