Categorized | FEATURED

Frogtown Park and Farm is one of a kind

Posted on 09 September 2015 by Calvin

Frogtown Farm 043(1)Grand opening scheduled for Oct. 3

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

Now a busy inner-city neighborhood, Frogtown was once a wetland where frogs were so numerous that the area was named for them. While large numbers of frogs may not be coming back anytime soon, it’s pretty certain that birds, bees and butterflies will start to see an uptick in numbers there.

On Sat., Oct. 3 at 10:30am, the Frogtown Park and Farm will have its official dedication and grand opening. The 12.7-acre park and farm is the first of its kind in St. Paul, being both a park for general use and enjoyment and a soon-to-be, full-fledged, working urban farm. The event celebrates the culmination of years of hard work by neighborhood volunteers, staff, City of St. Paul officials, and community organizations.

To understand the significance of this event, consider that the Frogtown neighborhood has long been recognized as having a dearth of green space. No neighborhood in the Twin Cities has less. And, green space is known to contribute to the overall health of a community.

Seeing this need, long-time residents Seitu Jones, Soyini Guyton, Patricia Ohmans and Anthony Schmitz put their heads together and started to dream. Eventually, they would become known as the founders of Frogtown Park and Farm.

The new park and farmstead include the area bounded by Minnehaha, Victoria, Chatsworth, and Lafond avenues. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd had their ”Home for Wayward Girls” there from 1863-1967. The massive Gothic building that housed their order was torn down in 1969, and The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation began construction of their main campus on the site.

The foundation put their headquarters up for sale in 2008, with a strong desire that the land be purchased and used for a good purpose. Unfortunately, foreclosures were hitting Frogtown especially hard, and no one expressed interest in putting that kind of money into the community.

The founders approached the Trust for Public Land and the Frogtown Park and Farm soon became one of their first urban projects. A collaborative was formed between the community, the Wilder Foundation, the City of St. Paul, and the Trust for Public Land.

The collaborative was able to raise $4.2 million in a capital campaign. A portion of that went to purchase the land; the rest was set aside for eventual design and construction.
The land transfer took place in 2013, and a six month period of community discussions followed. All of the partners involved were committed to this being a community-led project. According to Eartha Bell, executive director of Frogtown Park and Farm, “more than 1,000 people attended the community discussions and offered up their thoughts.” The San Francisco firm Rebar was contracted to facilitate the design process.

Frogtown Farm 038(2)Photo left: Frogtown Park and Farm will cover 12.7 acres in the heart of Frogtown. Once completed, there will be a 5.5-acre farm with working gardens, demonstration gardens for education, a produce stand and more. The 7.2-acre park will include green space, an amphitheater for public programs, walking paths, sledding hills and some of the best views in town.

“We’re starting at the most basic level,” Bell continued, “and are building this farm from the ground up. We’ve had more than 100 semi-truck loads of good, rich dirt brought in from Dakotah Roots, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s organics recycling facility. This will give us 12” of healthy topsoil to start with, and soon we’ll be able to amend our soil on a continuous basis with our own compost.”

Frogtown Farm 02(1)Photo right: Eartha Bell, executive director of Frogtown Park and Farm, stands in front of one of the more than 100 semi-truckloads of compost brought in to get the farm started.

The park and farm are a work in progress, and development will continue in stages over the next three years. By the grand opening, one of the three formal entrances, the one at Milton St., will be completed. Local metal artist Gita Ghei is creating all three of the entrances, using input from neighborhood residents about what they would like to see.

The basic design infrastructure for the land will be in place by Oct. 3, including all walking paths. A 96’ X 36’ hoop house will be erected, with late-season vegetables in the ground. Staff will be available to discuss next steps, such as an on-site market stand selling produce to local restaurants and co-ops, and the farm’s crop rotation plan. Neighbors will be able to learn about gardening in the Farm Commons next year, exchanging labor for shares of fresh produce.

Events on opening day will start at 10:30am with a blessing of the land. Dakotah elders, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, and representatives from neighborhood cultural and religious groups will represent the many faces and beliefs of Frogtown. At 11am, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Councilmember Dai Thao will address the audience. At noon, near-by restaurants will provide a free mini-taste of Frogtown. Tours of the land will be given continuously from 12-2pm.