Empty lot to fertile farmland: Urban Roots brings fresh food to underserved areas and helps employ youth
ST. PAUL, Minn. — It’s not easy to grow a garden in the city, but one group has found a way to do it and is bringing fresh food to under-served areas.
Urban Roots founded their largest agriculture site on the east side of St. Paul in 2016, turning a former city snow plow dump into fertile farmland.
“The food that we grow is going directly to the community, and we want to make sure that food is healthy, nutritious and safe for them to eat,” said Hayley Ball, the executive director of Urban Roots.
This non-profit is not only helping the community, but it is a launch pad for young people to grow their passions by offering paid internships to teens and young adults who want to learn about cultivation, cooking and selling.
“The point behind our programming is for youth to empower themselves and to grow food that they would like to see in their community,” said Ball.
As recently as 5 years ago, this plot of land in the Railroad Island neighborhood of St. Paul was simply a field of invasive weeds. Today, it’s a thriving garden, growing tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini and watermelon.
“To make this site that we could grow on, we had to bring in so much dirt, like more dirt than you could possibly imagine,” said Ball.
“It’s a really beautiful creation that we do,” said Hindhivne Bulye, one of the 80 Urban Roots interns, as she looked out over the cityscape garden they built from nothing.
Bulye has been working and learning as a cook for Urban Roots for the last two years. She’s a sophomore at Central High School. Her experience with Urban Roots has inspired her future.
“Food is my passion and I wish to do something with it in my future,” said Bulye.
A lot of what’s grown here is sold here as well. To avoid wasting anything, when veggies reach their last week of freshness, they’re offered up to customers for free.
“To help the environment, and also to eat the grown food so you don’t have to shop at the grocery store,” said Bulye.
To make this food even more accessible, there is a cash incentive for shoppers using SNAP benefits, and the farmer’s market will match those dollars spent.
Urban Roots is able to function thanks to donations from the community.
To learn more about Urban Roots click here.