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.

Summer 2020: youth programs by the numbers

Summer 2020—and our agency’s summer youth programs—have officially wrapped up. As you can expect in light of a post-COVID world, programming these past few months has looked quite different compared to summers past. Yet despite the added challenges of navigating daily life during a global pandemic, our young folks still took the time to learn and develop their personal and professional skillsets, create powerful multimedia content, and step up to support their community.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what our young folks were up to in summer 2020:

  • 19 urban agriculture interns, in partnership with the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Growing Good initiative, learned how to grow and cook their own food from home!
  • 14 food shelf interns helped neighbors meet their essential needs surrounding food access and crucial services by running our food shelves, making and serving hot meals, and delivering food parcels and prescriptions to elders and families
  • 8 Roots for the Home Team interns grew produce and designed a signature salad using culturally relevant and locally grown ingredients. The cancellation of summer baseball meant they couldn’t sell their salads at Twins games, as in past summers—so instead, they partnered with Open Arms to prepare and distribute fresh salads to thousands of individuals living with chronic illness across the Twin Cities Metro.
  • 7 youth researchers examined issues pertaining to mental health and addiction in the Phillips community, deepening their civic engagement and sense of community connection.
  • Plus 73 paid interns hosted at Pillsbury United social enterprises, including:
    • Sisterhood Boutique, our youth-managed fashion consignment store in Cedar Riverside, where young women cultivated their business savvy and leadership skills;
    • KRSM Radio, our radio station in the Phillips community, where youth learned audio production skills (including podcasting and DJing) to share their reflections on the death of George Floyd, COVID-19, and other issues that matter to them.
    • Brian Coyle Best Buy Teen Tech Center, a space for young people in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood to explore their digital creativity.

All in all, we got the opportunity to work with 121 talented and hard-working young people this summer, engaging them in a mix of virtual and in-person programming across our various agency sites and programs.

While these programs provided valuable opportunities for growth and development, what’s also important—if not more important—is that these programs provided safe and supportive spaces for young people to socially connect and express themselves. As we enter into the new school year with the uncertainty of a socially distanced “new normal,” the power of those connections can’t be overstated.

Intersecting People, Place, and Prosperity

The Upstream Imperative, Volume 5

This article is part of “The Upstream Imperative,” a series exploring the challenges and opportunities facing the social services sector.

By Adair Mosley, President and CEO, Pillsbury United Communities

What future do we see for our neighborhoods in the Twin Cities?

Will they be places where everyone can raise families, build wealth, and live full, healthy lives? Or will they be exclusive enclaves where newcomers prosper and long-term residents are pushed to the margins?

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, this dilemma is stark. The damage to large sections of our city is further stressing a population — largely Black, brown, and indigenous — that was already in danger of displacement. Decades of systemic racism and inequity sparked the destruction. Now these pressures threaten an even greater crisis for our community.

We have a choice. We can prioritize rebuilding with and for Black and brown residents. Or watch as these neighborhoods rise again, but without those who have lived and labored there for generations.

A History of Erasure

We didn’t arrive at this point overnight. Starting a century ago, redlining and exclusionary lending practices shut Black and brown families out of many Twin Cities neighborhoods and the wealth-building opportunities they enabled. Black people built thriving communities in spite of these restrictions, only to see their neighborhoods bulldozed and cut off by interstate construction.

In the intervening decades, Black neighborhoods in the Twin Cities have been stuck with “lesser than” status. They are continually passed over for public and private investments — with devastating social and economic consequences. Now we see the pendulum swinging back. As outside developers move to “revitalize” areas of the city they long ignored, “white flight in reverse” threatens to erase the people and culture in these areas.

To be clear, we want investment in our neighborhoods. But unless Black, brown and indigenous people are driving the change, Minneapolis will continue to grow less equitable at their expense.

The Rise of Community Development

In a difficult moment, we see reasons for hope. Across the U.S., community development corporations are proving that inclusive neighborhoods are possible when communities work together.

