Revitalization doesn’t always mean pristine condos and an animated business district. In the case of North End Urban Farm in St. Paul, the best opportunity to improve the neighborhood came with a plow. The lot, planned for townhomes until the housing downturn caused development to be reconsidered, is the now the largest urban farm in the city.
Community development group Sparc has transformed the 3.2 acre space into a productive, educational, and renewable resource for the city. Hosting a bi-weekly farmers market, the site offers locals a chance to purchase affordable local produce, and also a rare chance to see where it comes from. To celebrate the addition of the farm, Mayor Chris Coleman recently attended the ceremonial “first tomato cutting” at the site.
NEUF symbolizes many things: the coming together of a community (at least five languages are spoken by growers); entrepreneurial business acumen; and a focus on healthy, local foods. Within the farm, there are thirteen growers for three organizations. The organization includes commercial (Holistic Health Farms and Pig’s Eye Urban Farm LLC) and non-profit (Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota) groups, sharing the acreage. The current farm is only an interim plan, but Sparc aims to utilize the most successful elements into future developments, whether that means a return to the original townhome concept, but incorporating garden space, or using a brand new blueprint. “The growers are trying out different models,” Sparc’s Allison Sharkey explains, “and we will see which pilot initiatives seem to do well in this neighborhood.”
In a neighborhood that lacks healthy grocery options, the farm is a welcome addition. The farmers markets sell fresh produce, and farmers have spoken with area restaurants and grocers to gauge interest. The sellers are also WIC-certified, increasing their accessibility.
The farm is located in a busy area between Dale and Rice Streets. The primary issues haven’t been of an urban nature—the soil tests came back clean—rather, the nearby Willow Reserve, a 13-acre woods that hosts an assortment of wildlife. They frequently wander to the gardens. “The deer are the big problem,” says Timothy Page, Holistic Health Farms owner. A small fence has been constructed, and the growers use a spray of pepper and garlic while working on a 10-foot fence to keep out the hungry pests.
Just a few months after its beginning, the garden has already proven bountiful. Since Coleman’s tomato slicing, the growers are selling produce, not only on site, but also across the city at numerous farmers markets.