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Above and Beyond: Jack Wood and Growing Together bring new Americans, longtime Fargoans together over food

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Growing Together volunteers sort through garden vegetables. Forum News Service2 / 2

Editor's Note: This is the first installment for Above and Beyond, a regular video series that will look at people making a difference in their communities. If you know of someone who would make for a great story, email Austin Howard at ahoward@forumcomm.com.

FARGO—Fargo resident Jack Wood helped start Growing Together Community Gardens in 2006. The group started in a small garden with eight families who grew up in Fargo as well as new Americans. Growing Together now features six gardens with 150 families.

"The original goal of Growing Together was to connect with new American families and find them a place to belong," Wood said.

"Now it's sort of evolved into helping the community to understand the new American families too. A lot of them have made good friends with the new Americans."

These new Americans come from places like Buton, Iraq, Rwanda and Liberia.

Wood says the two different benefits the community can get from the program is both natural and communal.

"It's a health benefit," he said. "Just eating healthy foods is a big thing, but also getting out into the sunshine. Especially with our new Americans. They watch the news a lot and all they're seeing is strife in the world when I think getting out there helps them get back into reality."

Wood sees the beauty in evolution in nature and where humans can make a connection to it.

"Seeing a plant that's a foot high one week, and then the next week it's a foot and a half with fruit on it, it's a whole evolution of planting," he said.

Wood doesn't want people to think it's easy to get the vegetables in these locations. Those who get the vegetables from the garden work for it.

"Residents of Fargo may think we are basically enabling new Americans where this is actually empowering them. They are working for their food," he said. "You have to work like 16 hours, so you have to put that sweat equity in. As they work, they become invested in the garden and they make friends."

On a good day, volunteers can bring home 20-25 pounds of a variety of food, including eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, beets, carrots, swiss chard and onions.

The food that doesn't go home with the volunteers is donated to Dorothy Day, the New Life Center or the Food Emergency Pantry.

While strong faith was key when first starting Growing Together, it was always about openness and inclusion.

"Originally faith was the backbone of the organization," Wood said. "As we've grown we have many many faiths, so we have buddhist, hindu, and different religions. I don't think we try to force faith down anybody's throat and I think they see the way we serve people as our faith."

Growing Together has regular community gardening sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 5 p.m. More information can be found on their Facebook page.