These projects don’t arise from shallow or short-term community input. Developers must be willing to see vulnerable residents, meet them where they are, and center their voices and needs before and after ground is broken. Equitable development has to start from a place of deep understanding and connection.

That’s where we’ve lived for over 140 years. Pillsbury United Communities is committed to ensuring every person has personal, social, and economic power. Through a focus on solving big, upstream challenges, we create enduring change toward a just society.

That mission puts equitable economic development squarely on our agenda.<

Owning the Solution

Pillsbury United is making moves to prevent gentrification and displacement of marginalized residents with the creation of Justice Built Communities (JBC). A new community development corporation for the Greater Twin Cities and beyond, JBC acts as a community quarterback to prioritize integrated, inclusive approaches to neighborhood revitalization.

Our process starts by identifying underused buildings, vacant lots and other assets that can anchor neighborhood redevelopment. Then we bring together the partners, capital, and vision to realize their potential. JBC banks and secures these assets until properties are developed and Black and brown-owned enterprises take over.

Instead of outsiders telling people, “Here’s what you need,” we ask, “What can we do together?” JBC ensures the voices of our communities are heard alongside businesses, builders, and banks in the service of a shared agenda. Working together, we advance many priorities critical for our community, from neighborhood investment and beautification to education and job creation.

Arts and culture are central to that effort. Through artist-driven engagement and creative placemaking, we empower residents to define what thriving, beautiful neighborhoods look like to them. Artists and residents continue to collaborate as developments take shape to create spaces that honor the unique history and culture of the place.

Transformation from the Inside Out

Pillsbury United is not new to this work. In 2017, we led the development of North Market, a grocery store and wellness center in one of the country’s largest food deserts. Created with North Minneapolis community members and partners including North Memorial Health, our solution addresses multiple needs in one place, from fresh food to accessible health services.

The impact goes beyond essential services. North Market provides career-track jobs, buys from local businesses and entrepreneurs, and feeds the vitality of the neighborhood as a whole.

JBC works in the same way. We use the tools of community development to promote quality education, workforce training, small businesses investment, and land ownership, while awarding contracts to local people and organizations that will reinvest in the community. Our encompassing approach spurs the creation of generational wealth and helps put communities on the path to self-sufficiency.

To that end, JBC is advancing equitable policy side by side with equitable development. We use our access and partnerships to advocate for measures such as Renters Bill of Rights legislation and Community Benefit Agreements that protect local residents before and after projects open their doors.

Our goal is transformation from the inside out. We are banking on the creativity, talent, and energy that have always existed in our Black and brown communities. By amplifying their voices and letting their vision lead ours, we can eliminate racial disparities, remove urban blight, and help our communities of color equitably share in the vibrant economy of our state. JBC is how we reimagine not only our cities, but the systems that shape people’s lives here.

If we want strong neighborhoods that include everyone and work for everyone, we can’t leave it to outsiders. It’s up to us to build them.

What we need from you now

Community member carrying kid on shoulders at Open Streets on Broadway Ave

The compounding effects of intersectional oppression are prominently on display right now. We have an uncontrolled pandemic, on top of the longtime public health crisis that is institutionalized racism. Our democracy is under threat. People are unhoused in record numbers. Gaps in wealth, health, and educational outcomes between the haves and have-nots in our communities are widening even further.

Reimagined systems are desperately needed, and Pillsbury United Communities is heeding that call. Through the lens of people, place, and prosperity, our leaders are aggressively advocating for upstream change that will build long term power in our communities. Additionally, our agency has launched a public policy team and a community development corporation to reimagine the structures that govern our day to day lives.

While we use our institutional power to lay a foundation for long-term change, we remain committed to immediate and short-term relief for those who’ve long borne the brunt of our country’s violent and inequitable systems. We must be responsive to the needs of today without settling for them as permanent fixtures of life in our city.

We hope you’ll join us in seeking justice. For advice on where to start, we’ve asked a few of our leaders to share their wisdom.

Tsega Tamene, Senior Director of Population Health

Tsega Tamene

COVID-19 has been a truth teller. It has exposed what was already in plain sight to many of us. Black, Indigenous, and communities of color have experienced the disparate economic, health, and psychosocial impacts of racism well before, starkly during, and very well likely after this pandemic—unless we choose a different world.

