“My goal is to tear up some beds, mix in compost, plant some seeds, and decorate the sidewalk—by noon,” said Beth Ringer, program director for the Frogtown site of Youth Farm and Market Project. She stood by a bright red wheelbarrow that held a mound of new brown work gloves, stakes and string. A rented sod cutter, tall clean shovels, a large pile of compost, cool weather radish and lettuce seeds and boxes of colored chalk completed this fresh complement.
At 9:00 a.m. on a sunny Saturday, August 26, at the corner of Mackubin and Lafond streets in St. Paul, a large, grassy, rectangular expanse—three empty city lots, to be exact—was about to be regenerated into a Youth Farm. Designed to engage youth aged 9-18 in growing and marketing vegetables culturally specific to their neighborhood, Youth Farm also focuses on expanding skills and advancing personal growth. Across the street stood the Church and School of St. Agnes, the owner and benefactor to Youth Farm and Market Project of this land and inhabitant since 1912 of this diverse area now known as Frogtown.
“It’s brand new ground, a first for us,” said Ringer. “It’s never been broken.” It was, however, measured, mowed, and soil-tested. “It has a slope,” she continued, “so you can’t really put a park on it, but it’s great for gardening.” She later declared that half of the area will be a garden and the other half left alone, “…for children to run around and play games.”
All participants in the Youth Farm and Market Project are offered structured year-round youth development programs—including sustainability, cooking, nutrition, marketing, leadership and teen employment, while nurturing healthy adult and peer relationships. Youth Farm produce is circulated back into the neighborhood it has been grown in, the method of distribution fitting that community’s needs.
Neighbor Gary Gomez, who stopped by early out of curiosity, said, “I’m happy to have them in the neighborhood. This section used to be a bad spot, believe me.” Tony Schmitz and Patricia Ohmans of Frogtown Gardens, a partner with Youth Farm, confirmed that the two houses that used to occupy the site were “a brothel and a crack house.”
More Youth Farm and Market Project staff trickled in, from program directors managing other Twin Cities neighborhood sites to the executive and associate directors, all in jeans and t-shirts for the genesis of their organization’s fifth farm. Toddlers in tow, volunteers, current Youth Farm participants, and neighborhood partners were ready to work.
About a dozen gardeners raided the wheelbarrow, commandeered the tools, formed two lines a few feet apart to face each other and then plunged their shovels into the earth. Frogtown Youth Farm had begun.
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.