The Minnesota African Women Sustainable Backyard Farming Project

2009 Annual 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:

The Minnesota African Women Sustainable Backyard Farming Project


[Editor’s note: To see this report with photos, open the attached file.]
The Minnesota African Women Sustainable Backyard Farming Project completed year one of the project 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 project is a collaborative of three Backyard Farmers and three community organizations working together to help African women, and now, other women and men of diverse cultural backgrounds, become urban farmers and/or agriculturally based business owners.

The Three Backyard Farmers, Siona Nchotu, Maria Regan-Gonzalez (replaced by Jacquelyn Zita) and Deborah Torraine partnered and worked with three community organizations, The Permaculture Research Institute – Cold Climate (PRI-CC), The Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI) and The AfroEco Group, to begin developing a model to be used to initially train 9 African immigrant women as agricultural business owners/operators. The 9 Trainees have begun receiving training on business planning, crop production and information about technical assistance

Major Activities Over the first 12 Month Period Mar. 1, 2009 – Feb. 28, 2010:


Farm Partner:
Bobbie Fern, landowner, Brooklyn Center, MN

1. Suzanti Fernado
2. Agnes Awa
3. Lydia Hliwokdam,
4. Gaydus Korlewala
(Participated in hands on Backyard Farming training, evaluation, and farm tours.)

Farm Plots:
1. Backyard Farm, Brooklyn Park, MN approx. .10 ac.
2. Backyard Farm, Golden Valley, MN approx. .10 ac.
3. Vacant Lot Farm, Brooklyn Center, MN approx. .50 ac.

Crops Produced:
African Spinach, Beans, Bitter leaf, Egusi Melons, Hawkery berry, Broccoli, Peppers (red and green), Squash, Cabbage, Cucumber, Collards, Kolarabi and Tomatoes

1. Weekly Roadside Market stand and “Pick-Your-Own” every Saturday at Brooklyn Center Farm site.
2. Weekly pick-ups and deliveries to previously established customers.
3. Door to Door sales within the surrounding community in Brooklyn Center

Major Activities Over the first 12 Month Period Mar. 1, 2009 – Feb. 28, 2010:


Farm Partners:
1. Patricia Lewis partnered at Sanford Middle School, DNR Community Garden and Emerge Street Werks farm sites.
2. Kathy Kelly and Gorden Parks Students partnered at Gorden Parks School farm plots.
3. Boise Jones, Tim Page and Street Werks at Emerge Street Werks Farm site
4. Perdita Butler at her AfroEco Farm site

Farm Sites:
1. MN Dept. of Natural Resources Community Garden in NE St. Paul – 2 10’ X 10’ farm plots
2. Gorden Parks High School St. Paul – 3 10’ X 12’ farm plots
3. Emerge Street Werks Program North Minneapolis – 9 10’ X 10’ farm plots
4. Sanford Middle School Minneapolis – 2 5’ X 15’ farm plots
5. AfroEco CSA Partner farmer Perdita Butler Front Yard Farm site – 1 10’ X 20’ farm plot

Crops Produced:
Okra, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Peppers, Peanuts, Corn, Squash, Sunflowers

AfroEco CSA, Community Sales and Partners

Major Activities Over the first 12 Month Period Mar. 1, 2009 – Feb. 28, 2010:

Jacquelyn Zita: Explanation for Replacement of Maria Regan Gonzales
Americore VISTA participant, Maria Regan Gonzales, essentially 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 Farm Manager, who also was instrumental in organizing and starting the cultural heritage farming projects in the earlier part of the summer. Because of her other obligations, Maria was unable to help with the Cultural Heritage Farming Projects.

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 and Amaranth)
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

The two pilot plots created a moderate yield for community use. The larger Hmong farming project created approximately 1000 lbs of produce. We intend to create better records on this for next year.

Major Activities Over the first 12 Month Period Mar. 1, 2009 – Feb. 28, 2010:


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

PRI organized 2 workshops to be given for the women in the project. The curriculum is based on “getting them up and running” in creating successful urban farms.

The first workshop is geared towards business planning skills and offered on Feb 20, 2010. The second workshop is geared towards developing production skills and will be offered twice to accommodate differing schedules. Once on April 10, 2010 and the other date TBD.

