A look back at summer 2021

Young women displaying their summer work at Brian Coyle Center

For Pillsbury United Communities, 2021 was a summer to remember! After last year’s summer programs were forced to operate remotely due to COVID-19, we were so pleased to reconnect with our young folks in-person for summer 2021.

This year, 145 young people in middle school and high school completed paid summer internships through Pillsbury United programs—our largest ever class of interns! Our young folks explored new opportunities in technology, business, media production, and more. (For photos from some of our summer activities, take a look at a couple of recent albums on our Facebook page.)

Read on to learn more about our summer internship cohorts—and the dedicated youth program leaders who made it all possible.

Amplified Youth Storytelling at Brian Coyle Center

Emery, youth program leader

Emery

Jose, youth program leader

Jose

Our Amplified Youth Storytelling cohort was based out of the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Brian Coyle Center. Under the guidance of our experienced youth mentors, 16 interns learned audio production and podcasting skills. Special thanks to The Clubhouse Network and the city of Minneapolis’ Step Up program for partnering with us to offer this unique opportunity.

This cohort was led by Emery and Jose. Emery recently completed his term with Public Allies Twin Cities, through which he served as Content Specialist at the Teen Tech Center. Jose also works with our Coyle youth programs as our Pathways Coordinator, helping young people plan for college and a career.

 

Arts & Agriculture at Waite House

Angelica and Ebony, summer cohort leaders

Angelica (left) and Ebony (right)

Our Arts & Agriculture youth group at Waite House led 12 interns in exploring the intersections of food, art, culture, and social justice—connecting to the land by working hands-on at our Pillsbury United Farms, and sharing their experience through the visual and performing arts.

Our cohort leaders were Angelica and Ebony—both artists and activists. Angelica is a performance artist who has previously led our youth spoken-word and tutoring groups. Ebony is a visual artist and an alumna of our youth programs, returning to Pillsbury United this summer after graduating from Clark Atlanta University.

 

Cinematography & Business at Brian Coyle Center

Sisco, youth program leader

Sisco

Gonkama, youth program leader

Gonkama

Based out of the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Brian Coyle Center, our Cinematography & Business cohort provided opportunities for 16 interns to explore filmmaking, editing, scoring, and sound design—while also learning to make a business plan to support their activities as independent artists and creators. The cohort also participated in a site-visit to the Institute of Production and Recording to learn from working professionals in the field of media production.

The cohort was led by Gonkama and Sisco, two youth leaders who are deeply rooted in the Cedar Riverside community. Gonkama is a seasoned youth worker and recent IT grad with experience in hip-hop production. Sisco is a graduate of our Coyle youth programs and a professional filmmaker and photographer.

 

Cyber Seniors at Brian Coyle Center

Kenya, youth program leader

Kenya

Hassan, youth program leader

Hassan

This unique cohort focused on intergenerational engagement between young folks and community elders living in Cedar Riverside. Our six youth interns partnered with volunteers from Best Buy to work with Cedar Riverside community elders and assist them with technical support. Through twice-weekly clinics at Currie Park in English, Somali, and Oromo, these young folks stepped up—helping our elders install apps, configure webcams, and other essential tools to stay connected in the post-COVID world.

Our cohort was led by Hassan and Kenya, two very talented undergrads. Hassan joined us this summer after many years of participation in youth programs at Brian Coyle Center. Kenya was brought on through the ServeMinnesota emergency response program.

 

Girls & Femmes in STEM at Brian Coyle Center

Fardowza, youth program leader

Fardowza

Idil, youth program leader

Idil

Our Girls & Femmes in STEM cohort at Brian Coyle Center offered a unique eight-week course in a variety of science and technology-related topics, including astronomy, coding, biodiversity, food science, medicine, and digital art. Our cohort members also took part in a biodiversity field trip to Cedar Creek with a University of Minnesota professor, tested the new flight simulator at the Best Buy Teen Center, and participated in Scrubs Camp at Augsburg University.

The cohort was led by Idil and Fardowza, both of whom are studying STEM fields at the University of Minnesota. Idil is a Page Scholar, and she is currently majoring in microbiology and cell biology. Fardowza is a graduate of Sisterhood Boutique, majoring in computer science.

