The smell of freshly-picked basil was so strong that it lured people in off the street to Wednesday night’s celebration of garden harvest bounty, neighborhood youth talent, and social and food justice at Oak Park Community Center in North Minneapolis on Aug. 14. This Minnesota Food Charter gathering was an effort to promote healthy eating practices, and perpetuate ongoing community dialogue that ensures that healthy, affordable food is accessible to all involved gardeners; some as young as 3 and elders who have been advancing the cause for more than 40 years.
“We are debunking the myth that urban communities can’t or won’t grow their own food,” said Michael Chaney, who leads Project Sweetie Pie, an organization devoted to seeding community agricultural businesses that will support more than 500 living wage jobs in a “food corridor” in North Minneapolis.
More than 70 people gathered to celebrate the labors of young people who had been gardening all summer through a “Gardens Galore” initiative at more than 25 sites in North Minneapolis, assisted by churches, day care centers, nonprofits, social service organizations, neighbors, and families.
They also kicked-off a youth cafe to be based at Oak Park, a joint initiative being developed by Northside Fresh, Youthrive, Youthprise, Appetite for Change, Chef Big E, Oak Park Neighborhood Center, Afro Eco, Mr. Clean House Productions and Project Sweetie Pie.
Produce grown by youth in the Northside gardens morphed into a feast of chilled cucumber soup, eggplant parmesan, Moroccan curry vegetables, fruit sambosa, and sweet potato pies prepared by Chef Eric Austin, who admitted that the salads were short on tomatoes because he couldn’t stop eating them once he tasted them.
Participants offered their perspectives on food justice issues in a focus group discussion, and conducted a survey on behalf of the Minnesota Food Charter. Said Chaney, “This was the first and only effort of its kind to garner the opinions and insights of urban residents from North Minneapolis.” The information gathered will help the Minnesota Department of Public Health shape public policy centered around food and food access.
The evening’s event sponsors included AfroEco, Appetite for Change, EjamMN, Growing for Good from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the four Northside farmers’ markets, Neighborhood Hub, Northside Green Team, Northside Fresh Coalition, Oak Park Neighborhood Center, University of Minnesota Health Disparities Research and Center for Health Equity, Youthprise, and Youthrive, some of the many metro wide agencies committed to planting “seeds of change” literally and metaphorically.
Urban farmers young and old were recognized including Nardel Stroud of the Plymouth Avenue Green Team, who Chaney called an “unsung hero” as he gave her a Good Neighbor Award for outstanding vision and commitment in planting her seeds of change. Eight years ago she started planting small gardens in her rental property. Since then, the project has grown to include numerous small plots up and down Plymouth Avenue.
And the systemic changes she’s seeded have also resulted in individual changes. As she said, one of her grandchildren doesn’t want to eat vegetables after they’re cooked. Another thinks every garden in the city belongs to his grandma. Said Stroud: “Once you start a dream and make it this far, it’s a completion, with still further to go.”
The evening showcased youth and elder performances and closed with a public viewing and discussion of the music video “Food Fight,” which documents the potential impacts of a poor diet using the analogy of powdered-sugar doughnuts’ desirability to crack, and orange soda to hard liquor.
“Your plate is the field in this food fight,” said DeVon Nolen, co-coordinator of Northside Fresh, reminding the crowd to continue to “vote” with their food choices.
Maddy Wegner is a Project Sweetie Pie volunteer.