The Frogtown Farm proposal received overwhelming support by community leaders and residents at last Thursday’s meeting at the Rondo Library in St. Paul. More than 100 people poured into the library’s community room to hear long-term Frogtown residents Tony Schmitz , Seitu Jones, Patricia Ohmans and Soyini Guyton discuss their vision for the 12 acres of land on the corner of Victoria Street and Van Buren Ave that is currently in limbo. The Wilder Foundation, a local non-profit, has recently demolished several buildings on the property and plans to sell it.
“About six months ago we were sitting down and knowing that this space was available we came up with this crazy idea; just crazy enough that it might work,” said Frogtown resident Seitu Jones as he addressed the crowd. The four friends saw potential for a neighborhood that is currently lacking in green space. In addition to preserving the recreation and natural environment of the land, the four friends have proposed a demonstration farm where residents of Frogtown can learn farming techniques ranging from growing vegetables to beekeeping to raising chickens. According to Tony Schmitz, the idea is that residents of Frogtown can learn how to maximize food production in their own yards and in the many vacant lots in the neighborhood.
“Frogtown does not suffer from the absence of vacant lots,” says Schmitz. “In District 7 [where Frogtown is located], there are 202 known vacant properties. Making use of these lots will enhance the neighborhood.”
The group envisions a private, non-profit organization that would manage the educational programming on the 12 acres with the hope of other lots being purchased with community support.
“We would like to propose [to the city/county] that if neighbors want to come together to buy these vacant lots for farming that they could be given a subsidized discounted price. They become owners of that property, they have invested in it and they pay taxes on it. It can be a tool to increase the wealth and health of Frogtown while making it more beautiful at the same time,” said Schmitz.
According to Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman, the county government is supportive of the proposal, but its fiscal support is selective. As the chair of the public health committee, she has a vested interest in the Frogtown Farm concept. The committee has put in a request for four million dollars for public health projects. “The money cannot be used to buy the land, which is a struggle, but it can be for the visions of planning such as creating the teaching tools, the amenities, the water spouts, that is something we can do,” said Rettman.
Another public official supporting the Frogtown Farm is city council member Melvin Carter III, who represents District 7. “I don’t have to tell you that Frogtown is starved for green space. This is a vision that I support,” he said while addressing the crowd. Carter pointed out that the city recently received $18 million to reinvest in vacant lots. Just how that money can be used requires further negotiations.
Schmitz and Jones concede that the biggest hurdle to the dream is coming up with the money to buy the land outright. The Wilder Foundation’s director of real estate was at Thursday’s meeting and announced that she looks forward to working with the community as the plan develops. A price is still being assessed by Wilder. As the meeting adjourned, residents were invited to share any skills they have in making the proposal a reality. The Frogtown Farm has a Facebook page under the same name as a way for those interested in the idea to move forward with logistics. While the city and county can help, the speakers at the meeting made it clear that regular residents are needed to move the project forward. As community organizer Tait Danielson put it, “If it’s not grassroots, things always seem to die out.”