 

Healthy Living at Waite House

Ivonne, youth program leader

Ivonne

Young folks in our summer Healthy Living cohort at Waite House enjoyed a wide range of activities to support their physical and mental health. This included cycling and bike maintenance with Bici Xicas, a local biking collective; group therapy sessions, in partnership with counselors at Tubman; and tennis at Fred Wells Tennis & Education Center at Fort Snelling.

This cohort was led by Ivonne, a senior at Augsburg University studying political science and an alumna of our youth programs at Pillsbury House + Theatre. Ivonne also managed our 22 off-site interns, including partnerships with Roots for the Home Team and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Growing Good program.

 

KRSM Radio

Michel.Be, youth program leader

Michel.Be

Our biggest cohort of the summer was at KRSM Radio, broadcasting out of Waite House in the Phillips community. Our interns explored on-air hosting, radio DJing, journalism, and audio production in our brand new youth recording studio. KRSM also partnered with ThreeSixty Journalism, MPR News and MIGIZI to plan and engage BIPOC youth for MPR’s Radio Camp. Click here to see some of their finished projects.

Our cohort was led by Michel.Be, a professional DJ, our agency-wide youth media manager, and a longtime alum of our youth programs at Pillsbury House + Theatre. They were supported by Minneapolis Community Education, who offered a full-time staff coordinator to assist with facilitating this summer’s internships—our thanks to KJ for their invaluable assistance!

 

Sisterhood Boutique

Ugbad, Kidist, Zikki, youth program leaders

Ugbad (left), Kidist (center), Zikki (right)

Based out of the Cedar Riverside community, our team at Sisterhood Boutique led a cohort of 24 young women—giving them direct experience in managing a fashion consignment boutique, plus ongoing development of their business and leadership skills. Highlights include a site-visit to local apparel brand sota clothing, as well as a week at Augsburg University Scrubs Camp.

The cohort was led by a trio of long-time Sisterhood Boutique leaders and alumni. Zikki is a co-founder of Sisterhood from its very first class, and Kidist is a former Sisterhood intern; both are now leading programs at Sisterhood. Ugbad is a Sisterhood grad and currently an undergrad in phlebotomy at the U of M—a passion she discovered on a Sisterhood field trip.

Our impact in 2020

2020 was not normal. Two pandemics bore down on our community, bringing hardship we could hardly have imagined. One was a virus that isolated, sickened, and killed. The other was the plague of systemic racism, embodied in the horrendous murder of George Floyd and the anguished fury it unleashed.

These tragedies shook our community to its core and hit many of us painfully close to home. Some lost livelihoods. Some lost loved ones. Others lost trust in institutions that were supposed to protect them. Many were retraumatized by continued examples of systemic racism.

The pain continues to reverberate. We will be picking up the pieces for years.

Although no one saw the trials of 2020 coming, Pillsbury United was prepared to rise to the moment. Across our agency, staff moved quickly and fearlessly to ease suffering, rebuild, and respond to the crisis with compassion, imagination, and hope.

In 2020, we…

  • Distributed over one million pounds of food and household essentials via our Brian Coyle Center and Waite House food shelves.
  • Disbursed $540,828 in housing relief to neighbors impacted by COVID-19.
  • Provided 121 young people with paid, virtual internships at our neighborhood centers and social enterprises.
  • Supported 160 immigrant women with advocacy services via the Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Program.
  • Connected 341 unhoused young people with housing, employment, and other services via Full Cycle.

And that’s only a snapshot of the work we accomplished last year. Out of a crisis, a more just society can emerge. This is what justice looks like.

Learn more about the magnitude of our impact in 2020—and the broad community support that made it possible—by viewing our 2020 annual report.

Pillsbury United Launches Justice Built Communities Initiative

Rendering of street life on a revitalized W Broadway Ave

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (May 25, 2021) – Pillsbury United Communities (Pillsbury United), an agency with a 140-year legacy of recognizing and amplifying the assets and aspirations of the communities living in historically underinvested neighborhoods across Minneapolis, today announced the launch of the Justice Built Communities (JBC) initiative. JBC will leverage land, labor, entrepreneurship and capital to build equitable economic development for Black residents across the region starting in north Minneapolis. The initiative will be powered by a network of regional and neighborhood partners.

