Linking up with food justice groups in the Twin Cities

Publication date: 
October 29, 2014

Author: Daniel Raskin

Back in September, I followed up on an e-mail invitation that was passed along through the University’s Sustainable Ag listserve, and attended the annual board meeting of the Twin Cities Agricultural Land Trust. Having spent all summer on campus or in the field, I’d been itching to meet up with folks working on different aspects of the food system. Below is an account of the meeting.

Not knowing what to expect, I was confused when I reached the location: Finnegan’s, a boutique coffee shop in downtown Minneapolis. The barista directed me to a side room, and I was greeted by a crowd of food justice activists, delicious snacks, and best of all, free beer! Finnegan’s, I learned, is a non-profit brewery that donates its profits to hunger alleviation initiatives. It also maintains a conference center where community groups may host meetings. Thanks Finnegan’s! And not surprisingly, I wasn’t the only person in our lab group who had the idea to attend. Right before the meeting started, Julie showed up! I was in the right place.

So what’s the Land Trust all about? For new farmers looking to produce food for consumers in the Twin Cities, proximity to urban markets is a major asset. However, gaining access to land on a permanent, or even long-term basis, is a major challenge for new farmers of all stripes. Land trusts can help facilitate secure, long-term access to land. From the TCALT website:

“The Land Trust is nonprofit organization and a legal entity that facilitates the ownership or leasing of land for urban agriculture purposes, such as farmers markets, market gardening, urban farms and community gardens.

“This Land Trust would acquire, hold, and steward land for urban and rural farming and community gardens, manage conservation easements, provide educational, legal and structural support to growers,and connect farmers with markets and community members. The organization would increase long term, stable land access for urban farmers and gardeners in order to create food and farming systems have equitable access to land for growing food, urban agriculture business opportunities, and access to good food.”

We heard from two speakers: Pakou Hang, the Executive Director of the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), and Ginger Cannon, a planner for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Pakou Hang spoke brilliantly about the unique challenges that Hmong-American farmers face—especially the need for collaborative research University scientists! Ginger Cannon described the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Boards’ efforts to incorporate urban agriculture into their long-term goals.

The Land Trust, I learned, is entering its third year as an organization, and is hoping to establish its status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit within the month. It will continue establishing partnerships with urban farmers, community groups, and organizations like HAFA to acquire and hold land for farmers, gardeners and communities.

The real purpose of the meeting, other than to educate interested citizens and supply me with beer, was to vote on new board members. Seven names were nominated, and we voted on four new board members—including Hennepin County Extension Educator Karl Hakanson, and a fellow Applied Plant Sciences student Michelle Dobbratz.

The evening was well-spent making connections with community activists who are working to make our food system more equitable.