Food, Nature & Culture

Build an Urban Oasis

Tracy Sides
by Tracy Sides | Mar 06, 2013
| 32 Comments
Competition Winner

This entry has been selected as a winner in the
Forever Saint Paul Challenge competition.

Summary:

What if, within biking and walking distance of downtown St. Paul, there was an urban oasis where people gathered to steep in the natural beauty of the river, rich cultural history and wholesome food from nearby gardens and farms? And what if this oasis also provided numerous jobs and empowered community members to grow, preserve and cook their own food? I think we'd have a healthier, happier and more prosperous community, attractive to people near and far.
Let’s create a signature food hub and nature-themed event center in sections of the vacant 4-story building at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. Good work has been done to set the stage for redevelopment of this City-owned building into a center for nature and culture. Many agree that the space has great potential, but a financially viable anchor business is needed; one that aligns with the overall vision for the building to celebrate and cultivate healthy ecology and communities. Food is the perfect complement to this vision.
Commercial kitchen and classrooms at the hub would house a catering company, food truck (hello St. Paul Saints!), worker-owned food processing cooperative for local produce, entrepreneurs who create healthy value-added food products, and offer food growing, preservation and cooking skills classes to the community. Imagine buying tomatoes at the St. Paul Farmers Market and learning to can them at the oasis kitchen! Or EcoLab managers walking over from their downtown office for a strategic planning retreat fed by inspiring experiences on the land and nourishing locally grown food.
A signature food hub and nature-themed event center in the “uniquely St. Paul” place of the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary will benefit my community and beyond by creating jobs, improving health and fostering a sense of community among people and this special place. Let's showcase St. Paul, not just as a thriving, creative, equitable and sustainable city, but also a national leader in local food system development!

About You

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About You

First Name

Tracy

Last Name

Sides

City

Saint Paul

County

Ramsey

Country

United States, MN, Ramsey County

Website (if you have one)

Names of others who helped contribute to my idea

Lower Phalen Creek Project, Good Life Catering, Assoc for Adv of Hmong Women, Community Table, FLAG, Mighty Grange, AFORS

How did you hear about the Forever Saint Paul Challenge?

A friend told me about it

About Your Organization (if applicable)

Organization Name (if applicable)

Bravely Be

Organization Website

Organization Phone

612-202-2442

Organization Address

733 E. 7th Street, Ste 100

City

Saint Paul

Organization Country

United States, MN, Ramsey County

Your idea

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Title of your idea

Food, Nature & Culture: Build an Urban Oasis

Give us the highlights of your idea for making Saint Paul great (2,000 characters maximum or approx. 250 words)

What if, within biking and walking distance of downtown St. Paul, there was an urban oasis where people gathered to steep in the natural beauty of the river, rich cultural history and wholesome food from nearby gardens and farms? And what if this oasis also provided numerous jobs and empowered community members to grow, preserve and cook their own food? I think we'd have a healthier, happier and more prosperous community, attractive to people near and far.
Let’s create a signature food hub and nature-themed event center in sections of the vacant 4-story building at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. Good work has been done to set the stage for redevelopment of this City-owned building into a center for nature and culture. Many agree that the space has great potential, but a financially viable anchor business is needed; one that aligns with the overall vision for the building to celebrate and cultivate healthy ecology and communities. Food is the perfect complement to this vision.
Commercial kitchen and classrooms at the hub would house a catering company, food truck (hello St. Paul Saints!), worker-owned food processing cooperative for local produce, entrepreneurs who create healthy value-added food products, and offer food growing, preservation and cooking skills classes to the community. Imagine buying tomatoes at the St. Paul Farmers Market and learning to can them at the oasis kitchen! Or EcoLab managers walking over from their downtown office for a strategic planning retreat fed by inspiring experiences on the land and nourishing locally grown food.
A signature food hub and nature-themed event center in the “uniquely St. Paul” place of the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary will benefit my community and beyond by creating jobs, improving health and fostering a sense of community among people and this special place. Let's showcase St. Paul, not just as a thriving, creative, equitable and sustainable city, but also a national leader in local food system development!

