A long-time voice in the climate movement who has dedicated years of work to local groups like MN350, Kate Jacobson joined Gandhi Mahal this spring as our Garden Coordinator. What does this kind of work look like? What new projects are cooking this year? We met her in the garden to find out!
If you’ve taken a tour of our basement aquaponics lately or visited one of our numerous neighborhood farm plots, you might be thinking this restaurant must have done some serious scheming years ago. Yet, everything you see today was in fact the product of a slow, organic process of discovery. Well, perhaps slow is not the word! Since opening its doors in 2008, Gandhi Mahal has been eager to jump on opportunities as they’ve come, and thanks to the generous support of the community, those opportunities have led to outcomes that were all but unimaginable in the early days. Let’s take a look back in time to see how we’ve landed where we are today.
2008: Urban farming has been central to Gandhi Mahal’s vision since the very beginning. In its very first year of operation, the restaurant began growing its own produce at the Minnehaha Avenue Community Garden. The same year, Ruhel planted a second garden in his front yard.
2009: In an effort toward becoming a zero-waste operation, Gandhi Mahal began recycling its cooking oilto produce biodiesel. Considering the headache usually involved in grease disposal, it’s another practice that not only takes pressure off the environment, but off the staff as well!
2010: This year marked the restaurant’s first venture into year-round farming (a breeze in balmy Bangladesh; not such a breeze in the sub-zero Minnesota winter). When a neighboring business closed its doors in 2010, Gandhi Mahal expanded into its space and planted its first indoor garden in what is now the Community Room.
2012: In January 2012, a group of HECUA students visited Bangladesh to learn about sustainable community development. The group, led by professor Julia Nerbonne, met up
with Ruhel in his home village of Sreemangal and conversations began. What could we do back home to put education to action? The plan was to pilot a farm-to-restaurant yard-sharing program. That very summer, ground broke on a plot just blocks away from Gandhi Mahal, and over 2,000 pounds of produce made their way down the street and into the kitchen.
2013: By just the second year of Gandhi Mahal’s yard sharing program, there were already twelve backyard garden plots. Together, they supplied 10,000 pounds of produce to the restaurant!
2014: Last year, Gandhi Mahal finished construction on what is the first closed-loop aquaponics system ever installed in a Minnesota restaurant.
Since the ribbon-cutting this past March, both tilapia and guided tours are swarming in the storage-room-turned-jungle downstairs. Interested in learning more? Tickets are still available for the 2015 Aquaponics Symposiumat the University of Minnesota, where Ruhel and Zach Robinson of Spark-Y will speak on an industry panel discussion.
2015: This summer, don’t forget to keep your eyes up as you walk in the front door. We’re getting honeybees on the roof!