ST. PAUL — Urban agriculture is alive and well in the Twin Cities but producers need cities to cooperate if the future will remain bright.
The Minnesota Farm Bureau welcomed more than 100 people to its inaugural Urban Ag Conference, held on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota on Jan. 13.
More than 100 attendees had the opportunity to connect in a variety of ways on the issues and opportunities facing agriculture in an urban setting. Participants heard from state leaders including Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, Sen. Aric Putnam, Rep. Samantha Vang and Minnesota Farm Bureau President Dan Glessing.
The conference was made possible by a grant from the USDA Urban, Indoor and other Emerging Agricultural Production Research, Education and Extension Initiative.
Rachel Reisig is the director of communications for the Minnesota Farm Bureau, who said she applied for the USDA grant a year and a half ago after leaders from Farm Bureau toured urban ag operations in the Twin Cities.
“We realized this was a great area of opportunity for the Minnesota Farm Bureau,” Reisig said. “Today was a culmination of over 30 meetings I had with urban ag groups across the metro area, and surfacing the issues that were most important to them, and then trying to connect them to resources that can help start the conversations around those issues.”
Reisig said the urban agriculture avenue is a new direction for Farm Bureau.
“We represent 30,000 members statewide, and urban agriculture isn’t a big chunk of that, but we’re hoping that these groups can see us, and how we can work with them and work alongside them to raise the work that they’ve been doing for decades,” Reisig said.
Kajsa Beatty is the executive director at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Urban Service Center, which is one of 17 pilot
s across the country. She said the service centers provide the same type of assistance as ones in rural areas.
“Application for farm programs, application for farm loans — we do all the same things that are happening at other FSA locations around Minnesota,” Beatty said.
USDA announced the 17 urban service centers along with 10 new urban county committees this past summer, and Beatty said more are expected to come.
“There will be county committees in I think, 17 more cities, and then hopefully, those will turn into urban service centers as well,” she said.
Beatty said the goal is to level the playing field for farmers in urban areas.
“They’re just trying to provide the same level of support to urban producers that has been provided to rural producers in the past,” she said.
She said the pandemic caused an uptick in urban farm operations.
“I think the pandemic really showed how much food can be produced in urban locations, and fill the food supply when it’s not able to be shipped,” Beatty said. “That really just brought things to light about the possibilities in urban agriculture production and how the USDA was not supporting it in the same way that it had been prior to this.”
Living in the Twin Cities, Beatty said she thought she had a pretty good understanding of the urban farm operations happening in the area. But her new role has opened her eyes to what else is out there.
“I’ve met so many new producers through this role, and people finding things online and just giving me a call and saying like, ‘Hey, I’m a CSA farmer in backyards, and I want to grow strawberries hydroponically,'” she said. “There’s so so many new producers that I can think of that are looking for opportunities to grow in urban areas, that I think really the possibilities are endless.”
Queen Frye is the lead farmer of
, which she founded with Michael Kuykindall in north Minneapolis in 2019. The two turned vacant lots into vegetable gardens as a way to bring people together and give back to a community that faces systemic challenges to accessing healthy foods.
“I hope the next five to 10 years is not like the 15 years that the lot sat vacant before I was able to grow food there,” Frye said. “We need better options with our food, especially in north Minneapolis, because there is existing data that links the fast food density to our underlying health conditions, and that’s really a major concern for me.”
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