Growing North Minneapolis, a UMN Partner Project, Receives $225k USDA Grant

Growing North Minneapolis, a community-based collaborative that includes several University of Minnesota entities such as the Agricultural Education, Communication & Marketing department and Department of Horticultural Science in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), received a $225,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in October.

Established as a partnership with the university in 2015 after receiving a Healthy Food Healthy Lives Institute grant, Growing North Minneapolis works to advance environmental, social and racial justice through urban agriculture in the North Minneapolis community. Through intergenerational mentorship, Growing North Minneapolis cultivates life and career skills for youth and facilitates access to postsecondary opportunities so that youth are empowered to achieve their future dreams.

This approach occurs in two parts. In-school programming, coordinated by CFANS Partnership Outreach Coordinator Brandon Roiger and Urban 4-H Hennepin County Program Coordinator Amie Mondl, centers on the implementation of agriculture, food and natural resources (AFNR) curriculum content at the NSTEM Academy of North Community High School. About 20 students spend time in the classroom with this content each spring and work alongside urban farmers from the community. Professionals from various AFNR-related careers also present to the class on related topics.

During the summer, 30 Minneapolis youth participating in the city’s STEP-UP program work with mentors and UMN undergraduate students to care for 13 community gardens, distribute food to the community, and sell produce at local markets. Illana Livstrom, STEM Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota, coordinates this program and leads the research and evaluation efforts, which Roiger also supports.

The USDA grant will fund Growing North initiatives for two years with the intention of expanding the organization’s impact on student participants.

“My thoughts about food changed because I never really took action about it, and I never really expressed myself when it comes to food and growing,” one youth intern said. “I feel like it needs to be a bigger topic in the world we live in right now.”

Participant interviews indicated that youth enjoyed taking leadership roles and supporting the community, sharing and listening to stories about life while working in the gardens, and seeing the transformation of the space as they cultivated what they grew. They said they also learned socioemotional skills such as patience, anger management and reflective practices, as well as nutrition skills, developing their own voice and collaborating with peers.

Although the organization developed a formalized partnership with the university just three years ago, food access work has been ongoing in the North Minneapolis community for decades. Project Sweetie Pie, led by local activist Michael Chaney, has been working with North Community High School since 2011 -- at first to make horticulture and food science courses a priority in their curriculum and now to continue the mission of Growing North.

The USDA NIFA provides leadership and funding for programs that advance agriculture-related sciences, and five organizations have recently received grants as a result.