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Tracy Sides' Urban Oasis concept wins Forever St. Paul Challenge

Tracy Sides, a healthy-foods advocate who lives on St. Paul’s East Side, frequents the nearby Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. The grounds have become a source of inspiration for her, and more recently, the focus of a million-dollar idea. 

In February, Sides submitted a plan to transform a vacant building at Bruce Vento into a food hub, to the St. Paul Foundation’s Forever St. Paul Challenge, a contest to support ideas for improving the city.  

Sides’ Urban Oasis concept rose to the top, and on Monday the foundation announced it was the contest’s winner. The foundation will contribute $1 million to the cause.    

Urban Oasis was among 1,000 entries in the beginning. The pool was whittled down to 30 semifinalists and more recently, three finalists. A public voting system online determined the final winner. 

For Sides, the outcome came as a pleasant surprise. At the same time, it seems like a natural next step in a longstanding community process to liven up the nature sanctuary, she says. Urban Oasis is part of a bigger project to renovate the city-owned building, she adds.   

The food hub, which will take up a couple of floors in the four-story building, will include a food cooperative, eatery, event space, catering company, and a food truck. Commercial kitchens will be available for rent, while the hub will also provide business training to small ventures oriented around food. Communal suppers on Sunday nights and cooking classes will also help make the place a true community center, she says. 

The food hub is about “creating something that’s a thriving asset for the community, and that’s addressing some of our needs,” she says. Additionally, in a diverse neighborhood, a food hub seems like an appropriate way to “acknowledge and celebrate our differences,” she says. “We’re connecting people through food.” 

Although food hubs are experiencing a groundswell of popularity across the country, Sides’ concept is unique for the “unprecedented number of spokes [it has]. In a way, it’s modeling a healthy food system, with growing, producing, distributing, selling, preparing, eating, and composting waste,” Sides says. 

It’s about “creating a more equitable and healthy food system. That’s the real outcome I would love to see from this.”

Source: Tracy Sides
Writer: Anna Pratt 
Image: Kevin McKeever - Image Generation

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