As a first step, JBC will purchase vacant land, buildings, and other disused properties for neighborhood redevelopment. It closed on its first property earlier this month when it purchased the old O’Reilly Auto Parts property at 1601 and 1625 West Broadway along with the adjacent property at 1622 Golden Valley Road, Minneapolis. JBC will use a community-centered design process to inform the redevelopment plans, which will provide opportunities, guidance and financial support to help local, Black-owned enterprises get established and grow. Over time, JBC will bridge land ownership back to local entrepreneurs to build generational wealth.

Pillsbury United has already raised $6 million for the JBC startup fund and intends to raise an additional $14 million through philanthropy and program/mission-related related investments by end of year for acquisition of neglected properties and pre-development capital. Initial investors include US Bank Foundation, Bank of America, GHR Foundation, Margaret A Cargill Fund of the Minneapolis Foundation, Target Foundation, Opus Foundation and Otto Bremer Trust. A variety of innovative financial structures including debt, equity, and NMTC will be used for project-specific development costs.

The initiative’s work will be co-designed and developed through Northside business and neighborhood associations including Folwell Neighborhood Association, Jordan Area Community Council, Hawthorne Neighborhood Council, and West Broadway Business and Area Coalition. Local artists will be engaged to beautify the areas before, during and after projects break ground. As properties are developed, Black entrepreneurs step in and take over: bringing goods and services to local residents, job opportunities to youth and adults, and prosperity to families.

“Our mission is to create a just society where every person has personal, social and economic power,” said Adair Mosley, President & CEO of Pillsbury United Communities. “The disruptive forces of 2020 showed the inequity of a system built on racist policies and practices as well as the need to act with urgency to equitably rebuild. JBC will prioritize strategies that ensure the people who were part of the history of our communities are also part of the future. We envision thriving commercial nodes anchored by local businesses and green spaces, safe and stable neighborhoods, and meaningful work and wealth-building opportunities that close racial disparities.”

Minnesota’s Black residents face the worst economic disparities in the nation. Minnesota ranks at the bottom for racial gaps in high school graduation, homeownership and household income. These inequities have been concentrated on Minneapolis’s Northside by decades of systemic disinvestment.

“Today we see the impact of inequitable development in North Loop, a Northside neighborhood adjacent to downtown,” said Jimmy Loyd who serves as Senior Director of Community Development at Pillsbury United. “While real estate activity in North has largely been stagnant, North Loop has seen $1.2B in real estate sales since 2015. That’s created rapid gentrification on the edges of North, and now this boom encroaches deeper into the neighborhood. As properties along Plymouth Avenue and other major corridors are bought up, vulnerable residents are threatened by displacement as outsiders benefit. JBC aims to reverse this concerning trend and support Northside neighborhoods’ vision for their own future.”

Learn more at justicebuiltcommunities.org.

About Pillsbury United Communities

Pillsbury United builds community by co-creating enduring change toward a just society where every person has personal, social, and economic power. Its united system of programs, neighborhood centers, social enterprises, and partnerships connects individuals and their families across the region. Program areas include community health, food accessibility, family stabilization, creative placemaking, community voice, civic engagement, education, career and future readiness, and economic mobility.

Pillsbury United serves the Black, Brown, Indigenous, immigrant, and working-class residents of Minneapolis striving to build better lives and communities for their families in spite of racism, poverty, and other systemic barriers. Priority neighborhoods include Cedar Riverside, Phillips, and Powderhorn in South Minneapolis and Near North and Webber-Camden in North Minneapolis.

Where we go from here

Mural at George Floyd Square. Photo by Lorie Shaull

On Tuesday, 12 jurors cracked open the window of justice. And we see a little light.

To be clear, the verdict in George Floyd’s murder should never have been in doubt. But we had reason for pessimism. Only rarely do police-involved killings of Black, Brown and Indigenous people even make it to the doorstep of our courts. When they do, officers are almost never held accountable—even for the most abhorrent abuses of power.

Floyd’s murder is part of a chilling pattern where policing in communities of color leads to senseless death again and again. Our hearts are already heavy this week as 20-year-old Daunte Wright, another unarmed Black man killed by local police in Minnesota, is laid to rest. Again a family and community mourns. Again we hear pleas for justice and vows for change. Again we have reason to doubt justice will ever be served.
What will it take before we say as a state, enough is enough?

