Planting a seed for urban farming in St. Paul


In the Rivertown Commons apartment complex in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, developers at the Cornerstone Group are hoping they will reap what they sow, that is, lots of fresh, organic produce. 

The Cornerstone Group is partnering with Permaculture Resarch Institute Cold Climate to convert one of four 400-square-foot outdoor courtyards at Rivertown Commons to an urban farm plot. The garden will be designed, planted, and tended by an “urban farmer” working with PRI Cold Climate’s full-service gardening program, Backyard Harvest. According to Ben Hertz, Development Associate at the Cornerstone Group, though the urban farmer will be the only one “getting their hands dirty,” youth residents of the complex will “learn about the food through its distribution.” As things are harvested throughout the season, youth involved will pass along the garden’s bounty to all residents at no cost, learning about seasonal vegetables, and how to pick and prepare healthy foods in the process.

For more information on Backyard Harvest and its programs throughout the metro area, see Backyard Harvest or our 2009 article, Local food, one yard at a time.

Backyard Harvest program coordinator Krista Leraas sees these lessons taught by food potentially leading to families being more educated about what their food choices are, an issue particularly relevant to the Hmong and Somali immigrant populations who live in the complex. 

“A lot of [immigrants] may have agricultural backgrounds, but then they end up in Minnesota, which is an utterly different climate and they can’t get the varieties of plants that they’re used to growing,” Leraas explains. Projects like this one “may be a gateway for them to learn more about growing in this climate,” she says.

With the inroads the project will create for food access and education as well as urban land-use and water management (the garden will use far less water than the sod that was formerly in the space), Hertz says, it is “a great way to share our passion and solve worldwide problems.”

If successful, there may be more urban farm plots next year at the site and at other Cornerstone properties.