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.
Food insecurity – defined as limited access to affordable, nutritious food – is a growing problem in the United States. It tends to be particularly high in low-income urban areas where car ownership is low and supermarkets are rare. The small food stores that do exist in underserved areas are often filled with high-fat, high-sugar foods in part because “junk” food is relatively easy to stock and usually sells well in small food stores. On the other hand, fresh produce for these stores is expensive to stock, difficult to get in the small quantities, spoils easily, and often doesn’t sell. These problems have been documented in numerous scientific and popular articles. Given that diet-related health issues are much more prevalent in lower-income communities in the United States, corner store conditions and general food insecurity are major public health and social justice issues.
In 2009, the Minneapolis Health Department began the Minneapolis Healthy Corner Store Program to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to small businesses in poor Minneapolis neighborhoods. One main challenge for this program has been the lack of a distribution system to provide store owners with produce that they can sell at a profit. Produce distributors generally don’t service corner stores in poor neighborhoods because the low sales volume and other complications makes it unprofitable. To stock their shelves, corner store owners often buy produce at grocery stores and restaurant wholesale suppliers and then resell it at higher prices. That takes time and money, and the result is second-hand produce for sale at high prices in a challenging sales environment.
BrightSide distributors: Adam Pruitt, Dede Fuller, and Carly Dent
This summer, the University of St. Thomas Stewardship Science program and several community partners are piloting a new produce distribution model to help address this issue. Our goal is to create an economically viable delivery system that brings to corner stores low-cost, high-quality produce in small quantities. It’s a significant challenge. Our partners are Nora Hoeft (Minneapolis Health Department), Kevin Hannigan (Fields of Joy, a local food and beverage distribution business), and Collie Graddick (Community Table Co-op). Kevin has extensive experience in produce distribution through his operation Fields of Joy, and has family connections to J & J Distributing – a major regional produce distributor. Collie’s organization, Community Table, supports entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities area wanting to farm and start businesses that contribute to a local food system. Carly Dent, a UST student majoring in Environmental Studies and Psychology, is Head of Distribution and Sales. She is also working to assess the impact of the program on stores and their customers, and mentors two interns (Adam Pruitt and Dede Fuller) from Community Table. Adam and Dede are part of the distribution team that delivers to corner stores once a week. We’re calling this venture BrightSide Produce Distribution.
“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
On a sunny mid-summer Saturday morning, a crowd gathered in St. Paul’s new Urban Flower Field to drink lemonade and paint field stones. Over 100 people wandered down from the corner of 10th and Robert streets to walk around the space, now greening up as wildflowers germinate across the site.
The Urban Flower Field is a collaboration between Public Art St. Paul, artist in residence Amanda Lovelee, and a research project by Hunter Gaitan, Liz Scherber and Adam Kay of the University of St. Thomas. The research is focused on assessing whether plant biodiversity can help in the remediation of contaminated soils, a process known as phytoremediation. In 96 plots that spiral Continue reading
Stewardship Science is environmental research that combines scientific discovery with community service. “Stewardship” is often used to refer to human management of nature. Here, we use the term to define activities that enrich human communities by strengthening their connection to natural systems. Stewardship Science aims to generate results that impact the field of environmental science while at the same time creating products that help members of our community.
Our Stewardship Science projects illustrate this connection between environmental research and community service. The UST Stewardship Garden, our flagship project, has explored how conventional vs. organic fertilizer influences the effect of crop diversity on yield. The project is set in a community garden, and produce is donated to local food shelves. The Corner Store Procurement Project combines agriculture research with service to the Minneapolis Healthy Corner Store Initiative, a project aiming to increase access to fresh vegetables in low-income neighborhoods. The Urban Flower Field project is using wildflowers to test whether plant biodiversity can increase uptake of harmful toxins from local soils.
Together, these projects aim to address environmental problems, provide community service, and engage students and community members. We are very interested in forging connections with community organizers, gardeners, teachers, artists, and other citizens that are interested in building a more just and environmentally sustainable community. We think there are numerous ways to expand the Stewardship Science program, and we welcome collaborators interested in making a difference.
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