Right after George Floyd’s death, our state’s leaders stood up to declare that Black Lives Matter. A year later, we’re fighting for more than a hashtag. You can help us move lawmakers into action. We can’t wait for another tragedy before we act.

The Minnesota House has taken the courageous step with a public safety omnibus bill that builds on last year’s Minnesota Police Accountability Act. This slate of common-sense measures holds officers accountable for harmful actions and unties the hands of police chiefs in protecting life.

Stand with us in calling on Minnesota state legislators and Governor Walz to take immediate and decisive action on the following items:

  • HF1104: End qualified immunity. Help survivors of brutality or harassment by law enforcement get relief in the courts by ending qualified immunity for police officers.
  • HF1103: Rules on body cameras. Prohibit law enforcement from tampering with body camera footage of a deadly force incident and require footage to be released to family and representative within 48 hours.
  • HF640: Establish civilian oversight. Remove the current state law prohibiting citizen-led councils from imposing discipline on law enforcement officers.
  • HF593: Exclude white supremacists from police ranks. Change the Peace Officer Code of Conduct to prohibit anyone on the force from affiliating with, supporting, or advocating for white supremacist or other extremist groups.
  • HF1374: Track misconduct. Require police chiefs to report officer misconduct and help to identify officers with harmful patterns of behavior.
  • HF-107B: Limit Traffic Stops. Limit authority for police officers to stop or detain drivers for certain vehicle equipment violations.

We encourage you to reach out to lawmakers to express your support for these important acts of legislation: 

We see the light of change peeking through. With your vocal support, Minnesota can throw the window wide open.

(Photo credit: Lorie Shaull)

Samantha Diaz Named Director of Office of Public Charter Schools

Welcome graphic for Samantha Diaz

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Pillsbury United Communities has named Samantha Diaz as its new Director of the Office of Public Charter Schools (OPCS).

In this role, Samantha will provide oversight and evaluation for all charter schools authorized by Pillsbury United Communities—supporting the operations, compliance, and efficacy of existing and prospective charters within the Pillsbury United network.

Additionally, Samantha will facilitate the OPCS’ ongoing work of developing a “community of practice” within the charter school sector, deepening best practices around authorizing standards; building awareness of policy shifts impacting the sector; and developing collaborative approaches to achieve the best educational experience for all students.

“Samantha is a fierce advocate for Black and brown children, with a deep commitment to equity and accountability,” said Adair Mosley, President & CEO of Pillsbury United Communities. “Given her immense knowledge of charter schools and policy, she was the ideal candidate to lead the continuing evolution of the OPCS in developing new and pioneering authorizing practices.”

Samantha previously served as Associate Authorizer Liaison for the OPCS and most recently served as the Education Legislation & Policy Director at the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs. Prior to Samantha’s work in Minnesota, she served as Legislative Director for the Chairman of the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizen Committee in the New Jersey State Legislature. She received her Master’s in Public Administration at Baruch College – Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, and a Bachelor’s degree in History at Kean University. Samantha is also an alumni of the National Urban Fellows leadership development program.

The OPCS authorizes 20 public charter schools throughout the state of Minnesota, including sites throughout the Twin Cities Metro, and in Rochester and St. Cloud. These schools are designed so that the children and families whose needs are not being met by traditional public schools have access to relevant education that supports each student’s personal, social, and academic achievement.

Data science, human services elevated within Pillsbury United leadership

An update from our leadership team

Pillsbury United Communities is pleased to announce several key moves in the agency’s executive leadership team, including the creation of a new executive-level position centered around data science and evaluation.

Tsega Tamene has stepped into the newly established role of Head of Data Science & Evaluation. In this role, she stewards Pillsbury United’s vision and strategy to activate data for impact—transforming how the agency defines, captures, and implements data toward systems change. She previously served as Senior Director of Population Health.

“Data will drive the evolution of our organization and our transformative impact in community,” says Adair Mosley, President & CEO of Pillsbury United Communities. “Pillsbury United Communities seeks to have a population-level impact on systems that create more equitable and just outcomes for our communities. Tsega, with her population health background, will drive upstream change and targeted and predictive program and services.”

