The Minnesota African Women Sustainable Backyard Farming Project

Final Report for FNC08-734

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $17,981.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


[Editor's Note: To see this report with the photos and a table of the Community Table Cooperative Food Sourcing & Delivery Process, see the PDF version of the report or contact NCR-SARE at [email protected] or 1-800-529-1342.]

Primary Farmer: Siona Nchotu
I was born in Camaroon, Africa. My entire family grew up on a 40 acre farm producing poulty (3,000 layers and meat birds), swine, corn, yams, plantains, coconuts, cuyava, pears, mangos and bananas. The family farm is still in operation today, managed by my brother and son. In 1976 I moved to Britain for 6 years where I farmed growing tomatoes. In 1999 I moved to the United States. I began Backyard Farming in my daughter's backyard in 2000. In 2001 I expanded from the backyard to include a plot at the Green Space Partners community garden. I sold the produce through the Green Space Partners farmers markets. In 2007, due to the increase number of participants causing the reduction in plot size, I left the Green Space program and joined the Minnesota Food Associations Immigrant Farming program and farmed at the Chaska, MN location. Due to the travel distance to the Chaska farm, I could only farmed that location for one year. In 2008 I expanded my backyard farms and started looking for inner-city vacant lots. I now farm on 1 vacant lot and in 2 backyards for a total of 2 acres.

1. Backyard Farm at 3901 Burquest Lane, Brooklyn Park, MN approx. .25 ac.
2. Backyard Farm at 1375 Oak Grove Dr, Golden Valley, MN approx. .75 ac.
3. Vacant Lot Farm at 5727 Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Center, MN apporx. 1.0 ac.

Crops Produced:
1. African Spinach,
2. Bitter leaf,
3. Egusi Melons,
4. Hawkery berry,
5. Broccoli,
6. Peppers (hot, red and green),
7. Cabbage,
8. Cucumber,
9. Sweet Potatoes and
10. Tomatoes

1. Weekly Farmers Market every Friday at St. Olaf Mini-Farmers Market. A Youtube video was developed by IATP, can be found at:
2. Roadside Stand and “Pick-Your-Own”at Brooklyn Center Farm site. (In 2010 there was no Roadside Stand at the farm due to road construction, it also affected the amount of Pick-Your-Own customers.)
3. Weekly pick-ups from farm and deliveries to regular customers from previous years.
4. Door to Door sales within the surrounding community in Brooklyn Center
5. Monthly Farmers Market (every 3rd Fri. & Sat.) at the Midtown Global Market, Minneapolis
6. Processed 300 pounds of tomatoes and 100 pounds of apples at St. Olaf Community Kitchen that was used at 3 community events during the winter.

In Africa we used sustainable farming practices. When I moved to the U.S. in 1999, I farmed at the Minnesota Food Association, in a community garden in Chaska, MN and in my family’s backyards. I continued using sustainable farming practices. Classes and programs at the MN Food Association and through this grant were very helpful.

There is a great market for African heritage vegetables that can be grown in Minnesota, but there are a limited number of places to buy fresh African produce in the Twin Cities. The number is even smaller for produce grown by Africans themselves. Better access to a variety of affordable and high quality fruits and vegetable products within our community would provide us with a cost effective way to create a healthier diet. This gap provides an excellent opportunity for African immigrant women to start small agricultural businesses through Backyard Farming and related enterprises. Most of the African immigrant women in the Twin Cities come from agriculture-based backgrounds in Africa and could use sustainable agriculture as a way to increase their quality of life here in the United States.

The Minnesota African Women Sustainable Backyard Farming Project was developed to work with women of African backgrounds on beginning backyard farms and related businesses in the Minneapolis / St. Paul Metropolitan Area. The project is a collaborative of three Backyard Farmers Siona Nchotu, Maria Regan-Gonzalez (partnering with Jacquelyn Zita) and Deborah Torraine (partnering with Patricia Lewis) and three community organizations, Permaculture Research Institute - Cold Climate (PRI-CC), The Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI) and The Afro Eco Group working together to help African women become farmers and/or agriculturally based business owners.