Innovation

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What makes your idea different or unexpected? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

Our idea leverages the collective expertise and success of several local food and policy experts, community leaders and established organizations to create an even greater impact by bringing them together under one roof. Lowertown and the East Side are experiencing a renaissance around community, health and wealth. An urban oasis of a signature food hub and nature-themed event center will amplify this energy by bringing complementary, financially viable efforts together in concert with existing City planning goals. Our idea aligns with and infuses fresh energy into the Greater Lowertown Master Plan, Great River Passage Plan, redevelopment efforts by Lower Phalen Creek Project and City bonding bill legislation introduced by Rep. Sheldon Johnson and Sen. Foung Hawj.

Locally produced food is simultaneously a driver of economic, personal, and community health. Food not only represents a real connection between us and the land, growing and cooking food together is also an increasingly popular topic of interest and activity throughout St. Paul, and in particular our community on the East Side. People are recognizing the critical role that food and the skills of food preparation play in healthy people and communities. For example, through the East Side Prosperity Campaign, numerous organizations and community members came together to form an East Side Local Food Resource Hub (a neighborhood gardening network) in association with the Gardening Matters program in the Twin Cities. We want to build on this positive momentum!

Our idea will revolutionize our local food system by filling gaps in aggregation, processing, and freezing, which no other city has yet been able to accomplish. Our partners are Hmong, Latino, African American, European American and we are actively reaching out to our First Nations brothers and sisters. Successful implementation of our idea will not only scale up our local food system, but will also make it more equitable.

The Farmers’ Legal Action Group and others are working to create opportunities for food producers to earn a living wage raising and selling healthy food to our communities. Our idea will actively bridge this work with the public health community’s policy, systems and environment change efforts to provide access to healthy, locally grown foods in isolated and low-income communities. So, our local producers of high quality food will be fairly compensated and their products will be available at affordable prices to nourish the health of our whole community.
We believe the perfect place to carry out this idea is the unique site where St. Paul began – at a special curve in the Mississippi River, where visitors to St. Paul’s Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary can see the downtown skyline and ancient river bluffs, and experience the healing qualities of nature.

Impact

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This Entry is about (Issues)

How will your idea make a difference in Saint Paul? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

A signature food hub and nature-themed event center in the “uniquely St. Paul” place of the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary will benefit Lowertown, the East Side and beyond by creating jobs, improving health and fostering a sense of community among people and the precious land at the sanctuary. Our idea will showcase St. Paul, not just as a thriving, creative, equitable and sustainable city, but also distinguish us as a national leader in local food system development!

Urban oasis activities will simultaneously create economic and life-enhancing opportunities for our community. Views of our City’s natural beauty and skyline from the event center will draw individuals, businesses and organizations to gather for all kinds of community building, business development, and health and wellness activities, while also being nourished by locally grown food prepared by renowned food professionals. Classes to share food preservation and cooking skills, as well as small food business development will improve the community’s health, increase economic/vocational opportunities and build social bonds. Commercial aquaponics will innovatively produce local food and jobs year-round. A worker-owned cooperative to aggregate, process and freeze food from local farms or Lowertown Farmers Market will create jobs and small business opportunities. A food truck, featuring product grown or processed onsite, will capitalize on an expanded market created by the St. Paul Saints and Union Depot.

Successful implementation of our idea will create a stronger, more equitable and affordable local food system. Farmers, many of whom are immigrants and refugees, will be empowered through job skills training and access to larger, year-round market opportunities like restaurants, schools and our event center. The East Side will retain more of its food and beverage retail dollars and increase the number of local job opportunities. Lowertown, East Side and other St. Paul neighbors will get to know one another and develop their food planning and preparation skills through innovative and welcoming cooking demonstrations and community meal events.

Our idea will contribute to the experience of St. Paul, by residents and visitors alike, as a thriving, creative, equitable and sustainable City. This is the place and now is the time!

Sustainability

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Why do you think people will recognize or remember your idea after it comes to life? How might it inspire others to do something similar in their community? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

Walking or biking from downtown into a City-owned space thriving with local economic activity, education and a nature-inspired retreat/event center, all driven by nourishing, locally-grown food, will create a memorable experience for all who visit and will call them back again and again.

