Twin Cities teens' locavore salads are a hit with All-Star Game crowd

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Mela Nguyen, an urban-gardening youth leader in north Minneapolis, picked raspberries that will go into salads that will be sold to retailers, made into salads for sale at Twins games or donated to youth or senior programs.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii • rtsong-taatarii@startribune.com,

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The neatest little story of last week’s All-Star Game festivities was Roots for the Home Team, the growing urban garden-to-retail eateries business operated by Minneapolis-St. Paul youth.

They sold out of “Tic Tac Taco Salad” at Target Field every night.

Roots for the Home Team is the distribution-and-retail end of an urban farm movement rooted in St. Paul’s Urban Roots (www.urbanroots.org) and Youth Farm (www.youthfarmmn.org). They employ dozens of teens and provide living laboratories for grade-school kids who start seedlings in their schools. These inner-city gardens produce tons of fruits and vegetables for sale to local stores and restaurants, as well as free food for nursing homes and youth-program lunches.

“I had no idea how busy we would be,” said an exhausted Mela Nguyen, 16, a Minneapolis Henry High School student who worked late All-Star night selling $8 salads at Target Field.

Nguyen, and fellow Henry classmates Sergio Cerredondo, 16, and Ronisha Tolbert, 16, also are youth leaders who supervise younger kids and help run the big gardens at St. Olaf Lutheran Church and Nellie Stone Johnson School on the North Side that will produce 5,000-plus pounds this year of tomatoes, raspberries, cabbage, peppers, cucumbers and other produce. That will feed thousands of people in restaurants, stores, day care programs and even a nearby nursing home.

“I like how the staff and youth work together, and I do love to garden,” said Tolbert, also the creator of the Kickin’ Quinoa Salad.

Susan Moores, a St. Paul-area small-business woman and dietitian, started Roots as a volunteer several years ago, working with schools and nonprofits, to connect kids with healthy foods through the burgeoning urban-gardening movement. Partners include Minnesota Twins Community Fund, Land O’Lakes, Just Bare Chicken, Kowalski’s, Mississippi Market, the Wedge and others.

The effort has resulted in several dozen teen summer jobs, gardening-and-cooking classes for little kids in summer programs and some great business-community connections.

“I didn’t used to think about food,” said Nguyen, who aspires to one day own her own smoothie shop featuring a variety of fruit-and-yogurt concoctions. “This experience [of the last two years] makes me want to do something positive with food. I also have more confidence in myself through selling salads through Roots.”

The Twins and Delaware North, the stadium food service that helps Roots prepare the salads and teaches the teens culinary skills, have welcomed the gardening gurus. “The youth are developing ideas for marketing their product as they’re at the ballpark, in the grocery stores and in schools,” Moores said. “They have new opportunities to engage customers, entice them and educate them on what they bring to the community as a whole.” More information: www.rootsforthehometeam.org.

HIGH-FLYING ROLE MODELS FROM A CHAPTER IN HISTORY

Several thousand young people and families last week visited “Rise Above,” the traveling exhibit of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the first squadron of African-American fighter pilots in World War II, which stopped in St. Paul last week. It was accompanied by Harold Brown, one of the fliers, who attended Minneapolis North High and Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute before serving in the Air Force.

The exhibit, related education programs and air shows feature a World War II-era P-51 Mustang, restored by the Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron, a group of volunteers and donors.

“We are passionate about the Tuskegee Airmen as role models and overcoming adversity,” said Brad Lang, 55, the son of a Tuskegee Airman, who is also a Delta Air Lines captain and Red Tail volunteer since 1996. There were a thousand folks behind those pilots, black and white, because for every pilot there were about 10 support personnel, Lang said.

“The idea is that [youth] can use the airmen to ‘rise above’ challenges and adversity,’’ Lang said. “The exhibit has exposed tens of thousands of kids to the idea. Those values are essential: ‘Believe in yourself, use your brain, be ready to go, never quit, expect to win.’ ’’

The Rise Above traveling exhibit is on the road 40 years a week, Lang said. “We go into a community every week and set up a school or community center. It’s all about education … and we believe in paying it forward.”

The Red Tail Squadron team of volunteers provides educational materials to teachers and others who work with youth so they can “rise above” obstacles. They also bring the exhibit to air shows to show what the Tuskegee Airmen accomplished during World War II and beyond. And the volunteers fly the reconstructed P-51C red-tailed Mustang that cruised over Europe from 1943 to 1945. For more information, including a free, downloadable “Rise Above’’ e-book, go to www.redtail.org.

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  • Capt. Brad Lang of Delta Air Lines, son of a World War II Tuskegee airman and a leader of “Rise Above” outreach and education programs.

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