On top of one of St. Paul’s tallest hills lies one of the city’s newest food-related treasures.
Here, tender greens sprout, a hoop house warms delicate produce, and carefully designed clover patches ward off erosion. It’s Frogtown Farm! The Farm is part of Frogtown Park, a new, 13 acre city park nestled between Victoria and Minnehaha Avenue.
Stephanie Hankerson has been living out her dream as the community organizer for Frogtown Farm. A Midway resident for 20 years, she witnessed its evolution, and was inspired by its fresh energy and vision of food justice.
After testing out the corporate waters for a bit, Stephanie realized that it just felt right to be in a community-based organization. She is a long-time Ramsey County Master Gardener, and has worked in urban forestry, pollinator advocacy, and other community gardens within the Twin Cities.
“Understanding your food and where it is coming from is crucial to ensure that you have the most delicious, nutritious, and sustainable food available,” says Stephanie. “If you’re relying on fast foods and restaurants, it can be very expensive.” The solution? Grow your own food.
Admittedly, it does seem daunting to grow things at first. Where do you start? Which herbs grow well here? How do you know which conditions each vegetable species needs? Luckily, Frogtown Farm is here to help. Not only are they here to set an example for food growing, but they provide on-site resources, space, and guidance.
Neighbors can farm at a smaller field area within the 5-acre Farm, called The Commons. Here, growing and harvesting are done together. The idea is that people with specific skill sets or production goals can collaborate and help each other out. And, everyone seems to be thrilled to get a garden going. Around 200 people have already come through the Commons, in just the past year.
There are challenges to this, of course. New gardeners often do not know the tricks of harvesting, such as how to avoid food dying on the vine. Ideally, crops should live the longest and stay the freshest. But, this is Minnesota, after all, and the weather could be wet, warm, cold, or dry. Fortunately, everyone brings a bit of knowledge to the table. This allows for better problem solving and, ultimately, more smiles.
Frogtown Farm provides guidance from seed selection all the way through the cooking stage. At the Commons, dozens of community members have made kimchi, pesto, and hot sauce, all using the freshest ingredients possible from their very own soil. Stephanie has especially fond memories of hot sauce making, citing a “crazy and bountiful” pepper harvest and excitement even from gardeners who do not usually enjoy spicy cuisine.
Many of the lessons and resources provided are intentionally backyard compatible. Want to grow your own potatoes? Frogtown Farm will be there with burlap sacks, seed potatoes, and even tools for soil testing. Ideally, every experience is hands-on and allows for self discovery and independence.
The Frogtown Farm organizers have already started choosing herbs and plants they want to grow in 2017, based on what worked last year and which new ones they want. They plan way, way ahead for harvesting, and are already talking about post-harvest handling. They also want to do more outdoor kitchen activities, and are looking forward to having more space for this on the Victoria Street side of the Park. All families are welcome to join and extend their cooking skills, whether they have stake in the Commons or are just stopping by.
RECIPE: Hot Sauce by Kenrie Williams, a Frogtown farmer
Kenrie’s Hot Sauce
Note: take care when handling hot peppers! Gloves for your hands, and eye protection could be a good idea. Also, if making this indoors, you may notice the spiciness in air. Ventilate!
2 c. hot peppers
1/2 tsp pickling salt
1 c. apple cider vinegar (regular vinegar can work, as well)
1 small clove garlic pressed or minced
In a large pot, combine vinegar, salt, and garlic and bring to boil for 5-10 minutes
Fill blender with chopped peppers
Pour brine over mixture (Reserve some brine to allow you to adjust consistency. Blend the mixture and add the more of the brine if needed). Hot sauce thickens with age.
After blended, pour into jars, store in refrigerator or freezer. Lasts for months.
*you can add herbs if desired, or adjust the spiciness by adding more or fewer peppers
*should create 2 cups of final product
PHOTO: Stephanie Hankerson, Sinying Lee and her daughters, Pashalia and Cattleya.