Our idea was inspired by the experiences and dreams of people who live or work in St. Paul and who not only love food and this beautiful place of the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, but also love the transformative impact of food and nature on us as humans and neighbors.

In an era when most of what we hear on the radio or read in the newspaper is doom and gloom, implementation of our idea will lift the spirit and engender hope by demonstrating that creative cooperation can bloom and grow a thriving, equitable, and sustainable future for St. Paul. We will be an example for other cities.

Bringing this idea to life will demonstrate that ordinary people doing ordinary things can, together, make extraordinary things happen. Economic viability and social justice can be realized in our food system, if we work together with openness and imagination.

Additonal Questions

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For your idea, what does success look like? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

This idea will showcase St. Paul as a thriving, creative, equitable and sustainable city and distinguish our city as a national leader in local food system development. This is the place and now is the time.

Success of our idea will have many facets and, depending on your perspective, may appear as an expansion of your own personal pride in St. Paul, or maybe it will look like one of the following examples of improved health, greater sense of community or increased economic opportunity:

* More immigrant and refugee farmers are able to provide for their families because they no longer have to discard large percentages of their crops back onto the field, but can instead be paid for their produce to be aggregated, processed, frozen and distributed throughout the year by a worker-owned cooperative.

* With the added infrastructure for aggregating, minimally processing, and freezing produce, more school children in St. Paul and elsewhere will have access to locally raised produce year-round.

* Fewer food and beverage retail dollars are leaving the East Side of St. Paul because numerous small food business owners are selling locally produced food within a few miles of the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, where they received food entrepreneurial training.

* More St. Paul restaurants procure fish and greens from commercial aquaponic operations that employ residents from neighborhoods surrounding the signature food hub.

* Each year, more than 100 people choose to celebrate significant life events at the nature-themed event center, which embodies everything that is beautiful and unique about St. Paul: the Mississippi River, rich cultural and natural history, visual arts, outdoor recreation, and an authentic commitment to thriving communities.

* Healthy local food being sold from the hub’s food truck during St. Paul Saints games to people who arrive by light rail from all over the Twin Cities.

* So many people register for the family cooking classes that additional class times must be added to accommodate the growing numbers of families who want to learn how to cook with local, fresh ingredients and include their children.

* Each season, several hundred people gather at “Sunday Suppers” to learn and cook together, sharing across generations and cultures, the unique recipes that reflect our unique stories.

What are the top three things that would likely need to happen in the first year to get your idea started? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

Our idea is built upon collaboration. Complex collaboration requires investments of time and expertise to effectively manage and communicate about the process while maintaining positive relationships among key stakeholders. The top three things to accomplish in the first year to get this idea started include:

* Develop a business plan for the signature food hub and nature-themed event center in collaboration with the idea partners and other key stakeholders:
Studying the business models of similar public-private collaborations will inform the creation of a financially viable package to present to the Vento building development team and City of St. Paul. Considerations in this plan will include other possible East Side locations to house the signature food hub, necessary groundwork by the cooperative to prepare its members for success, benefits and responsibilities of hub collaborators, target markets, planning and implementing a public awareness campaign.

* Develop an organizational structure for the food hub collaborators and identify a process for integrating with the overall Vento building redevelopment team:
Creating a common understanding of roles and responsibilities during the complex process of redeveloping a large publicly-owned building will be critical. We will ensure success by drawing on the extensive expertise and experience of the food hub-event center collaborators, Lower Phalen Creek Project Steering Committee and our development consultants, Tanya Bell and Louise Segreto. Examples of the ways representatives of our food hub collective might support the overall building redevelopment include attending development team meetings and delivering presentations about our signature food hub and event center model to key decision makers.

* Create architectural drawings for sections of the Vento building that will host the event center and food hub:
Working with architects experienced in designing certified-LEED food service and processing buildings will complement the overall Vento building design team. Our absolute first choice is to create this signature food hub and nature-themed event center at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary for all of the reasons we have previously described. The idea would be greatly enhanced by being housed at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, but the idea can succeed on its merits in other St. Paul locations (e.g., the old Hamm’s Brewery).