We must reimagine, redesign, and transform systems toward health justice. In doing so, we must fundamentally shift how we think, speak, and act about health and health inequities. Namely, we must shift from treating health as a commodity to health as a human right. Shift now by:

  • Supporting frontline workers like ours who everyday disrupt health inequities that are driven by social and structural harms rooted in racism (not naturally occurring biological difference or individual behavior).
  • Lifting up local wellness and healing justice practitioners who identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC).
  • Joining policy advocacy efforts calling for the transformation of our healthcare payment system to prioritize the health of all people. Amplifying the voices of community health workers, doulas, and other critical roles who are lesser valued by existing payment models.
  • Learning more about the history of medicine and racism’s impact on health.
  • Studying yourself to heal yourself. Exploring your racialized trauma and your role(s) in social change.

Faye Price & Noel Raymond, Co-Artistic Directors, Pillsbury House + Theatre

Faye Price - headshot

Faye Price

At Pillsbury House + Theatre, we employ roughly 300, mostly-BIPOC artists every year. Those folks, and the entire creative workforce, are extremely economically unstable right now because of the pandemic. This is a workforce that has been decimated like the restaurant industry.

Our artists are often activists who highlight systemic inequities and cast visions for liberation. They are called to do that imagining regardless of compensation. We need them right now more than ever, and many are being asked to do cultural labor unpaid. There is an expectation that they will always be here, but they won’t if we don’t act. Act now by:

Noel Raymond - headshot

Noel Raymond

  • Hiring an artist. Pay them generously for their time.
  • Donating to a nonprofit’s commissioning fund, so that they are able to hire artists (we have one here at PHT). If you run a nonprofit or work for one, create a commissioning fund and embed artists into your work, minimizing arduous reporting requirements and maximizing compensation.
  • Contacting your member of Congress and tell them to support the Mixed Earner Unemployment Assistance Act of 2020.

Julie Graves, Senior Director of Youth & Future

Julie Graves headshot

Julie Graves

We have built our systems and models of youth programming to complement school models. For better or worse, we live in the tangled webs of integrated systems. When Minneapolis Public Schools change their offerings, we have to pivot too. With school not returning to the status quo this fall, these structures that we’ve played off of always, don’t exist anymore. We have to figure out new ways of engaging our young people and supporting their families in the process. We have to do so in the midst of so much uncertainty about the future of school day education—this year and beyond.

Funding for youth programming in Minneapolis, particularly K-5, has been decimated in the last decade. Our stressed, barebones system of out-of-school youth programming is now being asked to completely reinvent the way it operates to support entirely new needs. We need to return to a system where every child and family has access to a community center that offers a holistic, integrated model of support—tutoring, entertainment, meals, space to just be together.

Support this work by donating to the chronically underfunded community centers, like Waite House, who provide whole-family support. Advocate for more out of school time youth funding in the 2021 Minneapolis city budget—and the state budget. This is violence prevention work. This is an investment in the future of our city.

Antonio Cardona, Director of Office of Public Charter Schools

Antonio Cardona on stage at Greater>Together 2019

Antonio Cardona

Resources are not scarce. They are inequitably concentrated. If we are serious about reimagined systems, we have to question and tactically change what we value and where we direct resources. In public education, we have a simple, yet fundamental challenge: funding for public education is rooted in property taxes that are a result of decades of purposeful housing and employment discrimination. We need to change this system.

Secondly, just as we have been talking about social determinants of health for the last two decades, there are also social determinants of education. COVID-19 and George Floyd’s murder has laid bare the ways in which the most marginalized are the first effected by societal change. Think of a tsunami. First, the water recedes, exposing the gunk just beyond the shoreline. Then, the water slams that same shoreline, throwing everything into disarray. Those on higher ground are able to escape the worst effects. This exposes what kids and families need in order to grow and learn. Stability, food, housing, health care, family businesses—all of the things that have been decimated during this time.