As more people heard and learned about the project they wanted to get involved and participate. The project was expanded to include men from the African community and men and women from other cultural communities. Therefore, the first year of the project was completed working with women and men of African, African American, Caucasian, Karen, Hmong and Native American backgrounds on beginning backyard farms and related businesses in the Minneapolis / St. Paul Metropolitan Area. The participants received training on business planning, crop production and marketing. They also received information on food preparation and health. Farmers improved their farming skills, explored new market outlets and added value to their products. Food was grown sustainably by looking at the economic, ecological and social aspects of the backyard farms. This project is creating a long-term model that continues to expand and can be used for providing training and access to resources in various locales in the Midwest.

The goal of the project was to train African women in backyard farming skills and develop a local food system to address food production, processing, transportation, and distribution needs of the Twin Cities metro area. The objective was also to explore the idea of forming a Local Community Food System Cooperative. Our goal is to grow food, nurture community and make it economically viable.

1. Held initial planning meeting with project partners to plan, organize and get started April 2009.

2. Conducted workshops and presentations at community events to recruit participants - ongoing throughout the grant period. (See figure 1)

Figure 1. Presentation at Gardening Matters Spring Resource Fair in 2009.

3. Conducted initial classroom training for farm participants on farm planning, farm management and recordkeeping that continued throughout 2009 and 2010.

(See Figure 2)

Figure 2. Farm management training class Spring 2009.

4. Conducted field training, demonstrations and tours for public and participants throughout 2009 and 2010. (See figures 3, 4 and 5)

Figure 3. Siona Nchotu giving tour of backyard farm -- Summer 2009.

Figure 4. Will Allen and Jacquelyn Zita conducting composting workshop at WEI farm in Fall 2009.

Figure 5. Deborah Torraine conducting workshop and cooking demonstration using locally grown vegetables at an Afro Eco Urban Farm site event in St. Paul during the Fall of 2009.

5. Developed a Roadside Stand and Pick-Your-Own program at one farm site in 2009. (Due to road construction throughout the summer of 2010 there was no Roadside stand. It also affected the number of people participating in the Pick-Your-Own program) See Figures 6 and 7.

Figure 6. Project Trainee, Agnes, harvesting vegetables at Siona Nchotu’s Pick-Your-Own farm Fall 2010.

Figure 7. Road construction at Farm site during entire 2010 growing season.

6. Conducted classroom workshops on How to Sell at Farmers Markets in spring 2010.

Participated in Minneapolis/IATP Mini-Farmers Market program at St. Olaf Community Campus in summer 2010. See Figures 8 and 9.

Figure 8. Sweet potatoes harvested by resident from Senior Care Center at St Olaf Community Campus. Farm was designed for handicap accessibility (large raised beds with wide width between rows). Some vegetables were sold at campus Mini-Farmers Market.

Figure 9. Will Allen conducting workshop at WEI farm in Fall 2010

7. Conducted classroom training on adding value to your produce and food presentation in fall 2010.

8. Conducted hands-on food persevervation workshops at St. Olaf’s Community Kitchen in fall 2010. See Figure 10 and 11.

Figure 10. Food processing demo with MAD DAD and Emerge youth using local vegetables Fall 2010.

Figure 11 Local vegetables after processing workshop -- Fall 2010.

9. Participated in St Olaf’s Community Celebration dinner where local food that was preserved was served as part of the meal in winter 2011 See Figure 12.

Figure 12. Local vegetables that were processed in Fall 2010 were served at a Community dinner during the Winter 2011. Farmer Siona Nchotu is featured in the presentation on the screen in the background.

10. Participated in Univ. of MN Urban Research and Outreach Center’s Local Food Expo where food that was preserved was served as part of the meal in winter 2011.

