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With $3,000 in startup funds, Our Village Gardens helps transform a former brownfield site

This spring, Frogtown Gardens got to work on a new community garden at a former brownfield site in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood.

It took $3,000 to set up the 30-plot community garden, called Our Village Gardens, according to Patricia Ohmans, who is a spokesperson for Frogtown Gardens.  

Frogtown Gardens is a nonprofit organization that’s in the process of establishing a demonstration farm park and sanctuary in the neighborhood.

Financial support for the water, materials, compost, and mulch at Our Village Gardens came from Terry and Margie Commerford, who own the land, she explains. The couple runs the River of Goods home decor shop and Terrybear Urns and Memorials out of a new development on the site.

A combination of neighborhood volunteers and employees of the Commerfords’ businesses cultivate the plots, she says.   

The gardeners are a diverse group, including Hmong, Somalis, Latinos, Vietnamese, African Americans, European Americans and others. “There's lots of energy and cross-pollination among them,” Ohmans says.

“We still need to do a lot of beautification around the communal spaces of the garden,” including the butterfly garden, rose border, and raspberries, “but the garden is already a great success and a truly diverse stomping ground.”  

Frogtown Gardens also sponsors Amir's Garden, a permaculture demonstration garden on a vacant, privately owned lot, along with the Pop-Up Tree Park, which is a temporary tree nursery on a city-owned lot in the neighborhood.

Amir's Garden's excess produce will go to the local food shelf, according to Ohmans.

“We are also closely tracking the production of that garden, to get a sense of how much food can actually be grown on a household lot,” she adds.

Source: Patricia Ohmans, Frogtown Farms
Writer: Anna Pratt

Following a $6 million capital campaign, the Minnesota African American Museum opens its doors

The Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center, which has been in the works for a handful of years, had its grand opening in Minneapolis’s Stevens Square neighborhood on June 2.

The museum, which is housed in the historic Coe Mansion, is about “celebrating and presenting African American history for all populations,” its website states. 

Roxanne Givens, one of the museum's founders, credits the local community for coming up with the idea. Many people "felt not having a record of the many contributions African Americans made to Minnesota history and beyond, was a major impediment to community engagement, self-esteem and achievement,” the website states.

The concept was there, and a place was needed to “fulfill our mission of a sustainable History and Cultural museum of Local, National and International importance.”

In answer to that, one day Givens and another founder, Harry Davis, wound up near the 1880s Queen Anne-style mansion by chance. It struck them both as the perfect venue for the museum they'd been talking about, according to its website.

To make it a reality, Givens spearheaded a $6 million capital campaign for building renovations. This included improvements that would accommodate exhibits in the space, while also allowing for accessibility. At the same time, the building's historic designation meant that its defining characteristics had to be left intact, the website explains.

Currently, exhibits in the space cover black baseball, the state's African-American pioneers, and African folktales.

The children’s space, which takes up an entire floor, includes an interactive learning and play space, reading lounge, library, high-tech touch-screen exhibits, and artifacts.  

Yet to come is an adjoining cultural and educational center that will have state-of-the-art technology, learning labs, a genealogy center, community gallery, oral history center and more, it states.

City Council member Robert Lilligren, who represents Ward 6, which includes the museum, says he's been supportive of the project since the get-go. Further, the Stevens Square community has "welcomed it with open arms as a cultural asset," he says. "They think it's a very positive addition to the neighborhood."

On a broader level, it enhances "a whole string of cultural assets along Third Avenue," which also includes several other museums.

Also, from a historical perspective, "The center swath of South Minneapolis was the first part of the city to integrate racially," so it's appropriate that the museum go there, he says.

Source: Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center; Robert Lilligren, Minneapolis City Council
Writer: Anna Pratt

A communal garden by a coalition of neighborhood groups in the works for the diverse Phillips area

The 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition in Minneapolis’s Phillips neighborhood will have its first official workday in its “communal” garden on May 19.

Phillips resident Sammie Ardito Rivera, who is the outreach and education coordinator at Dream of Wild Health, a 10-acre native farm in Hugo, belongs to the volunteer-driven coalition.   

