The crowds were gone Tuesday from Frogtown Park and Farm. There were no speakers, no dignitaries, no poems recited or vegetables sold. All was quiet, except for a few visitors and the sound of wind rustling the trees atop one of the highest points in St. Paul.
Still, to neighborhood resident Soyini Guyton, sitting on a park bench, this nearly 13-acre site that features a 5½-acre urban organic farm — one of the largest in the country — was perfect. It’s what she and her husband Seitu Jones and their friends Patricia Ohmans and Anthony Schmitz first dreamed of six years ago after the Wilder Foundation left this spot at the center of one of St. Paul’s poorest neighborhoods. It was something they brainstormed, sitting around the dinner table one night. “What about a farm?” they asked.
“We thought, ‘This is what we want for our neighborhood,’ ” Guyton said. “Then, it just took off.”
Meetings led to more meetings. The Trust for Public Land got involved, helping raise more than $4.5 million. That led to a partnership with the city of St. Paul and the Wilder Foundation. And the dream came true.
Last Saturday, Frogtown Park and Farm opened to much fanfare. Next fall, the farm will harvest its first bounty of vegetables from fields that were once the site of a home for wayward girls and, later, a campus where Wilder provided services for those most in need.
Future plans call for a produce stand, a playground and an amphitheater. Still to be decided, said Eartha Bell, the nonprofit farm’s executive director, is how much of the food will be sold to co-ops and restaurants and how much will be discounted for foodshelves and community kitchens.
“Our mission is to increase access to healthy food in the neighborhood,” said Bell, who was hired a year ago.
Construction began last April, and over time, more than 3,800 cubic yards of organic soil — 150 truckloads — were deposited. More soil and, Bell hopes, organic certification are coming.
For now, the farm has been planted with a cover crop of clover and peas. Greens — mustard and collard, bok choy and Swiss chard — are spreading their leaves alongside walking paths. A nearby hoop house will extend the growing season into late fall. In the spring, a variety of vegetables will be planted, although a soon-to-be-hired farm manager will have a say in what will be produced, Bell said.
Ohmans, who like Guyton is a master gardener, said it’s not as if there are no other urban farms in Frogtown. Since 2009, she said, neighborhood residents have created at least a half-dozen smaller urban gardens, farms and tree parks. But it was the size and impact of this project that seemed so perfect, she said. Frogtown has the least amount of green space of any neighborhood in the city.
“We discovered that after we started talking about this,” said Ohmans, who has lived in Frogtown for about 30 years with her husband, Schmitz. “And making it an urban farm had some sexiness.”
The park is owned by the city; Frogtown Farm leases the 5 acres to be farmed. There will be space available for cultural garden demonstration projects, an attractive feature for a neighborhood where about a third of the residents are black, another third are white and another third are Asian.
Caty Royce, director of the Frogtown Neighborhood Association, said the farm already has harvested pride and a sense of ownership among residents. Once slated for a housing development that fizzled away in the recession, she said that Frogtown Farm shows that people can make a difference.
“This will be a place of economic activity, multicultural gardening, urban farming,” Royce said. “There is lots of potential here for what people think are great ideas.”
She added: “From every corner of the neighborhood, I hear people say ‘Wow, we can do it.’ ”
Resting on a new park bench, Guyton was asked what she hopes people in the neighborhood will feel when they walk through the park and see the crops growing in the fields.
“I hope they will feel a sense of welcome,” she said. “That there is something special here for them.”