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SPARCís $15,000 North End Urban Farm begins food production

Just over a month ago, the North End Urban Farm broke ground and started food production on a three-acre parcel in the St. Paul neighborhood from which  it takes its name.

SPARC, a community development corporation, previously proposed a townhome complex on the site, but the idea was scratched in the economic downturn, according to business development manager Allison Sharkey. 

A future housing development is still planned for the site, but part of the farm will probably stay intact. "By then we will have tried different pilot projects and different methods and seen what works best and we'll incorporate that," she says. 

To make the farm happen, SPARC worked out a partnership with a handful of other groups, including the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota, Community Table Cooperative, Pig's Eye Urban Farm, and Holistic Health Farms.

The University of Minnesota's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs contributed $10,000 to establish the farm, which has a $15,000 budget. Also, the Triscuit company provided supplies for a vegetable and flower demonstration garden, according to Sharkey.

The farm makes a huge difference in a neighborhood where there's no grocery store or farmers' market. "Our goal is to increase access to fresh produce," she says. "We've asked each grower to sell in the neighborhood as much as they can," and the farm is certified to participate in the WIC program, she adds.

With half-acre plots, the professional growers have been able to launch or expand their businesses, she says. One business owner even started a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.  

Already, the growers have begun connecting with area restaurants and corner stores about providing fresh food. 

Later in the season a farmers' market will happen on-site, while each grower will have a produce stand, she says. Also, a you-pick farm program, which gives visitors the chance to pick food themselves, is in the works.

Source: Allison Sharkey, business development program manager, SPARC
Writer: Anna Pratt

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