Mac community helps cultivate Frogtown Farm

By Kyle Coombs

Chances are you know someone on campus who has helped the organization Frogtown Farm reach its goal to create a city park on vacant green space in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul. Macalester students and faculty have played a variety of roles in the group’s urban-spaces campaign. The green space in question was vacated when Amherst H. Wilder Foundation moved its headquarters from St. Paul District 7, nicknamed Frogtown, to the corner of Lexington Parkway and University Avenue. Patricia Ohmans, her husband Anthony Schmitz, Soyini Guyton and Seitu Jones decided over dinner that these abandoned 12 acres should not be developed, Schmitz said, and Frogtown Farm was born. Since that night, the four have dedicated their personal time to convincing the city of St. Paul to set up a park containing an urban farm demonstration component on this space—an investment that seems to be paying off. Last year, the Trust for Public Land agreed to facilitate the purchase of the land for the city of St. Paul government. On Mar. 5, the Wilder Foundation announced in a press release that it had accepted the Trust for Public Land’s bid of $2.2 million, less than half the original appraised value between $4.5 and $5.4 million. The next step is to form a committee to sign the purchase agreement, Schmitz said. “The sale price is significantly reduced from the appraised value as Wilder’s contribution to the community,” the press release read. Schmitz called this an amazing accomplishment given that Frogtown Farm has been working toward this goal for just four years. “We’ve been talking to anybody that conceivably has any interest,” he said. “Slowly we’ve gotten to the point where [Trust for Public Land] has agreed to buy the land. It’s a pretty incredible accomplishment.” Much of the credit, Schmitz said, goes to the research and support from Macalester students through class projects and internships with Frogtown Farm. “Student research has been tremendously helpful for our presentations,” Schmitz said. Professors Christie Manning and John Kim have both collaborated with Frogtown Farm through class projects to help build enthusiasm and community support for the organization. “I first learned about Frogtown Farm a few years ago at the Civic Engagement Center (CEC) program Urban Faculty Colloquium, which is a class for faculty to learn about local organizations,” said Kim, who teaches in the Media and Cultural Studies Department. One of Kim’s fall 2010 classes, Community New Media for Social Change, created audio podcasts, video shorts, social media and photo documentations to raise awareness about Frogtown Farm. At the end of the semester, the students went to a community event in Frogtown where they displayed their projects. “I think it played an influential role in showing how perfect a community space it would be for the Frogtown neighborhood, which has so much trouble already,” Kim said. That same semester, Manning’s Psychology of Sustainable Behavior students designed projects to communicate directly with different target audiences. These projects included research of the benefits of the park to the neighborhood, children’s storybooks about Frogtown Farm and artistic seed packages that had information about the organization. One student in Manning’s class, Sarah Horowitz ’12, put together a GIS analysis of green space-per-neighborhood and showed that Frogtown has the lowest green space per child of any neighborhood in St. Paul, a ratio of 0.006 acres per child ages 0-17. Schmitz said that the group was instrumental to Frogtown Farm’s reaching its goal. The videos from Kim’s class were put up on the Frogtown website, and Horowitz’s GIS map was used in presentations to City Council and the Trust for Public Land. “It’s a map and people tend to believe maps, but it establishes what’s true: kids around here don’t have as much green space,” Schmitz said. Caroline Devany ’13 has worked even closer with Frogtown Farm over the past year. Last spring she started working with the organization for a service-learning project for her Urban Social Geography course, helping with a campaign to raise awareness by designing flyers and green bean packets for Frogtown residents to plant on their cyclone fences. After that she was hired for the summer to research the different functions of urban farming. She returned as Advocacy Research Intern this semester and is earning credit to research the economic benefits of having the park in the neighborhood. “It is really cool to feel like my research is respected and well-used,” Devany said. “Because of the context of the neighborhood, it is probably not going to be super lucrative in the tax base. However, other estimates like standard of living might be better than the number I’ve looked at, taxes, [which] is a small piece of the narrative.” Some students have also been involved outside of the classroom through independent study projects and non-academic projects. Courtney Olson ’13 is doing a literature review of existing research on the psychological effects of having a green space in a diverse urban community of several religious, cultural and ethnic groups. Professor Kim said he wants to develop a more concrete relationship between Frogtown Farm and Macalester as the organization expands and develops on this property. Associate Director of the CEC Paul Schadewald echoed this desire to further the relationship between Macalester and the Frogtown community. The CEC plans to foster dialogue between the two to boost future involvement. Schmitz said that the members of Frogtown Farm also support a more concrete relationship as the park development moves forward. “We’ve had tons of interns who have been quite helpful,” Schmitz said. “We’d be happy to work with Macalester in the future.” Before that can happen, though, several agreements need to be reached as to how the park will be run and what programing Frogtown Farm will provide. “The first step is to get the purchase agreement signed,” Schmitz said. refresh –>