Urban Roots celebrating 50th anniversary


file photo Urban Roots, the East Side youth urban agriculture nonprofit, will be spending 2019 celebrating its 50th anniversary. The organization has a number of gardens across the East Side, including its original garden on the corner of Third Street and Maria Avenue, which it established in 1996.

file photo Urban Roots has partnered with numerous organizations, including Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services. That particular partnership includes an urban farm at the Village on Rivolli housing development in Railroad Island, where the high tunnel seen above was installed in 2018.

East Side youth nonprofit Urban Roots will spend 2019 celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The urban agriculture organization will kick off celebrations with an event at Summit Brewing Company, 910 Montreal Circle in St. Paul, on Wednesday, March 6, from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

The organization has grown substantially over the past half century, starting with one small garden and expanding to include not only gardening, but conservation and wellness to its programming. 

 

Something for everyone

Today, Urban Roots has three main programs for high school students: the Market Garden program, where students grow and sell produce; conservation, which involves students working on a number of natural resources projects on the East Side; and Cook Fresh, a healthy eating and wellness program.

With each program, not only are students getting job experience, they’re also learning leadership skills, self-development and about possible future careers, said Patsy Noble, executive director of the organization.

“They see themselves as decision-makers and stewards of the land,” she said.

East Siders should be familiar with the organization, as there are six gardens, totaling an acre, spread across East Side neighborhoods, managed in conjunction with other area institutions. 

For example, the organization’s very first garden — which remains today after being established more than 20 years ago — is located on the corner of Third Street and Maria Avenue. That particular garden led the way for a commercial partnership with Phoenix Market, located next door.

The market sells fresh produce grown by students, and in 2018 let the organization’s Youth Council design and paint  mural on the market’s southern wall.

The organization also partners with Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services on the Village on Rivoli housing development in Railroad Island. There, Urban Roots installed a high tunnel for an extended growing season, beehives, a sapling starter garden as well as another large garden. 

 

50 years, many gardens

The organization that would become Urban Roots, the Community Design Center of Minnesota, was incorporated in 1969. It began with a focus on community visioning and building, working not only in urban areas, but rural areas as well.

It wasn’t until 1996 that the organization moved to the East Side and became Urban Roots. At the time, it was working on developing a new model for community wellness, said Noble, and started its first garden.

Noble said in those years, Urban Roots worked with Dayton’s Bluff Elementary school, where students would come to the garden for art and science classes. 

She said the organization noticed the same kids would take the same classes year after year as they advanced through grades, which grew into the idea of starting a paid internship program, where students would grow and sell produce from the garden.

Eventually the gardens spread, with another planted at Swede Hollow Cafe around 1997, and others near Harding High School and Holy Trinity Church. In 2014, another garden was established near the organization’s offices at 463 Maria Ave. in Dayton’s Bluff. 

The conservation program was developed in 2000, with much of its initial work revolving around the clean up and revitalization of the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. Today, students in the program help with conservation work in Swede Hollow Park and work with the Department of Natural Resources at the Willow Brook Fish Hatchery off Warner Road. 

“We have lots of partnerships. So many I can’t even name them all,” said Noble, pointing out it’s what she believes has lead to the organization’s longevity and success.

 

Future projects

As Urban Roots enters its 50th year, it’s continuing its tradition of partnerships and expansion. 

More is planned for the urban farm at the Village on Rivoli, where a shared community garden will be built this year. The organization also received a grant from the Laura Jane Musser Foundation for the creation of a small arboretum at Rivoli, which will illustrate how climate change will affect urban forests. 

Urban Roots’ work will also expand beyond the East Side, with plans to help the City of Maplewood on a pollinator plant seed bed in the city’s Harvest Park. Pollinator plants will be grown and their seeds harvested to use for conservation work. 

The Cook Fresh program will also be expanding to offer its health and wellness classes through Merrick Community Services, another East Side nonprofit that provides a variety of job, food, wellness and housing services. 

Summer Badawi, former coordinator of the Market Garden program and current events manager, said she believes the organization’s success in the community is due to its partnerships and the young people involved. 

“When the community sees young people doing meaningful work, people are engaged and interested,” Badawi said, adding the community also appreciates the visual break the gardens provide from what she calls “urban chaos.”

Badawi said that for the high schoolers involved with the program, “growing things can mimic growth in real life,” especially during teenage years filled with so many changes.

A number of events will be held throughout the year celebrating Urban Roots’ anniversary. To stay up to date, check the organization’s events calendar online at www.urbanrootsmn.org.

 

–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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