The Tiny Diner Permaculture Garden: A Sustainable Urban Oasis In Minneapolis

“We will continue to create a new world – seed by seed, person by person, community by community – until this planet is embraced in a circle of resurgent life and resurgent love”  ~ Vandana Shiva (Indian Scholar, Environmental Activist, Food Sovereignty Advocate)

The permaculture garden project at the Tiny Diner is 6 years old.  From the vast array of edible plants, to rain water re-use, to the pollinator gardens and solar panels, the Tiny Diner garden is the quintessential example of the concept of resurgent life.  The meaning of resurgent is “to rise again” and every season the Tiny Diner garden does so with fervor.  It is used to generate energy, nourish customers, share knowledge and build community in the most eco-friendly and sustainable ways possible.

This urban permaculture garden was Kim Bartmann’s vision. Kim is a chef & restaurateur, a positive change agent and a sustainability leader in every sense of the word.  She is a two time James Beard Award semi-finalist and self described “instigator”. She has made significant and inspiring contributions in all areas of sustainablity within the restaurant industry and in the communities that her businesses are located in.  There are 9 restaurants in the Bartmann Group portfolio and all of them have sustainable measures built into their day to day operations.  The Tiny Diner is an amazing representation of the abundant returns that are possible in a small, urban garden space.

Permaculture is a whole system design.  It not only focuses on the food that is produced, but also the importance of soil health and the incorporation of native plants.  In addition, it is a meaningful place of habitat creation for pollinators, birds, squirrels etc…  It is the combination of the words “permanent and agriculture”  This term was created by two Australian men, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in the 1970’s.

“It is an agricultural philosophy that allows us to use the resources that we have around us to their fullest potential.  By observing and learning from our environment, such as how does nature replenish its soil, how does nature protect and conserve its water resources, how has nature adapted to the specific climate of an area, etc…we can learn how to imitate these natural processes in our daily living.  The more closely that we can work with nature, the more likely we are to establish a balance which will provide us with the things that we need without hurting the environment”  ~

“The Tiny Diner showcases Biointensive farming methods and efficient water use strategies through its edible gardens and rain water catchments systems. In partnership with the Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate and Master Water Stewards of the Freshwater Society and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, visitors can see and read about small-scale installations like an edible perennial garden and rain water catchment techniques.  From its hardscape to its landscape, this Diner was designed to provide a renovated example of whole system design: low impact, educational, and tangibly tasty”  ~ The Tiny Diner Website

Last week Michele Phillips (of the fabulous Baconfatte Blog) and I had the pleasure of touring the permaculture garden at the Tiny Diner with Andrea Eger, Program Coordinator and Farmers’ Market Manager at the restaurant.

Tiny but Mighty…this permaculture garden showcases how the maximum number of plants/trees can be grown in small spaces.  One of the techniques is to train them to grow vertically.  Edible landscape plants are numerous and one single wall includes apple and pear trees, service berries, sunchokes, stone pines, asparagus, grapes, hops and hazelnuts all growing within a 30 foot area! (see the images above).

Dragon Tongue Bean
IMG_5455 (1)
Borridge is an edible flower

Some of the vegetables that are grown for the restaurant include carrots, beans, peppers and Japanese climbing cucumbers, as well as other heirloom items. They also grow a whole host of edible flowers and herbs for use in their dishes including basil, parsley, cilantro, nasturtium etc…  They have an abundance of garlic/garlic scapes (the flower bud of the garlic plant, it is typically removed in late June to allow more energy to feed the bulb).  Examples of use: The garlic from the garden is used to flavor the roasted garlic aioli that tops the delicious bad breath burger and the cilantro is incorporated into the Huevos Rancheros (see images at the bottom).

The use of native plants is an important factor in permaculture design because they do well in our soil types and are more resilient to our climate.  The garden at Tiny Diner consists mostly of perennials.  “The great thing about perennials and why permaculture focuses on them is that there is less disturbance of the soil.  So you are building the bacterial life and fungal life necessary for growth.  There is less energy expenditure needed to grow plants from seeds every season” ~ Andrea

On the issue of pest control, according to Andrea, the best method is to take a “wait and see approach” Observing and learning about the pest and its life-cycle is crucial.  Often times the pest life-cycle is very short and nature can heal itself without any intervention.  Allowing time for companion plants to grow and for beneficial insects to establish themselves can be difficult but it is worth the delay in using unnatural means to eradicate them.  “We’re too quick to meddle” Andrea says.