Take action by supporting and participating in the civic institutions that push population-level work forward; voting; completing your Census; and paying attention to city council meetings, school board meetings, and commission decisions. Support and hold your officials accountable while trying to avoid a descent into unhelpful or uneducated dialogue.

Youth step up to serve community elders in midst of pandemic

Despite the challenging times we find ourselves in, there is always hope to be found in the selflessness and creativity of neighbors going the extra mile. That’s certainly the case in Cedar Riverside. Since the beginning of Ramadan, 20+ youth organized by the Brian Coyle Center have been delivering more than 200 meals every night to elders, those with limited mobility, and folks who are self-isolating and residing in the neighborhood towers. After a long day of fasting, a warm meal—and a connection with a friendly volunteer—is the perfect opportunity to bridge the social distance.

The Cedar Riverside Community Response Team was first envisioned by a local neighborhood association, the Cedar Riverside Community Council. It was a natural partnership opportunity for Brian Coyle Center, which took the lead in engaging and rallying neighborhood youth volunteers to make the deliveries. The meals are provided by Afro Deli restaurant, and Mixed Blood Theatre has generously provided supplies and space for the team.

While the meals have been warmly welcomed by those 200+ individual community members, the experience has also impacted the youth who are making deliveries. One volunteer, Zubeda, said, “I felt happy fasting and giving back to our elders. It just made me happy and I want to come do it again and again. Hopefully you guys will catch me here a lot more.”

Another volunteer, Akbal, spoke to the opportunity for cross-generational connection:

“Something that’s very important for youth is having this moment to connect with our elders. There’s a huge disconnect between the youth and elders and it may be culture or language. This is the perfect time to learn from them and show them that we care.”

We continue to draw inspiration from our youth volunteers who are stepping up each evening to serve their neighbors—to say nothing of all the partners involved in this, without whom this would literally not be possible. In the midst of uncertainty, it is our honor to stand in partnership alongside others who are committed to seeing our community through this. To all our friends and neighbors who are celebrating—Happy Ramadan!

If you or someone you know residing in the Cedar Riverside towers would like to request a meal delivery, please call 401-285-9247. Please note that this delivery program is reserved solely for elders, people with disabilities, and those who are immuno-compromised.

A day in the life of a community chef

Meals being served at Oak Park community cafe

For the chef at a Pillsbury United Communities community café, the work of preparing a nutritious community meal is an all-day affair. At Oak Park Center, which offers free community dinners Tuesday-Thursday, the chef’s day typically begins around 10 a.m. The chef begins their morning by looking through recent donations and taking stock of the inventory in the fridgeOnce the chef knows what they have on-hand, they can begin crafting a menu for the evening. 

With different ingredients available every day, developing the evening’s menu can require some creativity and experimentation. Every day’s menu is different. The chef has to create a balanced meal that incorporates whatever ingredients they have available, using as many fresh ingredients as possible, in a manner that minimizes food waste. “The number one thing that I look at is vegetation,” says Demetria Fuller, head chef at Oak Park. “Second, I make sure that we have a good starch and protein option. But I start with the vegetables, because we always have a lot of vegetables.” Spaghetti is a favorite with many of Fuller’s regulars; by using eggplant instead of beef in the pasta sauce, she can provide a vegetarian-friendly alternative that even the meat-eaters crave. 

Once the menu is set, meal preparations get underway for the evening around 11 a.m. The chef usually starts with the salad course. Whenever possible, ingredients for the salad are sourced from community gardens at Oak Park and Waite House, which are managed by the Pillsbury United urban agriculture team. Additional produce donations will also arrive from North Market, as well as other community partners. Salad can be kept refrigerated through the day, so it’s an easy task to get out of the way while the café is relatively quiet—all the better to ensure it doesn’t get missed in the commotion as dinner-time approaches. At this time, the chef also begins heating up the steam wells that keep food warm for community café patrons. 

