Good Food Closer to Home

“Individually we are one drop, together we are an ocean.” -Ryunosuke Satoro

We continue to be excited about partnerships and believe whole-heartedly in the importance of working together, sharing a common goal, and collaboration to accomplish great things.

In 2013, we began a relationship with a store owner in Lake Elmo, next door to the Cimarron Community.  As we work in the Cimarron Garden to fulfill the shares for the CSA, we would often go to the Lake Elmo Market, a convenient store next door, to pick up ice and refreshments.  We met the store owner, Ramiz Saadeh, and over time shared stories and experiences with him throughout the summer.  He graciously allowed us to store our produce in his coolers when it was ripe and ready before the shares were to be filled.

One of our primary goals at Our Community Food Projects is healthy food access. Because of this, and the relationship with the Lake Elmo Market, we began to brainstorm last summer about how to get food into the community using the convenient store as a place where it might be available.  The Lake Elmo Market is located in a food desert, which means there is little or no access to grocery stores or other stores within a close radius.  The city of Lake Elmo is a an interesting mix of high and low income individuals, both of who could benefit from having healthy food options so close to home.  We approached Ramiz about the idea of working together with him to provide fresh fruits and vegetables in his store, and he was enthusiastic about the idea.  We also approached Washington County Public Health and Environment to help support the project; the folks there were also excited about the project.  Through many conversations, meetings, plans, research, and more meetings-the corner store project Fresh ‘n Healthy: Good Food Closer to Home was born.

Pat from Washington County and Megan from OCFP move over salty snacks to make way for fruits and veggies!

Pat from Washington County and Megan from OCFP move over salty snacks to make way for fruits and veggies!

In preparation, our team worked with Ramiz to make room for produce in his store and selected 10 popular items to have available at an affordable price.  Ramiz purchased a beautiful stand to display the produce.  We cleaned, prepared signs, and spread the word about the developing project. In early November 2013, we rolled out the 3-month pilot.  We targeted the entire Lake Elmo area by mailing a card with a coupon for a featured produce item (bananas), no purchase necessary.  The team also visited the store regularly to visit with customers and share our knowledge of fresh and healthy food. There was visible excitement from customers about the availability of fruits and vegetables so readily available to them.

By mid-November, news of the corner store had spread and store owner, Ramiz was featured in Lake Elmo newspaper. Click here to read the full article

At the end of the pilot in January 2014, we had received nothing but positive feedback from the community, Ramiz’s customers and our network of partners on this project. Ramiz had seen an increase in sales of the fruits and vegetables since the November launch, which indicates that his customers are recognizing his store a place to buy produce within walking distance of Cimarron.  Our team has deepened the connection with the Cimarron community and Lake Elmo has a whole, by having a presence (physically through store promos, and visibly through signage and other marketing) in a busy, high traffic store. And, we have developed and strengthened another community partner with Ramiz and the Lake Elmo Market.  Together, we continue to create access to healthy, and fresh food year round.

As the project moves into 2015, we are happy to report sales are turning a little profit for Ramiz which will help him continue to offer the produce going forward.  The Cimarron Garden will be providing Ramiz with fresh garden vegetables this summer from the garden located next door.  We will continue to promote and support The Lake Elmo Market in our 2015 Cimarron Community Newsletter published during the spring, summer and fall.

Ann, Director of OCFP and Ramiz, Lake Elmo store owner share Fresh 'n Healthy, Good Food Closer to Home

Ann, Director of OCFP and Ramiz, Lake Elmo store owner share Fresh ‘n Healthy, Good Food Closer to Home

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A local food system is taking shape

2014 was one of the best production years Cimarron Youth Garden and CSA has had.  Our CSA boxes were brimming with a large variety of produce.  We grew many of the staples but added new vegetables like edamme, broad beans, and bunching onions to our boxes.  The weather was reasonable, raining close to once a week, keeping the watering management down and aiding in our ability to have a good production year.

PEOPLE

In 2014 we sold a total of 12 shares in the CSA, 6 of them were for the entire summer, and then another 6 came on board about halfway through the season.  On any given day, we had a total of five youth working in the garden, with two regulars there each day.  Jasmine and Sean were our rockstars throughout the summer!  They showed up on the hottest, coldest, rainiest of days to help keep our

Jasmine Planting Sean digging up a bed.

crops going.  The whole crew of did an amazing job of working together and developed a rhythm of teamwork. They shared adventures with more than just the food, such as building things like wheelbarrows and fences, trapping pests like cute baby bunnies and preparing beautiful bouquets of flowers for the flower share.  In August, two of the youth went on a field trip to the MN Food Association with Ann.  There they met with immigrant farmers and got a glimpse of market gardening and farming on a large scale CSA operation.

Tyler Abrahamson was our back up farmer, a graduate from the University of St. Thomas, he provided the science and biology lessons as we double dug the beds.   His youthfulness and curiosity led us to establish a lean-to cold frame and a water collecting system that we are using again this spring.   We had a great crew of volunteers last year including Joia, and Suzy, Promise Fellows from Oakland Junior High who helped us organize our first Community Corn Roast in which 40 residents attended.  The Coffee Girls from Stillwater including Tuyet, Susan, and Dana came out to enjoy the joyful ambiance the garden provides  and took home some extra veggies.

