Farm in the City
Urban farms are popping up all over the metro, from abandoned city lots to restaurant rooftops, bringing a fresh twist to local food.
(page 3 of 3)
In an effort to bring healthier food to Little Earth of the United Tribes, a housing community owned and populated by Native Americans in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, its Women’s Empowerment Group decided to start an urban farm. They got help from Minnesota’s Women’s Environmental Institute, an outreach training center for Milwaukee-based Growing Power—the soil-building, farm-growing brainchild of former NBA star and MacArthur genius Will Allen. His mission: bring fresh food and entrepreneurial, community spirit to food deserts like Phillips.
Then there are the cooperatives. Among others, there’s My Farm African Farmers Cooperative in Brooklyn Center, Hmong Farmers Cooperative, and Cooperative of Latin American Growers. Collie Graddick, an agricultural consultant with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, is one partner in Community Table, an organization that supports such cooperatives. Community Table is currently developing a food label so buyers know their purchases support a local food system. “We’re working to get cooperatively grown produce in corner stores,” he says.
The combination of all these efforts excites Courtney Tchida, student-program coordinator for the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota. “The more food we can grow in the city, the less dependent we are on food from California,” she says. This year, Tchida is one of several teachers training 25 new urban farmers in the Urban Farming Certification program offered through Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate.
Young people in the cities are being trained as farmers, too. Michael Chaney heads Project Sweetie Pie, an urban-farm movement that gives youth in north Minneapolis access to healthy food and promotes economic opportunity in the food-distribution system. When Youth Farm & Market Project first started, it had a weekend farm-stand model. Today, in Minneapolis’s Lyndale, Powderhorn, and Hawthorne neighborhoods, and in St. Paul’s Frogtown and West Side, kids in this youth-development organization interview their neighbors to find out what kind of produce they want, then plant and tend the garden. Later, they deliver the harvest—in one neighborhood via bicycle, in another at a stand in the Midtown Global Market. Not only does the organization help develop leadership skills, it helps kids learn to eat better through its new emphasis on cooking. “It’s that tactile experience on the farm or in the kitchen—not just the food on the plate—that makes the difference,” says Gunnar Liden, Youth Farm & Market’s executive director.
With all these new farmers and healthy eaters, and now that nearly everyone in the Twin Cities will soon be able to walk or bike to a little farm for such a tactile, sensory experience—not just to the weekend market—the Twin Cities seems poised for a fresh-grown food revolution.
THE INCREDIBLE EDIBLE TWIN CITIES
Paula Westmoreland is the owner of Ecological Gardens, director of the Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate, and author of This Perennial Land. Here’s her take on why a Twin Cities metro area full of farms and gardens would improve city dwellers’ lives.
1. More Beautiful.
“The Twin Cities are gorgeous already. Imagine them with edible flowers, rooftop farms, freeway orchards, greenhouses, and gardens in vacant lots.”
“Locally produced food creates opportunities for new businesses: canning, freezing, pickling, saving seeds, growing plants. There would be jobs for neighborhood farmers, beekeepers, butchers, smokers, composters, and nurseries.”
3. Less Lonely.
“When people are outside working, they’re talking with their neighbors. There could be community cookouts and cook-offs. Young people raised on homegrown fruits and vegetables would be out in biking brigades, moving compostable material and delivering food.”
“Our lush, natural environment would have more bees, birds, and butterflies; healthier soil; and less runoff into lakes and streams. People—eating more vibrant nutrients—would also be more connected to the natural rhythms of the seasons and other species.”
Karen Olson is the former editor of the Utne Reader. She lives in Minneapolis.