Beds await spring preparation at the St. Clair Shores Community Garden, located behind the Civic Arena on Stephens Road.

Beds await spring preparation at the St. Clair Shores Community Garden, located behind the Civic Arena on Stephens Road.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

St. Clair Shores Community Garden values inclusion

By: Alyssa Ochss | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published April 20, 2024


ST. CLAIR SHORES — With roots planted by two previous Cool City Committee members, the St. Clair Shores Community Garden has been thriving over the last couple of years. Now, it is preparing for the new season.

Paul Bjorngaard, chair of the Community Garden Committee, said the St. Clair Shores Community Garden started around eight years ago and that this is its seventh planting season after it was built in the first year.

“And over those seven years, we’ve just kind of grown it, added more things and features and events and all that,” Bjorngaard said.

He added they started out with just one flower bed and the vegetable gardens. The committee members have been adding things over the years such as raised pumpkin beds and an English garden, and they plan to add a monarch butterfly way station.

“It’s specific native plants that monarchs eat during their migration,” Bjorngaard said.

Bjorngaard and Stephanie Kraus started the St. Clair Shores Community Garden. Both were originally members of the Cool City Committee. In an email, Bjorngaard stated he thinks the garden was originally Kraus’s idea.

“One of the missions of that committee was to add features to the city that competed with other cities to be able to bring people in,” Bjorngaard said. “So a community garden is a big draw for quite a few families and stuff like that. We decided that that would be a good addition to the city.”

From there, they started the garden and made it into its own committee. Bjorngaard is no longer a part of the Cool City Committee, and he has been the chair of the Community Garden Committee for a few years.

“We have our own committee, and all the committee members are absolutely wonderful. They’re all very involved, very knowledgeable,” Bjorngaard said.

Last year, they added a patio that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, with raised beds at standing height that are also wheelchair accessible.

“Inclusion is kind of, you know, a big part of our mission,” Bjorngaard said.

There are 20 rentals and 23 community garden beds. A $80 rental includes a 4-by-10-foot bed, compost added by the committee and a selection of vegetables, so the renters don’t have to buy their own plants if they don’t want to.

“But they can if they want to,” Bjorngaard said. “And a shed with all tools that they would need. So they really don’t need to own anything to be a renter at the garden. And there’s water on site also.”

Alex Graham, a Community Garden Committee member, said this year the garden has a couple of big focuses. One is increasing the number of events they have and also varying the type of events.

“Making sure that we have events for families but also some events for the adults in the community and places for people to gather,” Graham said.

She said the other goals are increasing volunteer participation and planting more native plants to help pollinators.

Over the winter, the beehives they had at the garden collapsed. Bjorngaard said their beekeeper attributes this to the instability of the hives due to the lack of food for the bees. One of the committee’s goals this year is to work with the city, businesses and residents to make sure there are enough native plants for the bees.

“So not necessarily in the garden, but it’s a goal of the garden,” Bjorngaard said. “So, one of our missions.”

Preparations are going well so far, Graham said.

Any type of plant is allowed in the garden. Graham said in the community beds a variety of standard vegetables, flowers and herbs are planted.

“We try and do things seasonally so we think about succession planning so we can switch tomatoes over to snow peas or whatever it is,” Graham said.

In the private beds people can plant whatever they want.

“The only thing I would say maybe is if it’s a known ultra-invasive plant maybe don’t bring that, but we don’t have any hard rules about what can’t be planted,” Graham said.

The season starts in late May but, Graham said, it depends on the weather when the season ends. Last year, because it was warm, programs still happened in October and plants still grew in November.

“But we start winding down for sure, like November, when it gets cold and stuff starts to die, I would say, but there’s no hard cut off,” Graham said.

Bjorngaard said it’s one of their beliefs that anyone at any skill level or financial status can be a part of the community garden.

“You don’t have to have money to be part of it,” Bjorngaard said. “You can volunteer and still be part of it. We have quite a few free events for families, kids.”

Bjorngaard said it’s exciting seeing the crops people yield at the end of the season.

“I think it’s really important that people just know how to grow their own food and grow it locally,” Bjorngaard said. “Just for environmental reasons, but also just health reasons.”

The community garden experiences high engagement from volunteers and at the events. However, they are still in need of volunteers for this season.

To volunteer for the St. Clair Shores Community Garden, email with your name and what you would like to help with.

This year, garden prep day starts at 9 a.m. on May 4 and planting day starts at 9 a.m. on May 18. Tools will be provided. Garden beds will be rented out before then and more information will be given on Facebook at

The garden is located at 20000 Stephens Road, behind the St. Clair Shores Civic Arena.