Accompanying this new role, several additional Pillsbury United leaders have been named to new or elevated roles.

Ethan Neal has been named to the newly created position of Director of Food Systems. In this role, he oversees all of the agency’s food programs, including food shelves, community meal programs, and urban agriculture, and he drives all of the agency’s efforts towards the creation of a local, sustainable, equitable food system. He previously served as Food Systems Manager.

Awol Windissa has been named to the position of Director of Community Health. In this role, he oversees all community health and wellness programs, with a particular focus on removing barriers to health; promoting wellness; reducing disparities; and implementing place-based, community-centered and culturally-relevant approaches. Awol previously served as Community Health Manager at Brian Coyle Center.

Additionally, current leadership team members Miski Abdulle and Vickie Besch have received promotions to Director of Immigrant Services and Director of Community Accessibility, respectively.

Click here to view Pillsbury United’s strategic framework and learn more about our agency’s strategic priorities.

Food shelves meeting the challenge of COVID-19

Food shelf worker distributing produce to community members

As we reach the first anniversary of COVID lockdowns, it’s worth looking back at the vital response of our food shelves at Brian Coyle Center and Waite House—and the huge efforts they’ve undertaken to show up for the communities that have been hit the hardest in our city.

It’s hard to fathom the scale of their effort. When the first wave of stay-at-home orders began, our food shelves were serving more than three times their usual volume. We were serving more households, and more frequently, than ever before. We kept up that pace all year—and by the end of December, we had distributed nearly one million pounds of food to our neighbors.

“What we have to understand is the operational context of that volume,” says Ethan Neal, Director of Food Systems at Pillsbury United Communities. With changes to the food shelf’s operational model to facilitate social distancing, staff took on a more active role in packaging and distributing food to clients. “That’s a lot of pounds of food on the backs of our people,” Ethan says.

This was a truly unprecedented effort for Pillsbury United Communities. Here’s more about how we stepped up to the challenge—and how you can help us continue this work in 2021 and beyond.

A creative approach in times of crisis

Social distancing guidelines required our team to physically reimagine our food shelves—finding new spaces, and creatively repurposing others. At Waite House, the food shelf team expanded to utilize space in an unused gymnasium.

“We started seeing such an influx in the number of people we were serving,” Ethan says, “That we needed to stretch our legs and utilize one of the largest properties in Minneapolis Parks & Rec.”

And with the lockdowns also affecting our neighbors’ access to essential hygiene items, our food shelves significantly expanded their offerings of diapers, feminine hygiene products, and other household necessities. At Brian Coyle Center, we partnered with our neighbors across the street at Mixed Blood Theatre to organize essential supply drives as a supplement to our food assistance.

“We became much more than just a food shelf,” Ethan says, “and I think that evolution was important in our response.”

Justice and equity in food access

And while COVID-19 forced our team to think creatively and reimagine their work, it also underscored the importance of several long-standing commitments for our agency’s food programs.

“When you think of a food shelf, you think of a model that’s based on canned food drives,” Ethan says. “At Pillsbury United, we’ve pledged a lot of our dollars to source healthy, culturally specific foods to serve our communities.” That means more access to fresh produce, as well as culturally relevant staples that reflect the tastes of our Native, Latin American, and East African neighbors.

“[As an agency] we talk about food justice and equity,” says Jovita Morales, food shelf coordinator at Waite House. “And if we don’t reflect our diversity in our food shelves, that’s not equity.”

“And you don’t see that everywhere,” adds Luz Francisco, building and volunteer coordinator at Waite House. “People in the community can come to us and know that we have foods they’ll want to eat.”

This approach was central to our work pre-COVID, and only became more urgent in response to the pandemic. To that end, we redoubled our commitment to urban agriculture across our entire food system and installed a walk-in cooler at the Waite House food shelf to house more fresh produce. And for those culturally specific preferences that our food bank partners couldn’t meet, we established new relationships with local, minority-owned grocery stores to help fill the gap.

How you can help

There is so much more to be said about the vital response of our food shelves and our many other staff providing essential, frontline services.

Today, you can help support this work with a financial contribution. During the month of March, our partners at Minnesota FoodShare are offering a partial match for all donations to Pillsbury United food shelves. If you’re able, please give today. 

