From Vacant Places to Growing Spaces: Making the Twin Cities a leader in the local food movement

Urban farming is a hot topic right now. From figuring out the policies and politics around backyard beekeeping or chicken rearing, to full-on community garden spaces, there is no denying that urban agriculture is being rediscovered.  So where is this push coming from? And what resources exist for newbies to the urban farming trend? I sat down with my good friend, Katie Godfrey, to pick her brain. Katie is a Minnesota GreenCorps member working in Saint Paul to help make the Twin Cities a leader in the local food movement.

Here are her thoughts:

Get Rooted in Urban Agriculture

Guest Author: Katie Godfrey, MN Living GreenCorps Member

From Detroit and Chicago to Portland and Seattle, urban agriculture has taken root as a major component of the local foods movement in our country. The Twin Cities are no exception. I have friends who raise chickens in Saint Paul, I work with community garden advocates, and I know urban farmers who are trying to make a living growing food for their neighbors on vacant lots.

Urban agriculture is a new-old concept. It was once common sense to grow food in backyards, especially during war-time rations, but supermarkets and a dependency on corn-based “foods” made growing food in a city less of a necessity. Today people are reclaiming open spaces in cities for food production to remind us of our dependency on the soil and the people who feed us. Growing food in a city creates stronger communities, opens doors for new business opportunities, educates us on how our food is grown, and brings healthy food into communities that need it.

Cities all over the country are developing new policies to adapt to the growing interest in urban food production. The Ramsey County Food and Nutrition Commission and Homegrown Minneapolis work to develop food policy recommendations within Saint Paul and Minneapolis respectively. In addition to these City- and County-affiliated groups, there are well over thirty organizations in the metro area working on urban food production issues including the Land Stewardship Project, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Gardening Matters.

Community Garden

Fort Road Community Garden

I came to work on urban agriculture issues in Saint Paul through my position as a Minnesota GreenCorps member, an AmeriCorps program that is run through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. My host organization is Saint Paul Parks and Recreation, and I work closely with the Planning and Economic Development office and the Sustainability Coordinator from the Mayor’s office, all of whom work with the Food and Nutrition Commission to advance food policy recommendations within the City.

One of the major projects I’m working on this year is a land inventory of Saint Paul to document vacant land that could be used for urban food production. We hope to have a process in place by the 2013 growing season to help people who are looking for land to start community gardens or farms.

In addition to the land inventory, I am in the process of updating the Healthy and Local Foods webpage on the City website to include information on water access, soil testing, animal permits, and other critical information that urban farmers need to get started. The webpage will go live later this summer and will also include information on urban agriculture zoning.

Whether you want to grow food in your backyard, start a community garden, or sell vegetables grown on a vacant lot, remember there are resources within the City and nonprofits to support you in your efforts to make the Twin Cities a leader in the local food movement.

Eggplant in Garden

For questions about the land inventory, contact Visit the Gardening Resource Fair on March 31st (

Amber Collett

About Amber Collett

Amber is a bicycling advocate that lives in Minneapolis and spends a lot of time in Saint Paul. She loves growing and cooking food, knitting, and going on outdoor adventures. She tweets @AmberCollett.

2 thoughts on “From Vacant Places to Growing Spaces: Making the Twin Cities a leader in the local food movement

  1. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman

    I think this is probably the most delicious post yet! Do you have stipulations on the type of vacant land you're looking for (i.e. max or min size, or zoning, etc) or will any vacant land do?

    1. Katie Godfrey

      Good question. An average residential lot is 0.1 acre, so that is the minimum size I've recorded (and there are a LOT), and there is no maximum cap. I also document the tree canopy coverage–most lots I've looked at have little to no coverage, but some are almost fully covered (which might work well for mushrooms or brambles if a project like that comes up in the future). I include the zoning for each parcel, but the City is currently working on an urban agriculture zoning text amendment, so that will hopefully make it easier for people to access land once that's in place. I have not done any sort of site assessment (or "ground truthing" as it's technically called), so I have not recorded the slope, quality of the soil, water access, etc. The website will include resources on how to get soil tested and we will have to figure out the water access issue on a case-by-case basis. Thanks for the question! -Katie

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