11. Conducted 6 week workshop on economic opportunities in Local Food Systems -- winter 2011.

Partner Farmer: Maria Regan-Gonzalez (Replaced by Jacquelyn Zita) and WEI.
Maria was the AmeriCorp VISTA Coordinator for the North Circle Project at the Women's Environmental Institute in North Branch, MN. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Global Studies: Environmental and Sustainable Development as well as in Spanish from the University of Minnesota. She has spent time in Ecuador studying international development and working for two non-governmental organizations on rural food security projects. Maria has also worked for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Program conducting research. Maria finished her position with the WEI farm in early July 2009. The administrative and farming work with WEI’s Cultural Heritage Farming Projects was assumed in full by Jacquelyn N. Zita, WEI’s Farm Manager, who also was instrumental in organizing and starting the cultural heritage farming projects.

Program in 2009:
Farm Partners, Plot Size and Crops:
1. Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women guided the 1 acre Hmong garden
2. Indigenous People’s Task Force guided a smaller pilot plot of indigenous foods/medicine plants (Tobacco, Amaranth and Sweet Potatoes)
3. Mariano Espejel representing the Immigrant Freedom Network guided a small plot salsa garden
4. KaRen Farmers provided some additional supporting labor during farm tours and volunteer events
5. Juan Lanaress conducted a trial on growing Mexican peanuts

The farm plots created a moderate yield for community use each year. The larger Hmong farming project created approximately 2000 lbs of produce. We intended to create or find a better recordkeeping system but were unsuccessful.

Program in 2010:
We continued working with our 2009 partners above and expand our program to the urban community. As a result of our work with Will Allen and Growing Power, WEI has been designated as Minnesota's Regional Outreach Training Center for Growing Power Inc. We are currently working with the Little Earth of United Tribes (LEOUT) Women's Group to help develop LEOUT's Urban Farm and Food Justice Project as our first our first urban farm collaboration project. We are also engaged in training the trainer project development -- a five month program-- with Growing Power, Inc. Milwaukee.

Partner Farmer: Deborah Torraine and AfroEco
Deborah holds Degrees in Theater and Children Studies. She teaches school part-time and is a Community Organizer with the Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota. She has been farming in community gardens in the Twin Cities since 1995.

Program in 2009:
Farms Partners, Sites and Crops:
1. Patricia Lewis partnered at the Sanford Middle School, Arts-Us and Emerge/Street Werks Urban farm – both Minneapolis and DNR Trails Community Garden – St. Paul (Sweet potatoes, okra, tomatoes, eggplants).
2. Kathy Kelly and Gordon Parks students partnered at the school farm and hoop house (tomatoes, peppers, garlic, beans, greens).
3. Boise Jones, Tim Page and Street Werks crew at farm site (vegetables)
4. Perdita Butler partnered at her AfroEco farm site (vegetables)

Afro Eco CSA, Community Donations and Farm Partners

Program in 2010
In 2010, due to health reasons Deborah only had one farm site at Arts-Us Urban Farm in St. Paul. She created a presentation on economic opportunities in the Food System in urban communities and presented at the following events:
1. Rhondo Community Library – St Paul
2. LISC Community Partners – St. Paul
3. Afro Eco Film and Food Festival
4. EJAM Environmental Justice Day event – Minneapolis
5. Sanford Middle School Elder Celebration – Minneapolis
6. Aurora/St. Anthony Community Development Association – St. Paul
7. St. Paul Almanac Reading Jam – St. Paul

Partner Organization: Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate

The Minnesota African Women’s Sustainable Backyard Farming Project
Urban Agriculture Training Plan

1. PRI organized 2 workshops. The curriculum was based on “getting them up and
running” in creating successful urban farms.
2. The first workshop was geared towards business planning skills. The second workshop was geared towards developing production skills and was offered twice to accommodate differing schedules.
3. Each of the Trainees completed a Personal Education Worksheet
4. The workshops were open to other participants for $40/person/workshop.