Food assistance is available via the food shelves at Waite House and Brian Coyle Center, as well as via our community meal programs at Waite House and Oak Park Center

Jihan Rashid named Director of Community Health Worker Hub

Community health worker and community members meeting outside Brian Coyle Center

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Pillsbury United Communities has named Jihan Rashid as Director of Community Health Worker Hub.

In this role, Jihan will oversee the agency’s Community Health Worker Hub, a new initiative aimed at elevating the role of community health workers in providing culturally informed, holistic, and coordinated care for communities that have been historically underserved by traditional health care systems.

As part of this effort, Jihan will drive the agency’s adoption of the Pathways Community HUB framework, a certified, evidence-based model for community care coordination that will reduce costs, improve health care outcomes, and center the cultural knowledge of community health workers. This work is being undertaken in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Minnesota Community Health Worker Alliance, and many local health care systems.

“The Pathways Community HUB’s care coordination system is vital for our communities,” said Rashid, “Because it centers strong community relationships through community health workers, upholds accountability for outcome of health and wellness services, and emphasizes care for the most vulnerable in our communities.

“Jihan brings to Pillsbury United a breadth of experience in public health, Medicaid transformation, coalition-building, and community participation in systems change,” said Tsega Tamene, Senior Director of Population Health at Pillsbury United Communities. “She understands the critical gaps and opportunities in healthcare sustainability. We are excited for her vision and leadership to drive this work.”

Jihan has been committed to public health since high school and has worked with a vast array of public health issues (including nutrition, HIV, lead exposure, and air pollution) through research, program management, and public health education.

In her past role as a program coordinator with the Somali Health Board, Jihan facilitated a one-of-a-kind community-led health model, supporting it from its infancy to its establishment as a community-based organization. Subsequently, she drove the establishment of a coalition of like-minded community health boards to collaborate across communities. In addition to her work in program management, community engagement, research and policy-system advocacy, she has also worked as a caregiver, tutor, peer educator, and victim advocate.

Introducing a policy platform for justice

A young person from Waite House attending the State Capitol

By Kenzie O’Keefe, Policy & Advocacy Director

If the catastrophes of 2020 (and now 2021) have taught us one lesson, it’s that dramatic, uncompromising structural change cannot wait a moment longer.

We need public policy that meets this moment. We need true, comprehensive healthcare, housing, healing, and justice for all. Now is the time for courage.

As a historically human services focused agency, Pillsbury United Communities is no longer content to influence public policy from the sidelines. We are entering into the new year with a brand new public policy agenda—the first of its kind for our organization. We are getting to work shaping public policy and government budgets to bring about the change our systemically oppressed communities have long deserved and been denied.

Our agenda is the product of over 100 conversations with our community members: our leadership, managers, frontline staff, program participants, clients, neighbors, and professional peers in the work. Our goal was to center community need, wisdom, love, and imagination in this roadmap for our governmental advocacy work.

Highlights of our 2021-22 commitments include:

  • Expanding access to affordable, culturally relevant models of holistic healthcare through the emerging field of community health workers, driving toward universal healthcare as an end result.
  • Increasing funding for culturally relevant, community-based programs and out of school time youth programming
  • Promoting equitable neighborhood development while protecting legacy residents with anti-gentrification measures
  • Tracking toward true public safety for all
  • Ensuring artists and the creative economy are economically stable
  • Dismantling the racial opportunity gap and incentivizing innovation in our public education system

Additionally, we commit to being anti-racist in our work, something we do humbly as a legacy institution that has at times been complicit in propping up the inequitable systems that we are trying to change through policy. We intend to be champions of shared power, advocating for policy that originates from, is co-designed by, and is evaluated after implementation by the communities it affects most.

In addition to our policy platform priorities, we’ve created a working document that details the specific ordinances, bills, and other policy items we are leading on, supporting, and endorsing at every level of government. This chart will be organically populated as opportunities arise and diminish. We invite you to reach out if there are items you’d like to see added or adjusted or items you’d like to fight alongside us to achieve.

Follow along with our work and sign up for email updates at pillsburyunited.org/policy.

View the full policy platform document (.pdf).

Join us at Greater>Together 2020!