The coalition is a joint effort of a number of community organizations including the following: Ventura Village Neighborhood Association, Indigenous Peoples Taskforce, Women’s Environmental Institute, Waite House, Indian Health Board, and Native American Community Clinic, along with Dream of Wild Health.  

It’s an opportunity for these organizations to do a demonstration farm that will help community members, especially American Indians, learn how to grow food, she says. That education is needed in the native community, which has high rates of heart disease and diabetes, Rivera adds.   

People will work in the “communal” garden collectively. “It’s not a community garden in the plot sense,” she says. “It’s more of a teaching opportunity for people who aren’t ready to grow their own food but want access.”

Nearby, a couple of other "communal" gardens are also in the works (see The Line's story here).

Planning for the 24th Street garden began last year, involving some minimal plantings last growing season. “This summer we hope to expand and have a more solid presence there,” she says.

The undeveloped piece of land, which the Indian Health Board owns, will be farmed temporarily. The Indian organization may have plans for the lot further down the line, she explains.

At the same time, the gardeners are also hoping to expand the farm in the future into a nearby lot that the city owns.

Right now, the farm is still fleshing out the details, she says, adding that for now, it’s on the lookout for rain barrels.

Source: Sammie Ardito Rivera, member of the 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition
Writer: Anna Pratt

Little Mekong brand helps draw people to the Central Corridor

In recognition of the unique Asian businesses and other cultural institutions along University Avenue in St. Paul from Galtier to Mackubin streets, the area is being branded as Little Mekong.

It’s an initiative that the local Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) launched on Feb. 25.

The name references the Mekong River, which is a major river in Southeast Asia, according to Va-Megn Thoj, who heads the AEDA. “Most businesses in the area have a connection to the river,” he explains.

In his view, “By giving a name to a destination which has existed for a long time, we can draw more people into the area.” This is especially needed during Central Corridor light rail construction, he says.  

Already, as a result of construction obstacles, many of the businesses are seeing less foot traffic, he says.

With the Little Mekong branding, “We want to build on what we have,” which he describes as “an attractive destination for people to get introduced to Asian cultures and cuisine.” Although the district has been around informally for a long time, not too many people are familiar with it, he says.

Besides improving the streetscape and putting up district-related signage, Little Mekong will host a number of events, including family-friendly festivals.

AEDA is also working with businesses to create incentive programs to bring in more customers, including coupons and other deals, and to handle increased traffic. “We’re working with businesses to strengthen their operations and customer service,” he says.

The coming Central Corridor represents “a tremendous opportunity to create something of benefit to the neighborhoods and city and region," he adds.

Source: Va-Megn Thoj
Writer: Anna Pratt

Phillips neighborhood group strives to make 'communal' gardens

Neighbors Connecting for Action in Phillips (NCAP), a new community group for Minneapolis’s Phillips neighborhood, is organizing a couple of “communal” gardens in the area.

Unlike the typical community garden structure where people sign up for a certain garden plot, participants will pool their efforts in the project, according to Jude Ortiz, an NCAP representative. “We’re coming together as neighbors to grow plants for each other,” he says, adding, “It’ll be collaborative, based on what people can do.”   

One garden at 28th and Portland Avenue South will focus on perennial plants, including various native species.

NCAP has an agreement with the Sustainable Resources Center in Northeast Minneapolis to work the land, according to Ortiz. There were gardening efforts there in the past, but there's been nothing in recent years, he says.

A second garden at 26th Street and 13th Avenue South, which has a longer, more fruitful history, will grow produce.  

To get the gardens going, the group has been pulling together community members. It's planning  meetings at both places for April 15. Attendees will begin discussing the design of the gardens at these gatherings.

Because NCAP is working without much of a budget, they’re trying to get as many donations of supplies and plants as possible. Already, “There’s a lot of interest and creativity going into it,” Ortiz says.

NCAP sees the gardens as “important to restore the urban ecosystem” and to provide access to healthy, organic food. It’s also an educational opportunity, helping the community become more self-sufficient, he says.