Meal prep continues with the entrees and sides through the afternoon. Typically, a community dinner at Oak Park will serve 50-60 people over the course of a night—but just to be careful, the chef will plan for 70-100 attendees. That way, nobody goes hungry. For tonight’s meal, taco bowls, Fuller is dicing and seasoning chicken, and preparing huge quantities of rice, beans, and corn. At this scale of food preparation, the chef has to carefully manage multiple timers to ensure that nothing burns and everything is ready on time.  

At Oak Park Center, doors open for dinner at 4 p.m., and a handful of enthusiastic community members are usually waiting by the door a few minutes early. Whenever possible, the chef will greet visitors as they arrive. This helps ensure the space is welcoming to all who come through the door. “This is a safe space, with no drama,” Fuller says. “Everybody can come here [and know that] you’re somebody here.” Easy access to the chef also lets community members share their unvarnished feedback about the evening’s menu, which helps inform future meal planning. Dinner service runs until 6 p.m., with the chef remaining on-hand in case any items need replenishment or any issues arise in the dining room. 

Around 6 p.m., the chef begins to close out for the evening. They first put away any leftover food and ingredients; anything that won’t keep in the fridge gets sent home with neighborhood center staff to prevent it going to waste. Then they gather dishes to wash. Trash is taken out, and surfaces get wiped down in the dining room and kitchen. By 8 p.m., the café is cleaned and ready for the next day’s activities. 

Although the chef’s work is sometimes challenging, it matters deeply to the community members who rely on the community café for a warm meal, a safe space, and an opportunity to connect with friends and neighbors. For the chef at a Pillsbury United Communities café, every day is another chance to nourish their community. 

Growing food as medicine

Community member in urban garden

“Food from the earth,” is what Jessica Thurin, Dietician at the Native American Community Clinic (NACC), referred to it as. As members of an indigenous-led network of organizations in South Minneapolis’ Phillips community working towards healthy food access, the 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition, we’re trying out something new this year: going back to the basics. Back to the earth. Back to traditional methods of healing and nourishing by focusing on food as medicine.

NACC, located just two blocks from our Waite House Community Center, provides a range of healthcare and social services to the surrounding, largely Native community. In an area with significant health disparities, recognizing the role food access has to play in determining health outcomes is critical. Many healthcare institutions might talk to their patients about the benefits of healthy eating without really recognizing or addressing the barriers that exist to do exactly that—where to find this food, how to afford it and access it. That’s why our urban agriculture program teamed up with them to begin providing boxes of freshly grown vegetables to their patients. This produce, grown right in their own neighborhood, will be sold to NACC and distributed to their diabetes groups starting this September free-of-charge in an effort to promote healthy eating and lower blood sugar levels.

“You can be taking all these diabetes medications, but if you have a high carbohydrate diet with breads and pastas and not having a lot of non-starchy veggies which is what is from the garden—that can really cause high blood sugars. And so medications can help, but it’s not everything…I think introducing more foods that are right in our backyard can really help prevent some of these chronic diseases and that’s really what we’re after,” Thurin explains.

And NACC isn’t the only place recognizing the power of food in this way. With another one of our gardens, this is our second year of providing CSA packages to the City of Minneapolis’ Lead and Healthy Homes program. Families are referred to their program when elevated lead levels have been detected within their body, after which they are moved to transitional ‘Safe Houses’ while their homes are removed of lead hazards. While in these safe homes, families receive visits from public health nurses as well as deliveries of our food boxes packed full of freshly grown kale, broccoli, collards, and more. The reasoning, Jim Doten, Environmental Services Supervisor for the City’s Health Department, explains, is because “there’s a link between nutrition and susceptibility to lead poisoning.” If someone is deficient in certain nutrients, especially iron, then their body is more likely to absorb lead. So with this program in particular, our farmers are purposely growing more iron-rich foods that are proven to prevent further lead absorption while also lowering existing levels in the body. Alex Vollmar, supervisor of this program, sees the addition of these CSA boxes as a “very holistic approach to responding to elevated blood levels.”

