Amidst throngs of curious Art-A-Whirlers on Saturday, a new urban farm in Minneapolis, California Street Farm, was hosting a small gathering commemorating Minneapolis chef, artist, and community and sustainable agriculture leader Tom Taylor. A sculpture by Minneapolis artist Aldo Moroni was unveiled in his honor. Shortly after the ceremony, farmers Jillia Pessenda Bovino, her husband Jim Bovino, and their dog, Romeo, gave me a quick tour of California Street Farm, which will be available to serve your tables very soon.
The Bovinos hail from Minnesota, but honed their farming skills on a small farm in Washington State. As they planned a move back to Minnesota, they decided to get involved in urban agriculture, and when the opportunity to farm the ¾ acre vacant parcel of land presented itself, they seized it. California Street Farm is located in the heart of the Arts District in Northeast Minneapolis. With a view of downtown Minneapolis, the farm is nestled on a former vacant lot between the railroad tracks and NE California Street on 22nd Ave NE, a stone’s throw from the California Arts Building.
The Bovinos feel fortunate that they are able to use this urban lot to grow food, and are glad that their soil tests have come through clean, despite being located in the middle of the city. “One thing that many are probably wondering about is soil health, in particular toxicity,” Jillia wrote in an email to CSA members. “We are happy to report that we have been very fortunate to inherit an unusually clean plot of ground. There has never been a structure on the site. This has saved us from many of the ambient chemicals, metals, and other debris that are often the result of a decaying structure.” (I wrote about soil testing in March, if you want to learn more.)
Although they’re busy with their jobs at Lucia’s, where Jim is a server and Jillia works in the bakery, they take the time to treat their soil with organic compost, mulch to control weeds and retain soil moisture, and use efficient drip irrigation—practices that help them be better stewards of the land, while boosting their yields. As we toured the farm, Jim cheerfully pointed out seedlings of onions, radishes, arugula, kale, squash, three varieties of beets, broccoli, sugar snap peas, and carrots. He pointed to a tub full of raspberry shoots and explained that, eventually, they hope to incorporate fruits and berries.
Starting in mid-June, California Street Farm will be fulfilling CSA shares to members, and because new zoning rules from the Minneapolis City Council allow farmers to sell their harvest on site 15 days per year, they will be hosting an onsite farm stand open to the public on Tuesday afternoons, from 4:30-7:30 p.m. CSA members (including yours truly) will pick up their shares at the farm, and with a weekly market at the farm’s front door, the California Street Farm hopes to create a feeling of community among their members and neighbors, and give city dwellers the chance to connect with a farm.
“We want to feed families in the neighborhood. Picking up directly from the farm, we hope, will allow our members the opportunity to connect to the land each week and watch the farm grow,” said Jillia.