A typical lunch prepared in the garden.  One of the best part of the garden has always been our lunch time.  Each day during the growing season the garden crew would cut lettuces, pull carrots, pick tomatoes and other veggies as they became ripe and made a garden salad.  All the volunteers, and garden crew sat down together and had lunch.  We learned about each other and about food.  Coming from a Lebanese background Ann shared lemon salads, hummus, luban (yogurt) and pita bread which became the staples. Other foods like mangos, brie cheese, and eating nasturtium flowers were introduced too –   “try it you’ll like it” was the theme for lunch.  Some of the foods were new to the youth and some of the volunteers, but by mid summer everyone learned the art of a balanced lunch using simple ingredients.

2014

 Our great success with the garden last year was partly due to the fact that the garden doubled in size giving us more land to work with, a more experienced garden crew, and an increase in support from our partners. One fourth of the new section of the garden was put in a soil building cover crop that will be used this year as part of our rotation plan for the garden. Having almost a fifth of an acre more for crops was very helpful.  Jasmine and Sean our Workforce teens, had worked in the garden since it opened in 2010 and were able to take on more planting and harvesting tasks.  A small grant provided by Wells Fargo through Family Means supported infrastructure purchases like a tiller, washing tubs, and storage containers.  The Whitson Foundation, the Stillwater Elks, along with Cimarron Management supported our new water system and electricity hook up and Minnesota Food Association provided technical support and transplants.   We are grateful for all the improvements and support we had last year and plan on a stellar year in 2015.

Oh, and did I mention our Community Garden had 5 residents last year growing their own food?  Lots of food too.  All 5 are coming back and we had additional requests already to have plots so once again we are planning to expand the garden to accommodate those who would like to grow their own food.

THIS YEAR

We will again stick to growing most of the staples – lettuces, cukes, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, squash, root crops etc. and work on increasing yields while focusing on quality.  NEW this year we will accept EBT/SNAP benefits for veggies shares to encourage all members of the community to participate in our CSA.  In comparison to other East Metro CSAs we are still the best value for the money at $350 for 12 weeks of 5- 15 lbs of veggies each week.  A membership in the Cimarron Youth Garden supports a whole community building a food system from the youth up.  We hope you will consider becoming a member of our CSA or be a sponsor for someone in the community who may not be able to afford a season of fresh produce.

  We set up a new washing and packing station last year that we are planning to improve on this year.  A new cooler will be added to our shed, and our new add on shed (thanks for Susan Jackson and Tyler)  will store our tools.  Susan Jackson is  a resident of Cimarron who we love working with and look forward to working with her again this year.  Susan will be starting up our new Cimarron Market Stand opening in July.    In the fall we will have access to a certified kitchen through the Youth Center located in Cimarron.  Classes on preserving, and cooking will be offered as the garden begins to go into peak production.  2015 will be an exciting year for us as we continue to build a local food system embedded in a mobile home park community.

Beautiful peas getting ready for the share.

Beautiful peas getting ready for the share.

As we closed up the garden last fall, we took stock of all that was accomplished during the 2014 summer.   Our plan to grow food and grow people seemed to be working.  The youth are coming back in 2015, we are starting to accept EBT, we will plan our Second Annual Corn Roast, open a new Market Stand, teach classes in a certified kitchen, and we will continue to support The Lake Elmo Market.  Our goal to create a local food system that becomes part of the fabric of Cimarron, a mobile home community of over 450 diverse households in the Eastern Metro, is taking shape.

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Harmony Greenhouse Transplant Sale May 9, 2015

Our 2015 season is just getting started, watch for updates on when transplants will be available.

Harmony Greenhouse Seedling Sale Flyer
All sales of transplants will be at our new greenhouse opening on May 9.  Please watch for posts as the date gets near.

This is a perfect opportunity for people to purchase transplants for their garden at an affordable price, while helping the community at the same time!  All proceeds from the sale of the seedlings will go toward the Harmony Greenhouse, which was developed to provide food management skills, business development learning, English Language Skills and community building for immigrant students and other students at Harmony Learning Center.

There are several plant varieties available, including multiple types of tomatoes and peppers, several herb and flower varieties, eggplant, cabbage, kale, and much more!

Plants will be available for sale and pick up beginning May 9, at Harmony Greenhouse in Maplewood at the Harmony Learning Center 1960 County Rd C, Maplewood, MN.

Contact Ann DeLaVergne at 651-329-0125 or ann@ourcommunityfoodprojects.com

 

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South Hill Garden!

The South Hill Community Garden was started in 2013.   If you live on or near the South Hill in Stillwater, MN and are interested in having  a community garden plot, contact  Gina Doe at gina.doe@gmail.com.  The South Hill is currently taking applications for new gardeners for 2015.

Although there is a small fee to have a plot, OCFP provides one or two scholarships each year for families that may not be able to afford the extra cost.  Please ask the garden organizers about a donated plots.  We want everyone to have access to a garden regardless of ability to pay.

 

The South Hill Garden is located at:
St. Peter’s United Church of Christ
111 Orleans St. E., Stillwater, MN, 55082. (651) 439-2160.

Invite your neighbors
Kids welcome
Sponsored by
St. Peter’s United Church of Christ
Our Community Food Projects
The Whitson Foundation
River Market Community Co-op

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Welcome!

Welcome to the new website for Our Community Food Projects!  We’re so glad you stopped by!

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