Urban agriculture spawns North Side enterprise

Story and photos courtesy Clean Water Minnesota.

Poet/activist Michael Chaney may best be known for the greening of North Minneapolis through Project Sweetie Pie, the urban agriculture and advocacy nonprofit he founded and runs. But his vision goes far beyond gardening.

He’s aiming to create a “Nile of the North,” a green corridor of community gardens with deltas of economic and ecological opportunity for residents — especially young people.

Chaney helps youth and community gardeners check for cabbage worms on the undersides of the leaves
Chaney helps youth and community gardeners check for cabbage worms on the undersides of the leaves.

“We are aligning advocates and resources to preserve the land and create a local food system, not only to raise our children, but our children’s children’s children,” he says.

Turning vacant lots into productive organic gardens has environmental benefits, too. Tilled soil lets water soak into the ground instead of flowing off the land into lakes and rivers. This helps keeps water clean, an essential part of healthy local food production.

Currently, the self-described “ag patriot” spends his summers supporting more than two dozen gardening sites from his pick-up, always ready to dig in the dirt or cajole a reluctant gardener with his own sweat equity.

He sees Project Sweetie Pie as “an urban farming movement to seed healthy changes in our community” with the goals of informing, infusing, inspiring, and instructing about sustainability and resilience.

With recent funding from both the state legislature and Greater Twin Cities United Way, the food “corridor” behind this urban agriculture vision is rapidly developing. United Way and General Mills are granting 11 North Minneapolis organizations $1.5 million to support food access programs, and recent legislation will provide another half million dollars of support.

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