The weather was less-than-cooperative when the Women’s Environmental Network met up with the Urban Farm & Garden Alliance (UFGA) in early October for a tour of local community gardens in the Frogtown/Rondo neighborhoods of Saint Paul. Yet, the cold drizzle couldn’t keep WEN away and a small group of interested individuals still showed up—adorned in raincoats and boots—to learn more about UFGA.
UFGA is a collaboration of community gardens and backyard box gardeners that collectively work to promote reconciliation, healing, peace, social and environmental justice through the cultivation and sharing of food in the Summit-University (Rondo) and Frogtown communities of Saint Paul. The Alliance was formed in 2014 when leaders from six unique community gardens in the Aurora/St. Anthony and Frogtown Neighborhoods joined forces with backyard box gardeners represented by the Community Stabilization Project (CSP) Healthy Homes Program. UFGA has since grown to 8-10 community gardens (see map), now thriving under this mission and vision:
“By growing and sharing food, the Urban Farm and Garden Alliance honors the earth and one another and grows vibrant, healthy communities grounded in racial and environmental justice.”
Under the Alliance, the staff and volunteers of the local gardens share ideas, resources and co-host educational workshops and summer activities. The Alliance is supported by partnerships with the University of Minnesota, Bethel University, Hamline University, AfroEco, and The Storymobile.
Together, UFGA and its network of volunteers and partners have built up a community around healthy food, expanding access to education on growing food, and the overall importance of green space. Melvin Giles, the Co-Coordinator of UFGA, explained how green space is integral for a community that has suffered the consequences of institutional racism. Specifically, the Rondo neighborhood—Saint Paul’s largest African American neighborhood—was deeply impacted by the construction of the I-94 corridor in the 1950s. The history of this community’s destruction is described in the recently-released film Rondo: Beyond the Pavement.
The challenges faced by the Rondo community from the I-94 project were a topic of conversation as WEN members sat down with UFGA in the community room at the King’s Crossing building on Dale Street. While waiting for the rain to die down, the group got to know each other a little better before diving into a deeper discussion about the relationship between growing food and environmental and social justice. We talked about community gardening as a catalyst for healing from injustice and a means for bringing people together in a healthy setting. Melvin explained to the visitors, “We have to think green – not just in the environment, but in our hearts.”
As dusk began to settle in, Melvin led the group across the street to the CSP Healthy Homes Garden. Remnants of the chain link fence that was installed by the local government in an attempt to seize the land from the community still remains intact as a reminder of their fight, but it’s now covered with greenery. Since there was a little bit of daylight left after the rainstorm subsided, we also made our way down the street to the Greenhouse Garden that now fills the space where the former Dale Street Greenhouse used to operate. At its closing in 2006, the Dale Street Greenhouse was Saint Paul’s oldest greenhouse operating at its original location. Now, a colorful wall mural at the Greenhouse Garden pays respect to the historic building.
As WEN wraps up its current year and is looking ahead to 2020, we look forward to future opportunities to partner with UFGA to promote local urban agriculture and its relationship to environmental and social justice. To learn more about the Urban Farm & Garden Alliance, please visit the UFGA website or Facebook page.