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Micronesian community in Milan, Minn., setting its sights on shared garden

Janet Emmis, right, holds a breadfruit after unpacking a shipment recently acquired from the Twin Cities. The breadfruit will be served as part of a community potluck Saturday to celebrate spring and announce plans by the Anach Cooperative for a community garden. Also pictured are Noah Ryan, left, and A.S. John. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

MILAN — If they could, half the residents of Milan would be growing tropical foods like taro, pandanus, breadfruit, or bananas and coconuts.

These are the foods they grew up with and know so well.

Since they cannot, they will be raising foods that the other half of Milan knows so well, like potatoes, beans and cucumbers.

It is fast-approaching spring planting time, and the Micronesian community in Milan is planning its first community garden venture. It’s part of the newly launched Anach Cooperative organized by the Micronesian residents of the Chippewa County community.

For the first year of this venture, the community members are looking mainly to raise foods they can use in their own homes, according to Bob Ryan, of Bird Island.

He originally proposed the idea of the cooperative and is working on the project with funding from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

The cooperative’s goals are two-fold, according to Ryan. The first is to put healthy, fresh foods on the tables of the Micronesian residents. The second is to generate revenues for the community. The growers hope to eventually raise enough to sell fresh vegetables and process others into sauces and pickles for sale.  

The Anach Cooperative has been hosting weekend classes to acquaint the Micronesian residents with the vegetables and gardening practices they will be employing.

They have also raised — and processed — their first flock of chickens meant for the kitchen table.

The chickens and a recent special shipment of breadfruit will be served this Saturday at a celebration of spring the Anach Cooperative is hosting for all Milan residents. The potluck event is also an opportunity to hear about the plans for the Anach Cooperative garden, said Ryan.

Members of the cooperative are converting a 2½-acre site on the town’s north side into a permaculture-style garden. Raised rows of earth will sprout vegetables suitable for the western Minnesota climate, such as carrots and beans. The early plans also include introducing foods such as sweet potatoes, since they are similar to a Japanese yam the island residents know from home.

The garden will also feature a mix of perennial plants, such as hazelnut bushes and other nut- and fruit- bearing plants.

The cooperative also has a chicken coop that will soon be stocked with a new flock of 300 chickens.

Family members will be dividing up the work assignments for gardening, according to Janet Emmis, a coordinator for the cooperative. The cooperative members will also be assisted by local food growers from the Milan area. Ryan said he hopes that in the future, the cooperative can become part of the growing local foods network in the region.

Milan, population 369, is home to 185 Micronesians. All are from a one-square mile island known as Romonum in the State of Chuuk. It’s one of four states comprising the Federated States of Micronesia.

The island nation is a U.S. protectorate. A compact between the U.S. and Micronesia allows the Micronesians to work and stay in the U.S.

Erik Thompson, a Milan native and current president of the Prairie Sun Bank, served with the Peace Corps in Micronesia in the early 1980s. Thanks to the connection, Milan has been home to Chuuk families from the island of Romonum. Most are working in the area’s food processing industries. The Chuuk people made the move to Milan due to the opportunity for employment and to provide their children with good educations.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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