Connecting Urban Roots with State Agricultural Support – InForum

Connecting Urban Roots with State Agricultural Support – InForum

ST. PAUL – Go Farm Connect hosted a field day for youth in urban agriculture on June 29 at Urban Roots’ Rivoli Bluffs Farm in east St. Paul.

The event showcased the work of Urban Roots, which teaches youth about growing food, cooking, environmental stewardship and career guidance. U.S. Department of Agriculture staff were on hand at the field day to introduce and answer questions about the USDA’s Youth Farm Loan program as a way to support young agricultural entrepreneurs.

The event was hosted and organized by Nura Ahmed and Matthew Barthelemy, who serve as liaisons for Renewing the Countryside’s Go Farm Connect, a farmer-led initiative to create relationships between traditionally underserved farmers and government agriculture agencies that can help farmers succeed.

Skylar Hawkins is the farm director at Urban Roots, a youth development program that works with individuals ages 14 to 24.

“This is usually their first job,” Hawkins said of Urban Roots. “These are youth who are struggling with barriers to finding work, and we want them to have a really positive first job. We want them to learn what a healthy workplace looks and feels like, to build a community together, and to learn the skills they need to get the jobs they want in the future.”

Urban Roots’ focus is on St. Paul’s East Side, where Urban Roots has been operating for 56 years, according to Hawkins.

“We’ve always focused on the east side, and so there are some schools there that our young people usually come from,” he said.

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Teenagers at Urban Roots Rivoli Bluffs Farm in St. Paul.

Article / Urban Roots

Urban Roots consists of three programs (horticulture, fresh cooking and conservation) in which students can grow food, learn how to prepare that food and engage in conservation work.

“We have about 100 youth at any one time at Urban Roots in all programs, and they all come (to the urban farm) in different capacities and work here,” Hawkins said. “They take care of their advanced group plots, they help us on our production farm, they help in the orchard. The Cook Fresh program also wants these youth to actually get experience growing food and harvesting, and that’s why they’re here too.”

The conservation team also spends a lot of time at the urban farm, removing invasive species and planting native perennials.

Hawkins said Urban Roots is funded largely by grants and donors.

“We go to the market and try to sell our products as well, or we find creative ways to get grants that allow us to donate them to different food distribution sites,” Hawkins said.

The field day was an opportunity to explore federal funding opportunities through the USDA and NRCS.

“I think it’s important to know what’s out there and what’s already available and make sure youth are here to hear that and absorb that,” Hawkins said. “I’m not sure we’ve figured all that out today, but I think it’s the beginning of the conversation.”

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A group from Urban Roots leads a tour of Rivoli Bluffs Farm in St. Paul on June 29.

Noah Fish / Agweek

When Hawkins asked the group of students at the field day how many of them might be interested in starting a farm one day, many of them expressed interest.

Ahmed and Barthelemy, liaisons for Go Farm Connect, are trained to help farms of all sizes and specialties in Minnesota and Wisconsin connect with the right agricultural assistance programs. The three-year project is led by Renewing The Countryside in partnership with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“It’s a whole different job to organize events and market them and make sure the right people know about it and promote it,” Hawkins said of Go Farm Connect. “I’m not sure we could have done it on our own, so I think it’s really important to have those contacts.”

Barthelemy said Go Farm Connect is designed to bridge the gap between the USDA and producers who have been excluded from its resources.

“The USDA has intentionally not supported some communities in the past, and so this program is primarily focused on supporting young farmers who, for whatever reason, are not interacting with the USDA – maybe they weren’t invited in a way that works for them, or maybe they don’t trust the USDA,” he said.

The liaisons are trained in how to use USDA resources, and Barthelemy said each of them holds a few field days where they invite communities to make direct connections with USDA representatives.

“People see that these are people, and these are great resources. They have that experience and they get to know them, so they know these are the USDA agents that we’re going to reach out to. Then they get their cards and they can reach out directly,” Barthelemy said. “The USDA is often new to a lot of farming practices in the communities that we work with, so it’s a great opportunity to bring them to a farm to see different farming practices with emerging farmers and show them that this is the future, you know, this is part of the future of agriculture. And so how can they better understand how to help them?”

Noah Fish

I’m a general assignment agricultural reporter covering everything from food to land, farm emergencies and co-op mergers to fairs and 4-H fundraisers, using multiple media elements. I favor stories that highlight the power of people.

As an agricultural reporter, I have covered the opioid crisis, sheepdogs, trade wars, collapsed barns, the COVID-19 pandemic, migrant farmers, regenerative poultry farming, farmland transition, milking robots, world-record pumpkins, cannabis pasteurization, cranberry country, and horseradish kings.

I report from northeast Rochester, Minnesota, where I live with my wife, Kara, and our polite cat, Zena. Email me at [email protected]