This small bridge takes visitors from the patio area to the sampling bins.   Kids are really excited about trying items from the garden, and what better way to occupy them while waiting for a meal to arrive than to have a discussion about where some of the ingredients in their dishes will come from!  This is an area that they can be pointed to for edible samples.  You can also take the self guided garden tour, maps are provided.  Don’t forget to check out the giant wood play hive! See the images above.



Solar Panels

Energy for the restaurant is produced year round, using the 84 Solar Panels and reflectors that are situated above the patio.  Click here for details on the installation of the panels. It should be noted that this is the largest single PV array ever to be lifted in one piece to an outdoor patio.



Water Harvesting Techniques at the Tiny Diner

Water harvesting is very important to the permaculture design at the Tiny Diner.  The vast majority of rain water is saved and re-used.  Here is how it works:

“Water from the solar panels flows into a gutter that spills into a rain chain. From there it flows through a creek bed and then passively waters the vegetable garden. The design also includes a cistern that will capture water from the rooftop, a berm and swale system that takes water from a gutter and distributes it throughout the mini-orchard, and a rain garden.” ~ Tiny Diner website



Pollinator Habitat

There are around 400 bees that are native to Minnesota.  Most are solitary, meaning they are not in hives and they nest independent of a colony.  Bees are critical to pollination and they make powerful contributions to agriculture as a whole. Many native bees make their nests in hollow twigs, reeds and holes in rotted wood.  The bee condos that are in the tiny orchard mimic these environments.  This allows a greater variety of bees to pollinate the Tiny Diner Gardens as well those in the surrounding neighborhoods.


Rooftop Herb Garden and Madamoiselle Miel’s Bee Habitat

Lush herb boxes line the rooftop and there is an active bee habitat up there is well.  “Mademoiselle Miel—also known as Susan Borwn—works with Tiny Diner to raise bees to pollinate gardens and greens within a two-mile radius. After a bee-centric visit to France (rooftop bees have been kept at the Paris Opera House for over 25 years), Susan began tending rooftop beehives for a number of places in Minneapolis and St. Paul, including Union Depot and W Minneapolis – The Foshay. Mademoiselle Miel creates distinctive honey bon-bons that feature the exquisite honey the hives produce.” ~ Recipe for a Tiny Diner.



Classes and Farmers Market

Demonstration/education is a big mission at the Tiny Diner.  They offer 4-6 classes every month on a wide range of unique topics including things like seed starting, organic lawn care, natural soap making, jewelry making, permaculture gardening etc…

The Tiny Diner will host an onsite Farmers Markets every Thursday through August 29th from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM.  There are a variety of purveyors each week and they have farmers market meal kits for purchase as well.



The restaurant menu incorporates much of the garden bounty.  The drink menu is also garden inspired.  You can find bar manager and mixologist extraordinaire, Mo, serving up his creative garden inspired cocktails.  Bonus: Tiny Diner has an awesome $4 happy hour menu, M-F from 3:00 to 6:00 PM.

I love the act of eating in a beautiful urban garden! I talk frequently about the importance of knowing the story regarding who grew our ingredients, when and where they were grown and the how the gardens and farms came to life. Making sustainable choices in regards to where we shop and dine really matters.  Supporting local restaurants that employ healthy and eco-friendly methods of food growth give us the opportunity to contribute to a more harmonious and sustainable earth. This is true “garden to fork” dining.

Thank you to Andrea for sharing the story of the Tiny Diner and for the wonderful permaculture garden tour! I hope those reading this post will make their way to the Tiny Diner soon and often!

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2 responses to “The Tiny Diner Permaculture Garden: A Sustainable Urban Oasis In Minneapolis”

  1. Thank you Lisa for recognizing the importance of the food we eat and the people who pour their heart and souls into bringing us healthy and beautiful options. Little by little we can make a difference and the people you highlight, yourself included, are the difference makers.

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