By Anna Cioffi
LSP and Hope Community in Minneapolis have come together to create a project called Growing Neighborhood Access to Healthy Food. Why has an organization known for its rural organizing teamed up with an urban community group? Because a truly sustainable food and farming system requires that everyone have access to healthy, affordable food.
LSP’s relationship with Hope Community started in 2009 through the mutual goals of leadership development, community building and organizing. In the the long term, we want to build community power and capacity to shape a strong neighborhood-scale system that ensures reliable, affordable and equitable access to healthy food in the Phillips Neighborhood, where Hope Community is located.
Hope Community is a place-based community development organization that is entrenched in the Phillips Neighborhood, one of the most economically challenged and diverse neighborhoods in Minneapolis. Hope is resident-driven, and provides 173 units of affordable housing that is home to some 400 people. It approaches its core mission by developing affordable housing and public spaces that include a community center, playgrounds and gardens. Extensive community engagement involves hundreds of youth, adults and families each year in learning, leadership and community opportunities.
According to the U.S. Census, the Phillips Neighborhood is made up of 20,000 residents, and 70 percent of them are people of color, compared to 35 percent in the metro area as a whole. Demographically, economically and socially, Hope residents and the participants in Hope’s Community Engagement work reflect the Phillips neighborhood: primarily low-income, working families, racially and ethnically diverse, primarily renters, and many new immigrants and refugees. The median annual household income for families of three or more people living at Hope is $17,700.
Historically, LSP’s work has focused on engaging farmers and rural residents and building the power of rural communities that have been disenfranchised from the political process. A portion of this organizing has focused on ending the racial disparities that are at the core of what is broken in this country’s food and farming system. In the past few years, LSP has deepened its focus on racial equity organizing through an organization-wide strategy that includes working in alliance with leaders and communities of color that are building a just and sustainable food and farm system. As part of these efforts, we have begun engaging LSP members in speaking out and acting for racial equity in their rural and urban communities.
LSP’s work with Hope Community is a natural fit for this work, and gardening and other food-related activities are an excellent way to engage people around their interests. LSP and Hope together have transformed what had been an almost abandoned piece of dirt into a community garden with 23 individual plots and a large communal plot to grow melons, squash, corn and other large crops. Almost all of Hope’s gardeners are brand new to gardening. Under the tutelage of LSP board member and master gardener Rhys Williams, many Hope gardeners have been able to save money on their food bill this summer and fall. Compost was added this spring, and a new compost bin system is being built by Williams and Hope residents to collect garden waste and turn it into fertile soil for next year.
Although Hope residents have said that having the garden has provided them with more fresh, organic produce, as well as an opportunity to get away from the stress of daily life, the garden has not been entirely idyllic. Some of the challenges are similar to ones faced by all gardeners, such as the destruction of crops by squirrels. But there has also been a lot of damage done by children taking and throwing produce. There has been occasional theft of ripe produce, which has caused a lot of discouragement in the garden. We’re currently looking at community-based solutions to these problems, and ways to inform and educate neighbors about the garden.
On Sept. 24-25, seven Hope gardeners will be attending Growing Power’s Training Weekend at the Women’s Environmental Institute in North Branch, Minn. Hope gardeners will learn beginning and advanced gardening skills that resonate with Growing Power’s mission of “inspiring communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound, creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time.”
After returning from the Growing Power weekend, these seven Hope gardeners will form a steering committee to do future visioning for the Hope Community Garden plot. Some ideas that gardeners are excited about are forming a Hope farmers’ market stand and possibly raising chickens. We’re hoping to expand our reach to more than just the garden by providing cooking and other food-related classes.
Through all of this, our focus will continue to be on food justice and access for all.
Anna Cioffi is a Land Stewardship Project organizer working on urban food and farming systems. She can be contacted at 612-722-6377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.