Further, having this kind of green space “creates an oasis in the city for people and other species,” he says.

Source: Jude Ortiz, NCAP
Writer: Anna Pratt

Local group plans solar projects, training in Nigeria

Next week, a group of local energy experts will head to Nigeria for 10 days to lead solar training.

The Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES) in Minneapolis developed the “Light Up Africa” project through its two-year-old international committee. The group will make its first stop at an area hospital, where they’ll show workers how to install a 60-watt solar module lighting system, according to Fran Crotty, one of the committee’s co-chairs. 

Their exact itinerary couldn't be shared as of press time.

Committee members will also teach people to put together a solar cell-phone charger and build a soldering station and a solar panel, according to MRES information.

“Technology transfer is mainly what we do,” Crotty says.

Besides helping set up energy-efficient infrastructure, the trainings will “provide the opportunity for [Nigerians] to do a small cottage industry” if they want, she adds.

“We provide technical information that’s always linked to economic development,” she says.

For example, entrepreneurs could start a small business charging cell phones or using solar power for grinding, the MRES website states.

The group will help Nigerians figure out what to build by “listening to them and letting them shape what they want.”

“Solar projects would be helpful in many countries that have problems with unreliable electricity, unsafe lighting, deforestation and poverty,” the MRES website states.

MRES is working with a nongovernmental organization in Nigeria. A couple of committee members happen to be from Nigeria, including Harry Olupitan, who says on the MRES website that the project is a part of a lifelong dream. “My vision is to see every household in Nigeria and in all of Africa at large powered with electricity powered by solar energy,” he says.

Source: Fran Crotty, Minnesota Renewable Energy Society
Writer: Anna Pratt

Historical project explores Sabathani Community Center's impact in South Minneapolis

A project launched last week, entitled "We are Sabathani," will document the impact of the longstanding Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis through words and art.

The Council on Black Minnesotans and the Minnesota Humanities Center have partnered in the project, with funding from the state Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Sabathani, which brings together everything from a food shelf to after-school youth programs, has long been a community gathering place, according to Anika Robbins, who is leading the project along with retired Judge LaJune Thomas Lange.

Already Robbins and Lange have started collecting oral histories and artifacts, such as newspaper clippings and other writings related to Sabathani, all of which will end up in a traveling exhibit. They're also cataloging the center's extensive art collection.

In the 1960s, Sabathani originated as a church. Back then, churches were often a “pivotal point for bringing communities together,” Robbins says. Before present-day types of nonprofit organizations and community centers were created, "Churches were activism-involved and they helped push social change,” she adds.

Later Sabathani evolved into a community center at its current location, which was formerly a junior high school. It became “an avenue for children, to keep them engaged,” Robbins says, adding that she has fond youthful memories of the place herself.

These days, it’s also a hangout for seniors, and some of its original founders participate in events; this, she says, “is a story in and of itself.”

Robbins is excited about the opportunity to capture these stories, which she hopes will help people to “understand the fabric of the community they come from.” The place has hosted “so many people from different walks of life, who grew up in the area or came through the doors for various reasons,” she says, adding, “It continues to be a beacon in the city.”  

Source: Anika Robbins, "We are Sabathani"
Writer: Anna Pratt

Photographer Wing Young Huie explores intersections in four neighborhoods

Local photographer Wing Young Huie, who is well known for his public art installations that explore everyday life in the city, is trying to line up funding for a new project, called, “We Are the Other."

It centers on strangers who cross paths within the four-neighborhood area surrounding his gallery, The Third Place, at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. He also lives in the neighborhood.

“The Other” refers to people who “know each other slightly, but for whatever reason or perceived difference there is a barrier in getting to know them well,” he states in project materials.

“We Are the Other” builds on “The University Avenue Project,” which also forged connections between near-strangers, he says.

As a part of the recent project, which turned the St. Paul avenue into a six-mile public gallery, Huie used a series of questions to prompt conversations between residents.

He asked students in a school, for example, to go outside of their social circle, and to pose questions to one another such as, "What's your favorite word?" or "How do you think others see you?"

