Urban farming is sprouting up all over


The summer of 2012 may well be remembered as the season urban farming blossomed in St. Paul and its surrounding communities.

Community gardens and beautification projects seemed to spring up everywhere this season. Here are a few highlights:

The Merriam Station Community Garden broke ground this spring in a strip of land between I-94 and railroad tracks at Prior and Gilbert avenues. The group joined other nearby sprouts: Midway GreenSpirit Community Garden at Taylor and Hamline avenues and the Horton Park native-plant gardens at Hamline and Minnehaha avenues.

Stone’s Throw Urban Farm, stonesthrowurbanfarm.wordpress.com, is looking for vacant lots throughout St. Paul to turn into growing space for micro-farms.

The Cornercopia student-run organic farm at Dudley and Lindig avenues on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus has been selling certified organic produce this summer and offered seminars on cold-climate permaculture, as well as livestock raising and bio-intensive growing. (To find out more, contact Courtney Tchida, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, 612-624-2738, or go to cornercopiafarm.blogspot.com).

The Twin Cities-based nonprofit Gardening Matters (gardeningmatters.org) added a new Hamline-Midway food resource hub in St. Paul to its five existing Minneapolis sites. Hub gardeners pay a small fee to become members of the network and receive compost, seeds, seedlings, access to tools and low-cost workshops. At the end of the season, the gardeners plan to support each other by cooking and preserving their harvest together.

The point of all this hyper-local green activity?

While promoting environ-mental sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas caused by transporting food over long distances, urban agriculture greens up urban blight, prevents stormwater runoff and benefits local economies. Research suggests it may even reduce crime. Most important, this soil-to-grassroots movement increases food security at a time when the cost of food all over the world is rising fast.

Urban agriculture also helps provide local food shelves with fresh, often organic, produce. Home gardeners are encouraged to contribute their excess produce to the Emergency Foodshelf Network, which accepts donations weekdays at Keystone Community Services’ two locations: 1916 University Ave. in St. Paul (651-917-3792) and 2833 N. Hamline Ave. in Roseville (651-756-7018).

All the harvest activity is leading to more comprehensive land-use planning in Lauderdale, Falcon Heights and St. Paul. Currently, St. Paul sells permits for beekeeping and chicken coops. The Falcon Heights Environment Commission is working on recommendations to be made to the Falcon Heights City Council in regards to backyard beekeeping and chickens, and Lauderdale is close behind.

Want to join the trend? Here are some upcoming events and ideas:

  • Visit the Minnesota Grown booth at the State Fair in the Agriculture Building.
  • Attend the Hamline Midway Environment Group meeting at 1610 Hubbard Ave. on Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. (Call 651-298-4393 for more information.)
  • Growing Power Weekend: Will Allen’s Milwaukee-based Growing Power will host its third annual Regional Training Weekend Sept. 15 and 16 at the Women’s Environmental Institute near Stillwater. Participants can learn about everything from hoop-house building and berry growing to beekeeping and passive solar greenhouses. Find out more at w-e-i.org or call 651-583-0705.

D.J. Alexandar lives, writes and farms in Falcon Heights.