Urban Roots helps the University of St. Thomas

When a community nurtures its youth, it strengthens its roots and feeds its prospects for the future” – Urban Roots

Our community impacts many aspects of our lives, including our social and physical health, our personal philosophy, and our future prospects. Programs that engage and inspire young people in community activities are particularly important for creating vibrant places to live. One noteworthy local example of such a program is Urban Roots, a non-profit organization in St. Paul that provides community development services and offers internships to local youth. This summer, our Stewardship Science program at the University of St. Thomas has had the opportunity to team up with Urban Roots on an urban agriculture research project called “Growing Science”. Here we introduce the program and our two Urban Roots interns, Stephanie Worden and Daniel Yang.

Daniel Yang and friend working in Urban Roots' "Root for the Home Team" program
Daniel Yang and friend working in Urban Roots’ “Root for the Home Team” program

Urban Roots services the community through three main programs. The Garden Program maintains several organic gardens, harvests produce, offers Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA) shares for the public, and participates in the local Farmer’s Market.  The Conservation Program allows participants to travel to different sites in the community to maintain parks and remove invasive plant species. Another goal of this program is to build, maintain, and teach the public about rain gardens. Lastly, the Nutrition and Wellness Program seeks to inform the public about healthy eating by hosting cooking classes for a variety of people. Daniel and Stephanie have led activities in the Garden and Conservation programs respectively and are an exciting addition to our UST research team.

Stephanie Worden is a senior at Johnson Senior High School in St. PicsArt_1398636107630Paul, and is currently in her fourth year of work with Urban Roots. She is a HarveStar in the Conservation program and is responsible for teaching new interns while working to increase her knowledge about conservation. Planting rain gardens is a major component of her work; she has created them in homeowner’s yards, church grounds, and a boulevard in the Mound’s neighborhood. She enjoys art and music and currently plays the cello, and plans to become a Nurse Midwife in the future.

Daniel Yang graduated this past May from Central High School in St. Paul and will be attending St. John’s University in the Fall. For the past thDanielree summers, he has been involved with Urban Roots’ Gardening Program as a Youth Leader. During this time he has helped build rain gardens and grow organic crops for CSAs. He has also partnered with the organization “Roots for the Home Team” to design recipes and sell salads at local Twins’ games. Daniel enjoys meeting new people and being a part of the community; he has been involved with basketball, football, and volleyball, and also took part in the National Honor Society, the Hmong Club, College Possible and Central Singers. Daniel plans on majoring in nutrition and eventually working as a dietician or nutritionist. He may apply to medical school or get a Master’s degree. Growing Science and Urban Roots complement each other due to a shared desire to better the community.

Growing Science uses community gardens, located at two different community centers in the Twin Cities, to conduct urban agriculture research centered on the trade-offs between crop yield and environmental impacts associated with different fertilization strategies. Composts used in the experiment are all locally produced, so research results will benefit both the scientific community and local growers. Science is a tool that can provide insight about how to improve our quality of life, so connecting with the public and sharing scientific knowledge is an important focus of Growing Science. The gardens also serve to showcase urban agriculture and to provide community gathering spaces, education opportunities, and a local food source.

Urban Roots creating a rain garden
Urban Roots creating a rain garden

Our planet is experiencing food stress due to the growing population and lifestyle changes. As a result, it is important to increase agricultural production without increasing the impact of agriculture on natural lands. Urban agriculture and the development of local food sources can help us meet this goal. Programs like Urban Roots and Growing Science that place food creation in the hands of the community are useful for developing infrastructure and support for local food production. These programs demonstrate that urban agriculture can increase the amount of food available to the community while at the same time providing research opportunities and community development that brings together people from all walks of life.