Urban Oasis, an East Side project launched with a $1 million grant to improve St. Paul by strengthening the local food system, is closing shop at the end of the year. After three years, it was unable to secure sustainable financing, its executive director said in a letter to stakeholders last week.
Several of the project’s efforts will continue, Tracy Sides said in the letter sent Friday, operated by other area nonprofits.
“We are very proud of the meaningful work that Urban Oasis has accomplished and the relationships we have built in its short lifespan, which we honor and celebrate,” she said.
Urban Oasis’ Healthy Meals in a SNAP! food skills education program will be offered by Dayton’s Bluff Community Council. The curriculum also will be available to the public on the Urban Oasis website. The Kitchen on the Bluff community and commercial kitchen will be operated by Latino Economic Development Center. And coordination of the Edible Streetscape project will transfer to Dayton’s Bluff Community Council.
“The strong foundation laid this year will allow Edible Streetscape to continue on its successful path of activating East Seventh Street and highlighting many of the diverse cultures, food traditions, and food businesses on Saint Paul’s East Side,” Sides wrote.
Still to be determined is the future of Urban Oasis’ craft condiments line, which has been available during St. Paul Saints games at CHS Field.
Urban Oasis was among nearly 1,000 ideas “to make St. Paul great” prompted by the St. Paul Foundation’s $1 million Forever St. Paul Challenge. In September 2013, when Sides learned Urban Oasis had won, she said a critical part of the project was to transform a portion of an East Side park preserve into a national model for local food production and distribution. But cost and complications prevented that from happening.
“The living part of that idea is about the magic that happens with food,” Sides said at the time. “That’s what the million dollars is going toward, cultivating a healthy prosperous community on the East Side.”
The $1 million was divided between two organizations: $675,000 for Urban Oasis’ programming and $325,000 for community outreach by Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
The money had to be spent by the end of December 2015. At that point, Urban Oasis had to find other sources of financial support. In January 2016, Urban Oasis became an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit. And, Sides said, the organization received some money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other sources. It just wasn’t enough.
“The nice thing about ideas is that good ones are alive,” Sides said. “I liken this as: What came to us as seeds we are passing along as blossoms to these other neighborhood organizations.”