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.

Full Cycle delivers food and more by bike

Full Cycle bicycle food deliveries

On May 23, 2019 the team at Full Cycle made their first food delivery of the spring. The weather was great, everyone biked hard, and most importantly 150 meals were delivered to transitional living programs in Minneapolis.  Food delivery by bike is just one of the many programs offered by Full Cycle, a social enterprise bicycle shop in south Minneapolis, MN that offers support and connection to young people experiencing homelessness.

Young people who have experience with homelessness can make an appointment to pick out and help fix a bike they can use for transportation. The free bikes also function to relieve stress, provide a fun outlet, and allow youth to practice being self-reliant. In addition, bike appointments are a natural way for youth and youth workers to get to know each other and how Full Cycle can be useful.

Full Cycle also offers youth a two-phase, six-month-long paid internship, which teaches a structured mechanic curriculum and imparts professional knowledge like résumé writing. The idea is to give kids a complete set of skills—not just the know-how to work on bikes.

Learning that sparks imagination and potential

Young girl at PEEC

Birth through age five is a critical time in childhood, when little brains make more connections than at any other time in life. During this important window, children need access to age-appropriate learning — social, emotional, and academic — or risk falling behind. Yet many children in our state lack the early learning opportunities they need to arrive at kindergarten prepared. That feeds the pronounced achievement gaps in Minnesota, where our students of color rank at the bottom nationally for graduation rates, test scores, and other metrics.

The reality is, access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally-relevant preschool is severely limited in precisely the communities where it’s most needed. We see that as an urgent call to action. To give more children in our community the opportunity to succeed, we created Pillsbury Early Education Center, or PEEC.

Situated in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood, PEEC prepares children to thrive in school and life with a genuinely integrated approach. More than ABCs and 123s, PEEC works to nurture kids’ curiosity, creativity, and cultural identities and support their physical and emotional well-being. Staffed by experienced teachers who know the communities they serve, PEEC brings culturally responsive instruction that responds to and celebrates diversity and difference.

Arts have the power to increase access, attachment, and agency for all. So we make creativity the hallmark our curriculum. The school is housed in a vibrant neighborhood arts center that supplies teaching artists to the program. Our teachers are creative role models who encourage children to express themselves through writing, drumming, movement, music and formal and informal performances. As part of PEEC’s theatre and storytelling curriculum, preschoolers create and act out their own stories — developing literacy, communication skills, and confidence in the process.

When families are engaged, children simply learn better. PEEC is co-located with a variety of Pillsbury United social services, making parental involvement part of families’ daily routine. Through tuition support and other resources, we help families in times of financial hardship, so kids have a stable foundation for whatever uncertainty life brings.

Around 40 children a year participate in PEEC. And the results speak for themselves. In 2017 and 2018, 100% of children aging out of the program demonstrated kindergarten readiness. 100% of younger children showed age-appropriate social, emotional, cognitive and physical development. 100% were up to date with immunizations and received well child check-ups. And 100% of parents and caregivers reported that the information and resources PEEC provided helped with positive parenting.

Of course, PEEC can’t solve the gaps in educational access and achievement on its own. Our brand of culturally-attuned education can serve as a model, in Minnesota and beyond, for how communities prepare their youngest members for a lifetime of lively learning and creative participation.

“Our family has loved the exposure to the arts — dance, singing, theatre, art and the cultural influences provided at Pillsbury. Our girls’ confidence in themselves and creative energy is a direct result of their time at Pillsbury.” — Genevieve, Parent

BY THE NUMBERS

100% success rates for kindergarten readiness over the past six years

4-STAR rating from Parent Aware, their highest rating

3 languages of instruction: English, Spanish, and ASL

Growing food and security on our own turf

Workers at Freight Farm

Minnesota’s economy was founded on food. Yet today 1 in 8 children in our state struggle with hunger. 1 in 6 Minnesotans don’t know where their next meal will come from. What’s behind this disconnection? While food is plentiful in our state, gaps in income and access mean it’s not getting where it’s needed most — especially in low-income areas and communities of color.

Ensuring families are well fed has been at the heart of Pillsbury United’s work for over a century. Through food recovery and redistribution efforts at our community cafes and food shelves, we’re making a big impact: turning every dollar donated to our food shelves into $7 of purchasing power for families we serve.

But pressure on the system continues to grow. “We’re seeing a 30% increase in clients every year between our two food shelves,” says Ethan Neal, Food Systems Manager for Pillsbury United Communities. “As other centers close, people are migrating to our food shelves. As a result, we have more clients and less money.”

Meeting surging demand means growing our food donations — and finding creative ways to expand supply. Urban agriculture is an ingenious answer. Pillsbury United has spearheaded farm and community garden projects at 10 locations across our sites in the Twin Cities. These farms produce fresh fruits and vegetables for our food shelves and meal programs city-wide, including a hydroponic growing operation that yields healthy greens 365 days a year.

It’s an investment in nutritious food as well as self-sufficiency. “By 2020, we want 40% of the food served at our community cafes to be grown by us right here in the neighborhood,” says Neal. These farms grow human capability as well, providing hands-on education and internship opportunities for young people who want to build a smarter food system. We’re even partnering with the University of Minnesota researchers to build a model for other organizations to follow.

Our vision: to build a closed-loop system that ensures everyone in our communities is well fed with healthy, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food that is locally and sustainably grown. Next, we’re drawing up plans for a Community Supported Agriculture program that delivers homegrown produce to our neighbors at the peak of freshness. That’s how you grow a healthier community from the inside out.

“Getting fresh food, eating good food – it’s going to give them happiness, bring them joy.” — Ghartey, community member and former Waite House volunteer

BY THE NUMBERS

1.2 acres of vertical indoor growing space

4 varieties of healthy greens plus herbs and edible flowers growing at all times

40% of food served in our community cafes will be Pillsbury United Communities grown by 2020

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