Urban Farming Business Skills (offered February 20, 2010)
This workshop was divided into 4 segments based on the foundational knowledge needed for developing a successful urban farming business. This was a hands-on workshop and PRI provided templates for each of the sessions. The instructors were Carol Ford, Courtney Tchida, Krista Leraas, Stefan Meyer and Paula Westmoreland.
• Starting a Urban Farming Business (1 hr)
• Setting up a business (filings, insurance)
• Setting up basic systems (accounting, sourcing materials)
• Creating a Marketing Plan (2 hrs)
• Identifying and reaching your market
• Challenges of different markets (direct, farmer’s market)
• Creating a Production Plan (2 hrs)
• Developing a production schedule
• Developing a cash flow schedule
• Record-keeping & Administration (1 hr)
• Logs for tracking labor time, production yields, expenses
• Additional Resources

As a result of the project in 2010 “My Farm Cooperative” (MFC) was created. This was the goal of the project. In the fall of 2010 My Farm Cooperative partnered with other community cooperatives to create Community Table Association of Cooperatives (CTAC). Fact sheets about MFC and CTAC follows.

The “My Farm Cooperative” by Fern and Nchotu
5727 Brooklyn Blvd.
Brooklyn Center, MN 55429

“My Farm” is a cooperative developed by Bobbie Fern, Siona Nchotu and 4 other African women. Bobbie Fern has lived and worked in Brooklyn Center for the past 30 years starting and operating several successful businesses through the years including barber and beauty shops, advertising firms and restaurants. In 2009 he opened his vacant lot at the intersection of Brooklyn Blvd and Bass Lake Rd. to produce food for the community and as a charity event for a local resident who had been hospitalized. Siona Nchotu moved to the US in 1995 from Camaroon, Africa. Because farming was in her background, she immediately started farming in community gardens around the twin cities. Due to lack of transportation to the sites, she started farming in her backyard and then expanded to family members backyards. In 2009 she received a USDA SARE grant to develop her backyard program and train other African women to do the same. In the search for additional farming space Siona approached Bobbie several times before a partnership was formed in the summer of 2009. In 2010 My Farm Cooperative joined the Community Table Association of Cooperatives.

Project Goals and Objectives
The Minnesota African Women Sustainable Backyard Farming Project will work with women of African backgrounds on beginning backyard farms and related businesses in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. The project is a collaborative of three backyard farmers and three community organizations working together to help African women become farmers and/or agriculturally-based business owners.

Plans for Expansion

1) Expand participant training to include men, urban and suburban residents as well as other cultures and communities;
2) Develop partnership with the Minnesota Project for additional land space for training and the Heartland Food Network for marketing;
3) Develop partnership with MADDADS and Urban Ventures for marketing, commercial kitchen for value added production;
4) Develop a poultry production program in urban and suburban communities in partnership with Danielson Poultry and Eggs of Ortenville, MN;
5) Develop a culturally specific sheep and goat production program for communities in partnership with Sabri Farms in Rogers and Rochester, MN and processing facility in Chaska, MN;
6) Partner with Ellingson Honey Farms of Odessa, MN for bees and honey;
7) Partner with Lous Greenhouses of Big Stone, MN for seed and seedlings;
8) Develop partnerships with CSA’s, Grocery Stores (Lunds, Cubs, Rainbow), Restaurants, Farmers Markets, Roadside Stands, etc.

Community Table Cooperative (CTC) is an integrated network of community members and small businesses, owned and operated by community members, created to address food production, processing, transportation, and distribution needs of the Twin Cities metro area. Operating under basic co-op principles of equity, transparency and trust, our goal is to grow food, nurture community and make it economically viable. At present, CTC is the operational component of the Community Table Association of Cooperatives (CTAC).