He documented them in black-and-white photos that feature their chalkboard scribbles. 

Similarly, for his current project,Huie is bringing random people together, either on the street or at a business or a community organization, with the chalkboard.

The photographer will also host related workshops to encourage others to do the same.  

Eventually, the project, which will incorporate photos from the workshops, will take the form of a “mobile community art center,” changing locations every week or so.

Altogether, it advances the idea behind The Third Place, which is also a sociological term that describes informal places where people congregate outside of home and work.

“Making connections, getting outside of our bubble, is where the idea of 'The Other' came from,” he says.

“In the times we live in, everyone wants to be connected but it’s so difficult to be connected. This is an era that’s made face-to-face interaction difficult.”

Source: Wing Young Huie
Writer: Anna Pratt

$315,000 goes to new community soccer field for Cedar-Riverside neighborhood

On Sept. 12, a new youth-sized synthetic-turf soccer field opened at Currie Park in Minneapolis's Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

It replaced a nondescript grass and dirt field that buckled up in some places, according to Park Board commissioner Scott Vreeland.

The soccer field is a part of a larger, ongoing effort to improve the park’s facilities, including expanding the existing Brian Coyle Community Center. “Folks at Brian Coyle had been advocating for more resources,” he says.

To make the soccer field a go in the short term, Hennepin County provided a $295,000 grant from its youth sports program, which is funded by the Target Field ballpark tax, while the Park Board contributed $20,000, according to park board information.

Other collaborators included the Pillsbury United Communities, West Bank Community Coalition, and Cedar Riverside Youth Council.

More informally, the community’s elders helped figure out how to install the field to best serve the children. They also got the community behind it. “It’s a thing people wanted. It wasn’t particularly controversial. Everyone saw it as a win-win,” he says.  

In a diverse area where reaching a consensus can often be difficult, the soccer field is a visible community-building place where people “can go and meet people and kick the ball around,” he says. “It inspires me when I go by.”

He hopes the field gets used a lot. “It gives the opportunity for people to put aside their differences and get together in one space.”

Stewart Park has already gotten similar improvements while East Phillips Park is next.

Source: Scott Vreeland, commissioner, Minneapolis Park Board
Writer: Anna Pratt

Bruner Loeb Forum highlights stronger communities through art and design

At the recent Bruner Loeb Forum in Minneapolis, a mix of speakers stressed numerous community development initiatives that take art into account in ways that are both concrete and philosophical.

The Bruner Loeb Forum, which originated at the Harvard Design School, is a biannual gathering that brings to the fore "innovative strategies from across the nation that leverage local engagement in art and design to build more equitable, more economically sustainable, and more connected neighborhoods and cities," according to program materials.

The two-day event in Minneapolis was titled, "Putting Creativity to Work: Stronger Communities through Locally Rooted Art and Design." As it unfolded at various local venues, it brought together a crowd of that included local and national designers, scholars, planners, artists, nonprofit representatives, government officials, and others, program materials state.

Juxtaposition Arts hosted the event in partnership with the University of Minnesota's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) and landscape architecture department, Nexus Community Partners, 4RM+ULA architecture, and Conway+Schulte Architects.

At the conference, speakers touched on everything from Houston's Project Row Houses to the ability of artists to turn around declining neighborhoods. Attendees toured the North and South Minneapolis neighborhoods, where Juxtaposition Arts and Native American Community Development Institute are working to improve the areas.

DeAnna Cummings, who heads Juxtaposition Arts with her husband, Roger, hopes people will get serious about addressing racial disparities. "They have to be addressed if we'll ever manifest our potential as a community," she says. "We all have to work together to change it."

She cites a couple of examples of the kind of creative problem-solving that came out of the exercise. In examining West Broadway Avenue North, from the Mississippi River to Penn Avenue North--as  part of a creative mapping activity--conference participants concluded that the plethora of youth-oriented programs is too poorly advertised, while artistic streetscape enhancements need to be more visible.

She says that the event's speakers discussed the importance of pulling together diverse groups of people to solve problems and build on opportunities. Instead of getting the best and brightest people, who tend to be like-minded, "more effective is a team that thinks differently, that envisions challenges through different lenses," she says.  

