Getting the Word Out

See you there! There is community meeting this upcoming week.  Rebar has synthesized all of the amazing community feedback we’ve received so far into three potential designs.  Come check them out and help us tailor them into the final proposal.

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We’ve been busy flyering throughout the neighborhood to spread the word. Here’s us at the Rondo Library!

The meeting is Tuesday, December 10th at Jackson Elementary.  Check out the meeting flyer here:  UPCOMING COMMUNITY MEETINGS FLYER

December 10, 2013 at Jackson Elementary for 6-8.

Balancing Needs in the Design Process

Have you ever considered the difficulty of balancing so many competing needs in the process of making a community farm?

An ambitious project like Frogtown Farm has to accomplish three things, each a task in itself.

  • First, it must create a vision for what it (as an organization) wants to do and what it wants to change by doing that.
  • Second, it must refine that vision to both be realistic and to satisfy the many diverse people and interests circulating around the project and the neighborhood.
  • Third, it must implement that vision in an effective, authentic, and cooperative way.

Our work at Rebar exists somewhere in between the first and second steps. We are trying to help the Frogtown Farm board, the community members taking part in the Design Advisory Committee, as well as the many many other folks invested in the design process (like you!), to refine the vision for what the farm might do, and what it wants to accomplish in doing so. That’s why so much of our October 12th Design Workshop focused on the concept of ‘yields’ (that is, what we want to see come out of the farm—besides the obvious: food!).

The more challenging part than just creating a vision is matching that vision to the reality on the ground: the budget raised, the people involved, the existing legal and political parameters, and importantly, the community’s desires (which keep in mind are often inconsistent or incompatible!).

Some people may want more green space, while others claim the right to use a car to get to the farm, which will require parking on site (and thus consume what could be green space). Some neighbors might want a farm stand, but perhaps there isn’t enough money in the budget to staff it? We heard many calls for a neighborhood gathering/event space, but we have to figure out how to create such a space over time, as there isn’t enough money to build a large building right away (buildings are more expensive than farm fields!).

Designing this complex project, with so much potential and so much passion revolving around it, takes the work not just of designers, but of community members themselves. Board members, the DAC, and individuals all need to consider the options beyond their own initial desires. Recognizing that not all Frogtowners think or are alike, and that diverse needs need to be met in diverse ways, every person who has a stake in the farm has to occasionally step outside themselves to see how someone else might be thinking or feeling about the farm.

This isn’t to say that it’s inappropriate to ask for certain design elements, or push for certain program outcomes. It’s just to say that, at a certain point, the farm can only do what the farm can realistically do, and that requires the community to prioritize certain yields. We hope that we are providing options to do this, to tease out what works best for this community, and to hold a space for the recognition that there is always room to readjust the plan and the program in the future, should it not be satisfying the balance of needs in the community.

One of our next blog posts will be about this process: ideas our team has for how to set up the Farm’s programs in such a way that we can revisit, revise, and reconstruct the farm to be better and better over time.

Let’s Build the Soil!

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The soil tests are back from the lab.  The soil is safe, but needs some work.  Tests were done by Braun Intertec, soil scientist Dr. Jay Bell, Soil and Plant Laboratories, Inc., and Earth Fortification Supplies Company.

The reports tell us:

  • The soil is good enough for grass to grow
  • The existing soil is safe for growing food
  • Existing soil needs to be ripped to loosen it
  • Adding 660 gallons of compost tea will add needed life into the soil
  • Growing areas will need 2″ of compost added each year
  • To grow food well on 3 acres the farm will need to add: 400 yards of Compost, 1,056 lbs Soil Sulfur, 792 lbs Blood Meal, 1,320 lbs Feather Meal, 1,320 lbs Bone Meal, 924 lbs Potassium sulfate, and 660 lbs Magnesium Sulfate

With the local composting and farming expertise in the Frogtown community, building the soil up to these recommendations will likely be a relatively easy task.  Buy and have greenwaste compost delivered, spread with a bunch of community volunteers, till into the soil, plant food.  Good news!

Do you compost?  Do you want to help build the soil?  Let us know as the soil building plan is being written.  We would like to include you in the plan to help on-going soil building.

Soil Reports:  Braun Intertec Soil ReportDr. Jay Bell Soil ReportSoil and Plant Lab Soil Amendment ReportEarthfort Soil Food Web Report

Community Ambassodor, Kathy Donovan, reflects on the future site of Frogtown Farm

First impression of Frogtown Farm from community ambassador Frogtown resident and gardener Kathy Donovan:

“The surprising thing about it is that there us quite a large flat area up at the top of the hill. We were told by a city of St.Paul planner that the hill is the highest point in St.Paul. When I went up there, I discovered that there is a wonderful view of the St.Paul Skyline. This will be a great place for a park and urban farming. Can you just imagine sitting at a picnic table in the cool breeze and eating your  favorite picnic food!”

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In late November Kathy held a community meeting in her building located across the street from the future Frogtown Park and Farm.  Building residents came together sharing hot cocoa and their visions for the park.  As a group, residents were excited to be getting a new park so close to their home.