Mission Statement
CTAC seeks to address nutritional, economic, environmental, and social community needs by building a local and sustainable food system that connects the chain between growers and consumers.

Vision: In Brief, Six Components
Our vision is of a vibrant community made strong, sustainable and healthy through a cooperative food sourcing and delivery process. The six components of our vision follow:

• Inclusive Food Access & Affordability
• Local Food Production & Delivery
• Community-Building & Sustaining
• Environmentally-Friendly Actions
• Health Education and Experience
• Cooperative Organization and Growth

Cooperative Food Sourcing & Delivery Process [Table]

1. Participants learned additional sustainable farming skills
2. Participants learn better recordkeeping skills.
3. Participants learned how to find additional marketing opportunities for produce.
4. Participants learned how to start a community food system cooperative
Affect to farming operation was the additional farming skills learned around companion and bio-intensive cropping systems.

Barriers were identified, addressed and overcome through developing a cooperative system that included production, processing, marketing and distribution.

System Advantages:
1. Involves the entire food system.
2. Farmers get assistance in marketing and distributing produce.
3. Cooperation instead of competition among farmers.

System Disadvantages:
1. Lack of understanding of food system cooperatives by urban communities.
2. Lack of funding for new initiatives.

Develop community food system cooperative partnerships.

Over the first 12 Month Period March 1, 2009 – February 28, 2010:

Networking, Meetings and Outreach by Project Partners
1. Presentation at EJAM Founder’s Day event April 25, 2009
2. Land Stewardship Project meeting April 27, 2009
3. Project presented at the Living Green Expo on May 2, 2009
4. Participated in Chalchiutlicue Native American Water Festival, Mpls, May 29, 2009
5. Meeting with Susanne Moua on greenhouse space at Metro State University June 1, 2009
6. Meeting with Little Earth Native American Community on partnership June 12, 2009
7. Growing Food in the City University of Minnesota Extension Service Tour June 15, 2009
8. Patrick Henry High School presentation at Olson Middle School June 17, 2009
9. Meeting with Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota June 18, 2009
10. Partnered in AfroEco tabling at St Paul Peace Jam on June 19, 2009
11. Mayor and Mrs. R. T. Rybak tour of Emerge farm site June 23, 2009
12. Meeting with Preventing Harm Minnesota June 24, 2009
13. Participated inAfrican Exchange Forum, Bryan Coyle Center Minneapolis, June 26, 2009
12. Participated in St Paul’s Rhondo Days Economic Development event June 26, 2009
13. Harrison Neighborhood Cooperative Development meeting June 30, 2009
14. Presentation at Women’s Environmental Institute’s Organic Farm School July, 13, 2009
15. Meeting with University of Minnesota Urban Research Outreach/Education Center North Minneapolis July 14, 2009
16. Meeting with the Minnesota Project on Excel Energy Incubator site July, 16, 2009
17. Tour by NCR-SARE staff people: Joan Benjamin and Beth Bedell August 21, 2009
18. Minneapolis Farmers Market Radio Show “Fresh” June 27, 2009 and September 12, 2009
19. Ramsey County Extension Service Committee meeting September 18, 2009
20. Brooklyn Center Community Service Award presented to Bobbie Fern for Norm’s charity events
21. Meeting with Gardening Matters November 19, 2009
22. Project Presented to Lydia Women’s Group of North Minneapolis December 5, 2009
23. Participation in African World Aids Day December 5, 2009
24. Growing Food and Justice Initiative meeting on December 15, 2009
25. Riverbend Community Coop of Red Wing MN meeting on December 16, 2009
26. Presentation with EJAM at North Minneapolis Hawthorne Huddle January 7, 2010
27. Participated in PRI presentation on January 9, 2010
28. Minneapolis Homegrown Local Food Initiative meeting January 13, 2010
29. St. Paul Arlington High School presentation January 14, 2010
30. Meeting with Emerge and Heritage Academy High School January 29, 2010
31. Project for Pride in Living on partnership at Hawthorne Eco Village February 1, 2010
32. Panel discussion at Univ. of MN film festival “Homegrown” February 4, 2010
33. Minnesota Minority and Immigrant Farming Conference February 19, 2010
34. HIRED MN intern interview on February 24, 2010
35. Participation in Twin Cities LISC event at Metro State Univ. St. Paul December 4, 2009

