Learning about a just, local food system from Community Table Co-op and Project Sweetie Pie

The central scientific goal of UST Stewardship Science projects such as Growing Science and The Stewardship Garden is to determine best practices for maximizing vegetable yields and minimizing negative environmental impacts. This knowledge will be applied to the broader goal of establishing a profitable, environmentally friendly, and sustainable local food system that will provide the community with easy access to affordable produce. This is important because many individuals in the Twin Cities live in neighborhoods where access to nutritious foods is limited.  While many of these neighborhoods are located near a small “corner store”, these stores generally tend to have few healthy options such as fruits and vegetables.  Corner stores often lack high-quality, inexpensive produce because owners do not have access to efficient delivery systems. This drives up the price of produce enough to deter many customers from buying it.  If enough customers are unwilling or unable to purchase this expensive produce, the store owner will quickly see that buying and selling produce is not profitable.  Unfortunately, the end result is a severe lack of nutritious foods on store shelves.  In order to address this issue, the UST Stewardship science program partnered with Community Table Co-op to create the Brightside Project, which aims to deliver affordable produce (often locally grown) to corner stores.

To help connect research activities to the community, the UST Stewardship Science team is taking “urban agriculture field trips” each week throughout the summer. In mid-June, the team met with Collie Graddick, Adam Pruitt, and Dede Fuller from Community Table, and Michael Chaney from Project Sweetie Pie to discuss the intricacies of the current local food system.

Back row: Collie Graddick, Kristen Bastug, Liam Coulter, Hunter Gaitan, Jake Anderson, Adam Pruitt, Michael Chaney. Front row: Haley Zimmerman, Dede Fuller, Acadia Stephen, Carly Dent.
Back row: Collie Graddick, Kristen Bastug, Liam Coulter, Hunter Gaitan, Jake Anderson, Adam Pruitt, Michael Chaney. Front row: Haley Zimmerman, Dede Fuller, Acadia Stephen, Carly Dent.

Both Community Table and Project Sweetie Pie aim to create a thriving local food system that benefits a diversity of constituents. Community Table began organizing in 2010 to help build a local and sustainable food system that connects growers and consumers. In the process, they help address nutritional, economic, environmental, and social needs in Twin Cities communities. Community Table members grow, process, and sell only locally grown food, practice fair exchange for labor and for food, are culturally inclusive, and adhere to sustainable practices. Collie expressed his belief that access to nutritious food is a basic human right, but stressed that food as a right does not mean that food should be free.  As a result, economic sustainability must be a key component of a vibrant local food system. Project Sweetie Pie has established scattered gardens in North Minneapolis to seed community agricultural businesses. The group aims to create a Food Corridor with 500+ living wage jobs within walking distance from home.  They engage in various activities that bring healthy food, vigorous exercise, intergenerational learning and new engagement to North Minneapolis communities. Michael talked with us about the beneficial impacts of Project Sweetie Pie, which educates local youth in the ways of agriculture and pays them to grow produce at one of its 20+ local gardens.  He also brought us to a Project Sweetie Pie garden on Plymouth Avenue in Minneapolis, and discussed the potential of expanding the project to create other similar gardens. Interns Adam and Dee Dee talked about the positive experience they have had working with Collie and Michael on various local food system and gardening projects, which have boosted their knowledge, confidence, and ability to improve their community.  Adam, Collie, Dede, and Michael all emphasized the importance of working towards creating a more resilient local food system that will provide employment, education, and nutritious food to individuals in the community.

Scenes from the Karamu Garden on Plymouth Avenue North in Minneapolis
Scenes from the Karamu Garden on Plymouth Avenue North in Minneapolis
Community table PSP 3
Karamu Garden – a Project Sweetie Pie project

Our group felt fortunate that these community leaders took the time to describe their programs. We are inspired to help forge links between local growers and potential produce distribution outlets in a way that benefits members of Twin Cities communities that have received inadequate investment.

About the author: Hunter Gaitan is a senior Biology major, Chemistry minor at the University of St. Thomas. He is a lead researcher on the Urban Flower Field project.