Back to the basics. Remembering how for thousands of years, indigenous communities have used food for nourishment and healing. It’s something that’s often overlooked now, but so necessary to address in order to close health disparities. As members of the 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition, we look forward to continue moving this work forward alongside NACC, Indian Health Board, and other coalition members. Thurin says,

“Food is medicine. I don’t think a lot of people know that. But our ancestors definitely did that. They used food as medicine. They used traditional medicine plants. I really think that’s important to bring that back now.”

Health fairs offer knowledge and connection in Phillips and Cedar Riverside

Health worker at Waite House health fair

It’s a beautiful August day: sunny, a few clouds, not too hot. Outside Waite House in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, more than a hundred of our neighbors are listening to music (courtesy of KRSM Radio), jumping in an inflatable bounce house, and catching up with their friends. Conversations waft through the air, a sampling of the hundred-plus languages spoken by residents of one of our city’s most diverse communities.

Although the vibe is casual and friendly, the occasion today is a serious one: Today is the Phillips Health Fair, and health is on everyone’s mind. Here, and at a similar event at Brian Coyle Center in Cedar Riverside earlier this month, more than 40 partner organizations have assembled to share their knowledge and resources with the community.

By connecting our neighbors to local health care resources, we eliminate barriers to access and give them the tools to take a more active role in the care that they and their families receive. But it goes deeper than that. Social connectedness is a powerful predictor of overall health outcomes; people are healthier when they talk to their neighbors.

According to Tsega Tamene, director of community health at Pillsbury United Communities, this is the critical role the health fairs serve. “We’re creating a space for people to connect, to learn, to play,” she says.

And in a space where so much of the conversation around community health focuses on the health disparities that exist within indigenous communities and communities of color, the Phillips and Coyle health fairs provide a platform for the individuals and organizations who are already working towards a solution. Rather than creating new efforts and duplicative work, Tamene says the health fairs succeed by “lifting up resources that are already there in the community.”

Tamene is quick to point out that the health fairs couldn’t happen without dedicated organizers—Jovita and Awol, at Waite House and Brian Coyle respectively—driving new partnerships at the local level and activating the grassroots energy of their friends, colleagues, and neighbors. It all comes down to the relationships our center staff have built throughout the community.

Ultimately, our health fairs are one solution within a multifaceted approach to community health. As researchers in the field of public health can tell us, the health of our communities is impacted by any number of factors, from education, to food access, to transportation. It’s hard to deny that these systems have failed many of our neighbors. But despite the complex challenges that our communities are living with, it’s clear that a dedicated effort is underway—and for one August afternoon in Phillips and Cedar Riverside, we get a brief glimpse of what a healthier and more connected future looks like.

(Click here for photos from the Brian Coyle Health Fair.)

North Market selling local produce, supporting local farmers

Local produce on sale at North Market

Since they opened their doors in December of 2017, North Market has been working to address food access issues and health disparities in North Minneapolis by uniting three elements in one place: affordable nutritious food, health care services, and wellness education. Staying true to its roots of being built with and for the community, they’ve been purposeful about supporting local entrepreneurs. Right now, you can find products from over 47 local vendors on their shelves. And what’s new this summer? Hyperlocal produce from North Minneapolis farmers. Yep—zucchini, kale, tomatoes, and more picked within just a few blocks.

By purchasing food from local farmers, North Market is able to fulfill its mission of providing affordable healthy food AND acting as an engine for local economic growth. Vanan Murugesan, Director of Design and Innovation at Pillsbury United Communities, said:

“We want to expose the community to the great food businesses that are growing in North Minneapolis and when people buy stuff from the community, it’s keeping the money in the neighborhood. So, we are just a platform for people to connect. On one side we have the customers and on the other we have the farmers and entrepreneurs, and we provide this platform for them to do business. At the end of the day, someone in the neighborhood can enjoy food that was made within 2 miles of where they live and there is something special about that.

Not only does this mean customers can access produce harvested sometimes as freshly as the same day, but they can simultaneously support a local food system along the way. One of the partners providing vegetables to the store is Growing North Minneapolis, a community-based collaborative that advances environmental, social, and racial justice in North Minneapolis. Patsy Parker, a Community Garden Steward with Growing North, said that “The impact of the sales allows us to start planning for next year. So we can think about, ‘Ok, next year, what kind of seeds do we need? Can we actually buy seeds as opposed to just waiting ‘til the spring and hoping someone can bring them to us?’ Traditionally, North Minneapolis has not had good access to seeds and seedlings. We’re learning what it is that people want and what people need. You know—we need to plant a lot more okra.”