Youtube video about 2010 Minneapolis Mini-Farmers Market featuring NCR-SARE grantee farmer Siona Nchotu:

Over the Second 12 Month Period March 1, 2010 – February 28, 2011
Networking, Meetings and Outreach by Project Partners
1. Karen Organization of MN grant writing assistance meetings monthly March-June
2. Land Stewardship Project Land Access meeting March 4, 2010
3. Institute for Ag. And Trade Policy meeting March 4, 2010
4. Environmental Justice Advocates of MN/Women’s Env. Institute meeting March 11, 2010
5. Gardening Matters Spring Resource Fair March 27, 2010
6. Permaculture Research Institute Farmer Training workshop April 10, 2010
7. St. Paul Neighborhood Food Project Advisory meeting April 12, 2010
8. Women’s Env. Institute/Little Earth Native Community meeting April 22, 2010
9. Univ. of MN Urban Research/Outreach Center Openhouse May 12, 2010
10. Dr Wayne Martin, UofM Animal Sci Dept. meeting on Goat farm May 20, 2010
11. Mpls Farmers Market Fresh & Local radio show May 22, 2010
12. Env. Justice Advocates of MN Openhouse May 29, 2010
13. Northside Mpls Healthy Eating Project meeting June 3, 2010
14. My Farm Cooperative meetings monthly June 2010 - present
15. St. Olaf Community Farm work day June 12, 2010
16. Env. Justice Advocates of MN jobs training workshop June 15, 2010
17. Summer of Solutions College student program meeting June 25, 2010
18. Homegrown Mpls ongoing community meetings July-present
19. St. Olaf Mini-Farmers Market weekly Friday afternoons July – September 2011
20. Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in MN meetings July-present
21. St Paul Food Committee monthly meeting July-present
22. Rhondo Days Community Celebration St. Paul July 17, 2010
23. AfroEco community meeting August 22, 2010
24. Urban Ag Potluck event August 24, 2010
25. Mpls YMCA “My Farm” workshop August 25, 2010
26. MADDADS “My Farm” meeting September 3, 2010
27. Homegrown Mpls/Gardening Matters workshops September 12-14, 2010
28. MADDADS/Emerge/St Olaf vegetable processing training 3 day/wk Oct-Dec 2010
29. Sustainable Communities Conference November 13, 2010
30. Mpls Urban League Env. Justice Roundtable meeting November 19, 2010
31. Farm to School workshop at MN Landscape December 2, 2010
32. Hennepin Co. Environmental Services Urban Farming meeting December 7, 2010
33. Southeast MN Food Alliance meeting in Rochester December 8, 2010
34. UofM Environmental Studies class project December –present
35. PRI Cold Climate meeting January 7, 2011
36. UofMN (UROC) Local Food System 6 wk Training Course January 14-March 18, 2011
37. Minneapolis Urban Ag Policy plan meeting January 11, 2011
38. Project for Pride in Living workshop January 13, 2011
39. Afro Eco workshop January 22, 2011
40. Community Catalyst presentation February 1, 2011
41. Hawthorne Huddle Community presentation February 3, 2011
42. MN Immigrant and Minority Farmers Conference booth February 4-5, 2011
43. Women Environmental Institute training presentation February 5 & 10, 2011
44. Afro Eco / UROC / BET conference planning meeting February 15, 2011
45. Assoc. for Advancement of Hmong Women co-op training weekly March 2011-present
46. Community Table Association and Cooperatives founded March 2011-present

This is a GREAT program for farmers, continue to fund it.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.