There’s nothing like having a meeting on site

On Sunday the design team (all of us!) met on the site of Frogtown Farm for a working meeting to discuss layout and site design. It was an especially productive session, with time to check in with City of Saint Paul Parks & Rec Landscape Architect Kathleen Anglo, as wells as Frogtown Farm Board member Seitu Jones. The designers walked the site to determine ideal path and access points, noting the slopes of the topography, and taking soil plugs periodically to assess depth of the top soil (it varies considerably).

The team huddles around a site plan and discusses layout options.

The team huddles around a site plan and discusses layout options.

Jake Voit looks at the soil profile from the middle of the site.

Jake Voit looks at the soil profile from the middle of the site.

The site is gorgeous in October!

The site is gorgeous in October!

Designers visit MN farms for inspiration

Team designers Blaine Merker and John Bela (along with John’s brother Paul, a farmer in Kentucky) spent the day after the October 12th Community Design Workshop touring local farms for inspiration and lessons to bring to Frogtown Farm.

First stop was the University of Minnesota student demonstration garden, run by design team member Courtney Tchida. While the season was done and had left just a few tomatoes clinging to the vine (as frost still lingered in the furrows), there were a few tasty strawberries still to be had.

Courtney orients us to her plots.

Courtney orients us to her plots.

Still a few tasty berries to be had.

Still a few tasty berries to be had.

Later that day, we drove out to Big River Farms just by the Wisconsin border. Big River has an interesting model: there is a large production field and hoop houses for the CSA they run, as well as training plots for immigrants who are learning to farm, who can also contribute to the CSA’s produce. The farm manager helps train the immigrant farmers, each of whom may be in a different phase of expertise and entrepreneurship around farming.

The high tunnels at Big River Farms.

The high tunnels at Big River Farms.

Big River's farm manager explains the layout to John and Paul.

Big River’s farm manager explains the layout to John and Paul.

Managing new farmers to produce goods for a CSA is difficult business, but as the farmers become more experienced, they are able to commit to producing more and more for the CSA. Setting prices, proper handling and washing of the produce, as well as marketing are all areas that Big River helps train these new farmers in. After a year or so at Big River, the new farmers go on to farm their own plots.

This farmer had been working at Big River for a few seasons and was doing quite well.

This farmer had been working at Big River for a few seasons and was doing quite well.

Recap from October public workshop


Workshop 1

We had a productive and successful design workshop with a great turnout from the community!  We brainstormed about the layout of Frogtown Farm and which services and programs it will provide.  Look below to see the boards where we collected community feedback, concerns, questions, aspirations, and desires.

Workshop 2

Yields

Yields

The “Yields” board was intended to gauge where community support lay for different focuses of Frogtown Farm.  Participants were asked to select their top three choices to account for the fact farm yields can overlap and accomplish multiple tasks.  The community’s top focus for Frogtown Farm was Youth Empowerment and Education with Job Training and Education and Community Ties close second and third choices, respectively.

What do you think?

What do you think?

The “What you you think?” board was design to capture the community’s general thought, desires, and concerns about Frogtown Farm.  The main desires are to incorporate everyone, especially neighborhood youth, and for the farm to have unique yields, not duplicate work already done in Frogtown.

Menu of programs

Menu of Programs

The “Menu of programs” board spatially displayed what different services and infrastructure are possible at Frogtown Farm.  Frogtown community members envision a multifunctional building that could be a center for food storage, processing, and sales, a meeting for farmers and community members, and potentially an on-site residence for a farmer (and his/her family).  The feedback also demonstrated a great inclination towards production and demonstration farm plots rather than space for private community gardens.

Site analysis

Site Analysis

The “Site analysis” board displayed the current layout of the entire Frogtown Park and Farm property and mapped out some of the important features of the property that will affect the farm, such as “ag potential, “vegetation,” and “sun and wind.”  Feedback on the board was widespread, as many of the voiced concerns, suggestions, and desires were concerned more with the entire property, rather than the farm specifically.  The farm specific suggestions ranged from cover crops to compost production to the possibility for animals on the property.

Farm types

Farm Types

The “Farm types” board made graphic the dichotomy between paid and volunteer staff.  It also further subdivided the two general categories.  Paid staff was broken into education/training, production, and social justice farms, while farms operated by volunteers were separated into community-managed, volunteer-run farms and community gardens.  The feedback gathered on the board reiterated the concern about duplicating existing programs and institutions in Frogtown and instead urged Frogtown Farm to be a nexus of existing programs.

Farm organization structures

Farm Organization Structures

The “Farm organizational structures” board demonstrated how decisions about Frogtown Farm have and will be made.  Much of the feedback discusses what type of organization structure would enable the most efficient and prosperous farm.  Process related feedback was directed to questions about how to maximize community engagement (representative of a diverse Frogtown demographic) and where the power of final decisions lay amongst the different organizations involved.  Physical concerns about the site focused on access and parking and ensuring safety and security at the Farm.

Food Systems and Existing Assets

Food systems and existing assets

The “Food systems and existing assets” board documents existing Frogtown businesses and organizations related to food and community development.  Workshop participants added important businesses and services previously overlooked to help expand Rebar’s knowledge of the area.