Another source of freshly grown produce is from our Pillsbury United Communities farm at Oak Park Center. Proceeds made from these sales will be reinvested into the larger urban agriculture and food work that we do here at PUC, allowing us to provide more education and technical support to local farmers while having extra funds to help purchase food for our food shelves and community meals—two programs where we’ve seen an increase in need and decrease in philanthropic funding .

All of this to say, it seems to be a win for everyone—customers, farmers, and North Market alike. Customers can spend their dollars on the freshest produce possible from the backyards of North Minneapolis (also a win for the environment). Local growers can increase their economic mobility or continue to fuel urban agriculture work in North Minneapolis from their sales. And North Market can help fill a food access gap by not just providing healthy food to the neighborhood, but being intentional about sourcing from and supporting that neighborhood when possible. Because if we are serious about working to close the disparities in North Minneapolis and Minnesota, then it’s going to require creative, transformative solutions.

Buraanbur builds connections, brings healing

Buraanbur at Brian Coyle Center

Taking care of your health doesn’t necessarily equate to making routine stops at the doctor’s office. Being healthy and feeling well, safe, and secure requires looking at a bigger picture—focusing on how our everyday lives, work, environment, and choices influence our well-being.

For East African women in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, one way of fostering health and healing has been through a form of dance and poetry native to Somalia: buraanbur. From January through June of this year, about 20 women regularly attended buraanbur dance classes at the Brian Coyle Center hosted by the Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Program (IWAP). This opportunity was made possible through a special partnership with The Cedar Cultural Center and The City of Minneapolis Health Department, and was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. The classes served multiple purposes. Not only were they a way for women to improve their physical health by exercising, but they were also an opportunity to break isolation and build relationships—all while being rooted in their culture.

“We come together here twice a week. We socialize; we dance; we sweat; and we laugh. If someone doesn’t come to the session, we ask each other, ‘Where is so and so?’ and check up on them. We care for each other and have become more than just neighbors. We dance together whilst feeling connected to my culture like it was back in my home country,” one participant said.

Miski Abdulle, our Director of Immigrant Services, touched on how they were not just dance sessions, but also ‘healing sessions’ for some participants who are survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, the population that IWAP primarily works with. This type of cultural healing “heals the soul,” she said. Participants spoke to her about feeling lighter and sleeping and eating better than before. Some said:

“I get to exercise, be active. And this is good for my mental health too because I feel happy here. It’s a place for women to be together. This is just like family to me.”

“I have become good friends with the women here and I feel a sense of community support and togetherness.”

“I have been coming to these buraanbur sessions because it is a fun place to be. I get to see the same faces, people who are my neighbors. I get to laugh with them, exercise, and enjoy my culture.”

A sense of belonging and community. Cultural connectedness and healing. Artistic expression. These are all pieces in our vision for thriving communities. Because we don’t just want our communities to be healthy; we want them to be well. And that requires looking at the bigger picture.

Serving with a smile at People Serving People

EPIC program participants volunteering with People Serving People

Every Tuesday, volunteers from our Employing Partners in Community (EPIC) Program are at People Serving People to assist with building beautification. This is a partnership that has been in place since 2010. Its just one of the many places where program participants and staff volunteer each week.

The EPIC Program, based at the Pillsbury House, is all about skill building, involvement in our community and making memories. Volunteering is practice that provides program participants a chance to gain and strengthen work skills while also helping others and integrating in the community.  At People Serving People, EPIC helps with the janitorial services and that’s a big job. There are seven floors and a long list of housekeeping tasks that need to be done on each floor. Tasks include sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, and cleaning windows. After the work is completed, People Serving People kindly provides a hot meal in exchange for the work. Some of the volunteers favorites are beef nachos, tacos, and smothered chicken.

X