Carefully spending funds to plan and build infrastructure during the first year will preserve a significant portion of the $1 million award for capital investments in the actual food hub and event center. Efficient and thorough planning will lay the groundwork for this idea to manifest as a beautiful and inspiring place to gather, learn, connect, work and celebrate.

Which organizations, groups, and/or people might be involved in implementing your idea? Why do you think they would be a good fit? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

The group of individuals and organizations that have come together as part of our idea include a broad array of experts and innovators in their respective areas. They include:

Tracy Sides, founder of Bravely Be, an organization dedicated to promoting wholeness and community among people and the land, is the submitter of our idea. She lives and works in Dayton’s Bluff, has a Ph.D. in public health and is experienced in leading and facilitating multi-year complex collaborative projects with diverse stakeholders. She is heavily engaged in food system development and innovative environmental education on St. Paul’s East Side. Tracy would like to lead the collaborative planning process and contribute programming to the food hub and event center.

The Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota (AAHWM) has worked fro 10+ years to improve prospects for one of the key groups of specialty crop growers in Minnesota, specifically refugee and immigrant farmers. AAHWM will contribute to farmer outreach and technical assistance to the immigrant and refugee farmers participating in the cooperative’s processing and distributing activities at the food hub.

Community Table is a three-year-old Minneapolis organization that supports farmers/entrepreneurs who aspire to contribute to a local food system. An association of food businesses, it connects growers, processors, distributors, and markets to one another and to the information and resources they need to thrive in a local food economy. Community Table will contribute its experience in the creation of cooperatives for socially disadvantaged specialty crop growers and technical training such as flash freezing, minimal processing of vegetables, and cooperative purchases and planning.

Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG) is a 27-year old nonprofit law center located in St. Paul dedicated to providing legal services and support to family farmers and their communities to help keep family farmers on the land. A family farm-based system of agriculture produces sustainable jobs, healthy and livable communities, and good food. FLAG will provide culturally tailored technical and legal services to immigrant and refugee farmers and help with infrastructure (e.g., with regulations regarding establishing a commercial kitchen, zoning issues, etc.). FLAG has the capacity to act as and is our proposed fiscal agent (pending board approval).

Good Life Cafe and Good Life Catering have been successful local food businesses for 17 years. Owners, Jenny Breen, professional chef and public health nutritionist, and Karn Anderson will contribute experience developing and implementing successful food businesses and food business training. Good Life Catering will operate at the food hub including service to the event center. Jenny also will contribute programming on nutrition, cooking skills and food business training.

Mighty Grange is a start-up commercial aquaponics business. This organization will operate at the food hub and contribute educational programming.

Bridger Merkt, personal chef and East Side resident, will contribute experience managing a food truck and institutional food service and teach meal planning and cooking skills.

Development consulting team, Tanya Bell and Louise Segreto, will contribute their expertise from years of successful real estate development in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The Lower Phalen Creek Project (LPCP) is a non-profit community organization working to strengthen Saint Paul’s East Side and Lowertown communities by enhancing the value of local parks and trails, ecological and cultural resources and connections to the Mississippi River. For 16 years, the LPCP has conducted the groundwork for land acquisition, habitat restoration and now, redevelopment of the 4-story building at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. For this project, LPCP will be a key partner in the planning process.

As the planning process develops, the list of partners and their contributions will evolve.

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Dennie Cyper said: Yeah even I agree, really a great idea and it would surely be helpful for other too. It would be goo for the city development ... about this Competition Entry. - 323 days ago read more >
Food, Nature & Culture: Build an Urban Oasis has been chosen as a winner in Forever Saint Paul Challenge. - 325 days ago
Tracy Sides said: Thanks for dropping a note, Paul. I appreciate your vote of confidence that our idea will bear fruit---I really believe that, too, ... about this Competition Entry. - 327 days ago read more >
Paul Hannemann said: Just wanted to add my thanks for all your effort to move this idea forward. Love all three finalist, as I am involved in both the arts ... about this Competition Entry. - 328 days ago read more >