NEIGHBORHOOD NOTES | Growing Lots Grows in Seward

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After an extended winter of shivering and dreading the outdoors, the smell and taste of fresh, local produce may just be an effective cure-all for Seasonal Affective Disorder. But where can one go to find a reliable farm for his/her Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share while remaining loyal to the Seward neighborhood? It may come as a surprise to some residents and workers in Seward, but the neighborhood actually has a fully-functioning farm that distributes 20 weeks-worth of fresh produce to its 40 CSA members. Growing Lots, now in its second year of operation, is headed by Stefan Meyer and is “a reflection of a changing mentality of many Twin Cities neighborhoods.”

After Seward Redesign, a local nonprofit community development corporation, visited Growing Power, national nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of community food systems in Milwaukee, WI, the Seward-based CDC decided to dedicate a great deal of their efforts to supporting urban agricultural ventures. After pursuing and acquiring two grants (from the Seward Coop and Patagonia), Redesign transformed a vacant lot at the Seward Commons development site at the corner of 22nd St and Snelling Ave, along the western border of the Seward Neighborhood. According to Meyer, Redesign “envision[s] urban agriculture being designed into the overall site plan, with the current site as the first step of working through the permitting process with the city of Minneapolis and examining the economic reality of urban farming.”

Meyer said that much of Growing Lots’scurrent success is due to the fact that “more and more people want to support local green business ventures.” As many communities become interested in where their food comes from and how the food was treated beforehand, many environmentally-conscious businesses are being supported. Meyer added that Seward as been an ideal environment for Growing Lots as the neighborhood “has long been at the vanguard of this shift in perspective.” Much of the support for Growing Lots, Meyer said, has come directly from organizations like the Seward Neighborhood Group, the Seward Civic and Commerce Association, and other community members.

According to Meyer, it is important to support local farmers and produce suppliers as a vibrant community’s economy is reliant on the investments provided by residents and business owners. “Let’s think about this in terms of the garden soil,” Meyer explained. “The soil is a rich living structure, filled with minerals and nutrients vital to the healthy growth of plants. To keep the soil healthy and filled with nutrients, a gardener or farmer must pay special attention to the nutrient cycle and manage their growing practices in a way that the needed nutrients are cycling through the system.”

“Our local economy works in much the same way,” he elaborated. “A healthy local economy seeks to keep local resources (people, jobs, money, physical resources, etc.) actively cycling through the local system. In doing so, many local people and businesses find gainful employment, and money is earned, spent and invested in further development of our region.”

As the spring comes slowly, Meyer said that most of the time spent working at Growing Lots is consumed by planning and waiting for the snow to melt. Most of January and February, Meyer said, is devoted to paging through “catalog after catalog, reading mouth-watering descriptions of new varieties of plants, and just staring at the pictures and dreaming of warmer days.” As March shows signs of spring, Growing Lots is reportedly ready to hit the soil running, so to speak, as the indoor seeding operations have begun for tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, collards, and various herbs. Later in the summer, the farm devotes work to “general maintenance and harvest preparations for CSA members.” Come fall of 2011, Meyer said that Growing Lots will move into a wrap-up phase with an annul evaluation.

For residents and business owners who have an interest in urban agriculture, Meyer encouraged people to join a local farm’s CSA program-Growing Lots, in particular. “Your investment in this urban farm will only make it more fruitful and fulfilling for all involved,” Meyer said. “Spread the word, because word-of-mouth is a great way to let your neighbors know of this community resource.”

For those who are interested in purchasing a CSA share and want access to a variety of farms to choose from, Seward Co-op (2823 E. Franklin Ave.) will be hosting its tenth annual CSA fair on Saturday, Apr. 16 from 11:00am to 3:00pm in the Co-op’s parking lot. According to Seward Co-op’s website, the event will serve as a way for residents and customers to meet their farmers, learn about the growing process, and build relationships with fellow CSA members. In addition to networking with other CSA members, those who attended this event will learn the value of a focused, local food system.

In addition to direct support of the farm, folks who live and/or work in Seward are encouraged to watch the Growing Lots webpage (growinglots.blogspot.com) for updates on 2011 Community Days, starting in April. This event, according to Meyer, will be hosted by Growing Lots as an opportunity for “community members are invited to come get their hands dirty!” Keep an eye on Growing Lots’s blog for updates about work descriptions and volunteer commitments associated with this exciting event.

Neighborhood Notes are updates about what’s happening in Twin Cities neighborhoods, submitted by our volunteer neighborhood correspondents (and neighborhood residents), and not edited by the TC Daily Planet. Click to learn more about our neighborhood correspondents, or about becoming a neighborhood correspondent.