It’s been a year like no other in our city. We’ve seen devastating loss and felt the reverberations of historic inequities throughout our communities. And yet, we’ve also seen the courage and collective will of our communities at work. A better future is possible. Now is the moment to stand together.

This year, we’re excited to announce Greater>Together 2020, an online event featuring artistic performances and courageous conversations led by our team of community-builders and change-makers. Join us on Facebook Live on December 3 at 7:00 p.m. CT to get a first-hand look at the impact we’re making in community and our ambitious vision of change.

The live broadcast will be free to all, but we are offering a variety of premium benefit packages to our close friends and supporters. We’re pleased to announce partnerships with Afro Deli, Mama Sheila’s, and Sammy’s Avenue Eatery, three Black-owned restaurants in our communities, to offer a delicious dinner for two, delivered to your door on December 3.

Donate today for premium benefits, or follow us on Facebook for the latest Greater>Together reminders as December 3 approaches.

Inside hydroponic farming at North Market

If you’ve visited North Market recently, you may have noticed a new neighbor in our parking lot. In partnership with Freight Farms, we’ve installed a hydroponic farm on-site, providing a year-round growing environment that will supply North Market shoppers with local, fresh greens and herbs.

But when we say that the Freight Farm at North Market is a “self-contained hydroponic growing environment,” what does that actually mean? What’s happening within these corrugated metal walls? What is the journey of a seed as it makes its way to the North Market produce aisle?

Step 1: Germination

The first step in the life of a plant is germination. We plant our seeds in a specialized “grow plug” made of coconut husk and peat moss. This eco-friendly growing material keeps its shape and holds water better than traditional soil, making it a better fit for our specialized hydroponic drip system.

Once the plug has been seeded, it is soaked in water and placed under red-and-blue LED lights. Our seeds require a lot of light at this stage—19 hours of sunlight every day over the next week—and the farmer closely monitors the growing environment to maintain an ambient temperature of 70° F.

Step 2: The Nursery

After seven days, our seeds have sprouted, and it’s time for their first move. Our baby seedlings are relocated to the upper level of the harvest table, which doubles as a nursery. Here, the tiny sprouts are watered every 12 hours with a special nutrient-rich solution to ensure they are free of disease and can begin to grow strong roots.

The baby plants continue to receive 19 hours of artificial sunlight per day. Depending on the particular crop, a seedling can spend anywhere between 2-4 weeks growing in the nursery before it’s ready for the next stage.

Step 3: Growing

Once a seedling has matured, it’s time to transplant. The young crops are carefully removed from their seed trays and transplanted to vertical grow towers. These grow towers take up the majority of space inside the Freight Farm. Each plant is carefully spaced out to avoid the spread of algae, insects, and plant diseases.

Although the grow towers are made of plastic, a felt wicking strip in the center allows water to drip down and hydrate the crops. The interior of the Freight Farm holds 256 vertical towers, each of which holds approximately 16 plants—meaning that the combined grow-area of the Freight Farm equals approximately 2-3 acres of outdoor field space.

Step 4: Harvest

Finally, after three weeks in the grow towers, it’s time to harvest. The farmer uses a special harvest knife to remove the plant from the tower. Although this is the shortest step, it requires very careful planning on the part of the farmer. Ideally, when one plant is harvested, a new seedling is ready to take its place in the grow tower. This ensures a steady supply of fresh produce for North Market shoppers.

After a quick inspection to ensure the plant is ready to go, the produce is packed and transported across the parking lot for sale at North Market.

Did you know?

  • The interior of the Freight Farm is climate-controlled, meaning that plants can grow year-round—from the hottest summer day to the coldest winter night.
  • The Freight Farm is slightly tilted! While it’s not noticeable to the farmer, the very slight (3°) angle allows for any excess water to drain back into the Freight Farm’s storage tanks. Reverse-osmosis filtering helps purify the water, making it safe once again for human (and plant) consumption.
  • The Freight Farm interior is equipped with 4 Bluetooth speakers, allowing the farmer and seedlings to listen to music all day.
  • “Daytime” for our crops actually takes place at night! The Freight Farm’s LED lights create a lot of heat and can damage the farmer’s eyes without special protective glasses—so it’s easier to run the lights during nighttime hours, when the farmer isn’t present. By using the majority of our electricity at night, we also reduce the farm’s operating costs.

X