Healthy food, blossoming community spirit
One of the largest contiguous urban farms in the nation, Frogtown Farm is cultivating soil and community in Saint Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood.
Once a site for buildings and parking lots, the 5.5 acre certified organic farm is now a place where vegetables like tomatoes, bok choy and Swiss chard grow and is home to a food forest: a grove of plum, pear, cherry and apple trees. The green space offers a way for neighbors to connect, gain horticultural skills and access to fresh, organic food.
Eartha Bell, executive director, leads a staff of five permanent and two seasonal farmers along with 10 interns and more than 200 volunteers throughout the season. She noted that although she expected neighbors would eventually take ownership of the Farm, she was surprised by how quickly that happened. “This is truly a community project. Residents are picking up garbage and caring for plants. They care about its success.” Bell reported that leaders are emerging too, sharing traditions and developing workshops like preparing Kimchi and fried green tomatoes.
The farm began more than a decade ago with a vision by four community organizers wanting to improve the health and beauty of Frogtown. They raised project awareness and funds to purchase 12.7 acres from the Wilder Foundation, where the farm resides. Purchased in partnership with the Trust for Public Land, the City of Saint Paul and the Amherst Wilder H. Foundation, the land is now city-owned. Thanks to a grant from The Saint Paul Foundation and others, construction was completed in 2015 and 2016 yielded the inaugural crop.
“The farm is particularly important in this local and national moment because it brings people together across difference,” said Bell. As the most diverse neighborhood in Saint Paul, promoting cultural equity is essential to the project’s success. They offer program materials in English, Hmong, Somali and Spanish and provide translators when needed. The staff also works closely with diverse groups such as an Asian elders group for input on crops and program design.
For new immigrants the land can be a particularly welcome respite to an unfamiliar city. “Sometimes we work together using gestures,” said Bell. “It works. Farming is a universal language.”