Empty plot in fertile farmland: Urban Roots brings fresh food to underserved areas and helps employ young people

Street. Paul, MN. – It’s not easy to grow a garden in the city, but one group has found a way to do it bringing fresh food to underserved areas.

Urban Roots established their largest farming site on the east side of St. Paul in 2016, transforming the city’s former snow-plowing dump into fertile farmland.

“The food we grow goes straight into the community, and we want to make sure the food is healthy, nutritious and safe for them to eat,” said Hayley Ball, CEO of Urban Roots.

Not only does this non-profit organization help the community, but it is a launching pad for young people to develop their passion by offering paid internships to teens and young adults who want to learn about farming, cooking and selling.

“The goal of our programs is to empower young people for themselves and grow the food they want to see in their community,” Paul said.

Recently, 5 years ago, this plot of land in the Rail Island neighborhood of St. Paul was just a field of invasive weeds. Today, it’s a thriving garden, growing tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, and watermelons.

“To make this a site where we could grow, we had to bring in a lot more dirt, like more dirt than you could possibly imagine,” Paul said.

“It’s a really nice job,” said Hindhivne Bulye, one of the 80 interns at Urban Roots, looking at the city garden they built from nothing.

Polly has been working and educated as a chef at Urban Roots for the past two years. She is a student at Central High School. Her experience with Urban Roots has inspired her future.

“Food is my passion and I hope to do something with it in the future,” Polly said.

Much of what is grown here is sold here as well. To avoid wasting anything, when the vegetables reach their last week of freshness, they are offered to customers for free.

“To help the environment, and also eat food that’s grown so you don’t have to go grocery shopping,” Polley said.

To make this food more accessible, there is a cash incentive for shoppers who use SNAP benefits, and the farmers market will match those dollars spent.

Urban Roots is able to operate thanks to donations from the community.

To learn more about Urban Roots, click here.

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