Cummings says she was impressed with the level of energy of conference-goers. While she and others are still "unpacking" the takeaways, follow-up events are in the works, including a Juxtaposition mural to go on Broadway and Emerson. Students will work with professional artist mentors "to bring what happened at the conference out onto the street."   

Source: DeAnna Cummings, Juxtaposition Arts
Writer: Anna Pratt

St. Paul's West Side hopes zoning helps bring 100,000 Cinco de Mayo visitors back for more

More than 100,000 people crowd into the West Side neighborhood for St. Paul's annual Cinco del Mayo celebration. The area's appeal as a place for shopping, entertainment and doing business the rest of the year should get a boost, now that the commercial zone collectively called District del Sol has gained Traditional Neighborhood (TN) zoning status.

That's the hope of local businesses and residents who pushed for two years to get TN zoning, says Roxanne Young, commercial development manager at Riverview Economic Development Association (REDA).

A big reason TN zoning has had support on the West Side is the mixed-use development it allows: a veterinary clinic with the doctor living upstairs is an example Young offers. That's a common pattern along St. Paul's most vibrant commercial street, Grand Avenue, she says, and TN zoning has a good track record of encouraging pedestrian-focused development along other neighborhood corridors such as Rice and Arcade streets.

Design guidelines that accompany TN zoning will also come in handy as REDA pursues redevelopment of the District del Sol's major intersection at Robert and Cesar Chavez (Concord) streets. It's a gateway from downtown St. Paul just across the Mississippi River, yet with its vacant buildings and vacant land Young says it's been "blighted and underutilized for more than 20 years."

TN zoning has residential and commercial neighbors "looking at opportunities opened up for mixed-use development," she says. That would add a reason for visitors to return to an area where, Young says, for most businesses Cinco de Mayo stands as "one of the main ways to recruit new audiences."

Source: Roxanne Young, Riverview Economic Development Association
Writer: Chris Steller

Name your drink with $500 donation to coming Rondo coffee cafe

Nieeta Presley envisions a day sometime soon when a new coffeeshop at University and Dale in St. Paul will offer a "Frogtown with Two Hops of Rondo."

If you have a better name for a drink, Presley invites you to put your money where your mouth is. The organization she directs, Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation (ASANDC), is planning to open the Rondo Coffee Cafe in the new Frogtown Square mixed-use building. For a $500 donation, ASANDC will assign any name you like to a beverage on the menu.

But Presley says the real purpose of the cafe is not to create new drinks but to be a generator of social enterprise -- hiring and training people who have trouble getting work elsewhere and helping folks learn how to start their own businesses.

The cafe's name recalls the lost, lamented Rondo neighborhood, home to St. Paul's African-American community before the construction of Interstate 94 destroyed it almost half a century ago. The Rondo Coffee Cafe will serve as a mini-museum to the memory of Rondo, Presley says.

To that end, supporters may donate lesser amounts to have their family photo from Rondo displayed on the cafe's walls or on top of a table. She wants to include stories with the photos.

The kind of photo customers might see is one that's been offered already from 1954 when Hubert Humphrey was re-elected to the U.S. Senate. The donor's dad--an African-American weighing more than 300 pounds--is shown seated in a wheelbarrow that's being pushed by a "little white guy" up Cathedral Hill, as Presley recalls it. The two had bet on the outcome of Humphrey's Senate bid, and the photo documents how the bet was settled.

Eventually the display could grow to include memorabilia of community life since Rondo Avenue disappeared, Presley says, to answer the question, "What happened next?"

Source: Nieeta Presley, Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation

Writer: Chris Steller

National African-American bicyclist group gives Twin Cities paths a spin

When the National Brotherhood of Cyclists finally held a long-discussed "summit" of African-American bicycling groups from around the country, they chose to come to the Twin Cities. And while here last weekend, they held the Twin Cities Urban Bicycle Festival, believed to be the nation's first African-American-themed bike fest, as part of St. Paul's Rondo Days.

