Saint Paul highlights healthy local food, sustainability

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St. Paul says it’s serious about local food.  “The most livable city in America” recently debuted a new website to highlight its effort to connect local food producers with consumers and inform consumers how they too can become producers.

The website acts as a portal for citizens looking for information on resources to begin urban food production, access to healthy food, how to support the food community by donation of fresh produce or compostable waste, zoning and permits, and other food projects underway or in the works.

“This really was a push by the community,” said City of Saint Paul Public Service Manager Brad Meyer.  “Sustainability is the big thing.  A variety of healthy [dietary] options support the local community.  And health and fitness is why Parks and Rec is involved [with the initiatives].”

Meyer was quick to highlight others’ involvement as well.

Samantha Henningson, Legislative Aide to Councilmember Russ Stark of Ward 4, agreed.  “[There are] dozens of organizations in Saint Paul working on food issues.  This is kind of a clearing house, so people know their options.”

Both Meyer and Henningson referenced a November 2010 report by Saint Paul – Ramsey County Public Health’s Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), “Food Access and Stability in Saint Paul.”  The study, which consisted of a community food survey and 12 focus groups in the Saint Paul neighborhoods of Summit-University, Thomas-Dale, Dayton’s Bluff, and Payne Phalen, found that “less than one-third of survey respondents reported eating fruits and vegetables multiples time on an average day.”

In addition, as Meyer noted when citing community push for healthy/local food initiatives, 92% of respondents in the SHIP study were very or somewhat interested in learning about healthy eating and improving their diet.

While those four neighborhoods are certainly an area of concern for the city, all quoted in this article said these initiatives are about creating a better and more sustainable Saint Paul for all its citizens.

When asked about access to local food Henningson pointed to an Urban Organics’ fish farm under construction in the Hamm’s brewery’s old beer stock house and a ground breaking on Monday, June 4 for a 38,000 square foot greenhouse operated in a collaboration between Bright Farms and J & J Distributing that will grow over 350,000 pounds of tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs each year for local consumption.

Dave Gontarek, Project Manager in Saint Paul’s Planning and Economic Development, said that for the people of Saint Paul, partnerships like those between Bright Farms and J & J, as well as the proposed partnership between Urban Organics and J & J, are critical for an urban farm’s success.

“Distribution is often the missing link,” Gontarek said.  “People think, ‘I’ll set up a farm and people will buy my [product].’”  Distributers provide access to the local market and often the produce grown is presold, making the growers’ economic future more certain.  And the consumers’ access, Gontarek added.  “The [Bright Farms] tomatoes aren’t coming up from Mexico, they’re just crossing a parking lot.  Even in winter.”

With the fish farm hoping to be open by late June or July and the greenhouse open by late fall, the people of Saint Paul—and the Twin Cities—will soon have more options when buying local food.

“These are all things that make living in a city great,” said Anne Hunt, Environmental Policy Director in the Mayor Coleman’s Office.  She thinks the food initiatives are an important piece to a complex problem the city and other concerned organizations are trying to tackle. 

Meyer agreed that it is and should be a full city effort.  “This is every department, like Public Works and storm water…it’s all about improving health and wellness [of the citizens].”

See the city’s new “clearing house” website for more information about buying and producing local food: www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=4811