The Brotherhood is the national organization of Major Taylor bicycle clubs--named for the 19th century Indiana man who was cycling's first African-American world champion. The bike summit drew cyclists from Major Taylor clubs in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Nashville, Oakland, and Columbus, Ohio, according to Louis Moore of Minneapolis, president of the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota.

All knew that Bicycling magazine had recently named Minneapolis the country's best bike city, Moore says. And most had heard of the Midtown Greenway bicycle and pedestrian route that crosses Minneapolis. On a 40-mile group ride starting in St. Paul, the Greenway's Martin Olav Sabo Bridge was one of the highlights--particularly for Moore, who was an aide in former U.S. Rep. Sabo's district office for 20 years.

"I was his bicycle man," says Moore of his years pushing bike projects for Sabo's Minneapolis district. "I taught him how to sit on a bike." (Growing up on a farm didn't leave Sabo time for biking, Moore explains.)

Are the Twin Cities' predominantly African-American neighborhoods underserved by bike facilities? Yes, says Moore. North Minneapolis, for example, has few bike routes, with more planned but not funded. Moore says that's due to the work of vocal advocates from other parts of town, adding that the North Side is slated to get a bike/walk center, funded in part with federal dollars, within two years.

Source: Louis Moore, Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota
Writer: Chris Steller

Reviving a sense of place is goal of American Indian Cultural Corridor

"I believe if you have a sense of place, you have a better sense of direction," says Lemoine LaPointe, who directs the Healthy Nations Program at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. "A sense of place was already created here hundreds of years ago."

Reinvigorating that sense of place for Indian people on Minneapolis' Franklin Avenue is the purpose of an effort called the American Indian Cultural Corridor, started last year by the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI).

LaPointe made his comments for a video NACDI produced to promote the cultural corridor concept, a vision of economic vitality and Native identity along a street that has been, for going on a century, a major focal point of American Indian urban life.

NACDI has taken that vision high-tech via an animated video that swoops down Franklin, starting at Cedar Avenue, current site of the American Indian OIC (AIOIC).

But the organization has taken a very concrete step as well, purchasing a headquarters building at the eastern end of the corridor, at Bloomington and Franklin avenues, with the AIOIC. Meanwhile, New Native Theatre has formed, offering reading series and planning a full production in 2011.

In some ways the vision is a throwback to what Franklin Avenue was like in the early decades following the federal government's relocation of Indian people to cities, when a full spectrum of goods and services was available to serve the immediate community. Now NACDI wants to see that richness return, this time fueled by Indian ownership and entrepreneurship.

Source: Lemoine LaPointe
Writer: Chris Steller

"Careership" program has minted 110 developers to serve communities of color--with more to come

Minnesota's population became much more diverse from 1970 to 2000, but over that time most of the people working in development in communities of color had one thing in common: They were white.

People from within those communities could use a leg up to join and diversify the local professional-development ranks. That was the impetus behind a yearlong training program that Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) began in 1997. Since then 110 developers have graduated from the Careership program, with as many as three-quarters going on to work in the field of community development.

This year, 12 people are taking part in the program; as many as 70 apply annually. They earn a stipend $12,000 while putting in 15 hours each week at a sponsoring organizatio --usually a nonprofit but sometimes a government agency or a for-profit developer. There, and at monthly seminars and consultations with an executive coach, they learn the ropes of building community through development work.

For about 35 percent of the participants, that development work is the bricks-and-mortar sort, says senior program officer Barbara Jeanetta. Housing and commercial development has remained a core activity for students and graduates of the program. But people from communities of color and immigrant groups understood that "it was not just about physical development," Jeanetta says. "They innately knew it was much more integrated." That means that many work on building more intangible kinds of community assets--employee training, youth development, and home-buying, for example.

Careership is especially helpful for people who lack a college degree and have "spotty" work records due to time spent caring for a parent or child, Jeanetta says. These people often don't have a professional network, but they start to build one over their year at the Careership program.

Source: Barbara Jeanetta, LISC
Writer: Chris Steller
61 Diversity Articles | Page: | Show All
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