Each of the women will have a Personal Education Worksheet they are responsible for completing by the end of the season. They will receive an urban agriculture training certificate at the end of the season.

The workshops will be open to other participants for $40/person/workshop with up to 20 total students per class.

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 instructor was Carol Ford.
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

Over the first 12 Month Period Mar. 1, 2009 – Feb. 28, 2010:

Networking, Meetings and Outreach events participated in 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
14. Participated in St Paul’s Rhondo Days Economic Development event June 26, 2009
15. Harrison Neighborhood Cooperative Development meeting June 30, 2009
16. Presentation at Women’s Environmental Institute’s Organic Farm School July, 13, 2009
17. Meeting with University of Minnesota Urban Research Outreach/Education Center North Minneapolis July 14, 2009
18. Meeting with the Minnesota Project on Excel Energy Incubator site July, 16, 2009
19. Tour by NCR-SARE Joan Benjamin and Beth August 21, 2009
20. Minneapolis Farmers Market Radio Show “Fresh” June 27, 2009 and September 12, 2009
21. Ramsey County Extension Service Committee meeting September 18, 2009
22. Brooklyn Center Community Service Award presented to Bobbie Fern for Norm’s charity events
23. Meeting with Gardening Matters November 19, 2009
24. Project Presented to Lydia Women’s Group of North Minneapolis December 5, 2009
25. Participation in African World Aids Day December 5, 2009
26. Growing Food and Justice Initiative meeting on December 15, 2009
27. Riverbend Community Coop of Red Wing MN meeting on December 16, 2009
28. Presentation with EJAM at North Minneapolis Hawthorne Huddle January 7, 2010
29. Participated in PRI presentation on January 9, 2010
30. Minneapolis Homegrown Local Food Initiative meeting January 13, 2010
31. St. Paul Arlington High School presentation January 14, 2010
32. Meeting with Emerge and Heritage Academy High School January 29, 2010
33. Project for Pride in Living on partnership at Hawthorne Eco Village February 1, 2010
34. Panel discussion at Univ. of MN film festival “Homegrown” February 4, 2010
35. Minnesota Minority and Immigrant Farming Conference February 19, 2010
36. HIRED MN intern interview on February 24, 2010
37. Participation in Twin Cities LISC event at Metro State Univ. St. Paul December 4, 2009


Siona Nchuto Project Results and Lessons Learned:
1. Need additional land for farm in order to expand to include farm plots for all trainees
2. Need greenhouse/hoophouse space for early germination
3. Need better irrigation system for all farm plots
4. Need to improve on farm planning
5. Need to improve marketing and value added system
6. Need better access to cultural seed sources
7. Need additional fencing for deer and rabbit
8. Better farm business planning and production skills for trainees.

Deborah Torraine Results and Lessons Learned:
SARE Mono Crop Report 2009
We got a late start because of cool and late spring. In late May 2009 we ordered 100 sweet potato slips. 40 were Georgia Jet and the other 60 Beauregards. We believe we were shipped damaged slips because it was so late in the season.

We began harvesting in earnest late September. The sweet potato vines at Sanford Middle school were healthy and abundant as were those at the Gateway plot in St. Paul, measuring up to 15 feet in many cases. We had begun to wrap the vines around the plants and their rows and cover with dirt which in fact encouraged new growth. This new growth would have generated more sweet potatoes if it were not for the shortened season we have in this area.

Vine growth at the Street Works, Mpls yard was sparse and underdeveloped due to lack of sun light, later planting and cooler weather at that location.

1. Need additional land for expansion (need one or two large farm plots, 7 plots of my own and 10 partner plots across Minneapolis and St. Paul made travel very expensive)
2. Need greenhouse/hoop house space to start seeds early
3. Need better source of sweet potato seedlings
4. Need clean soil and compost
5. Improved recordkeeping system
6. Better farm planning and production skills for trainees
7. Need irrigation system as some sites

Jacquelyn Zita Results and Lessons Learned:
What we learned from this experience is that travel to our farm is difficult for communities of color located in the Twin Cities – when money for travel and time to work on the farm are scarce. Most consistently the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women came almost weekly with their own van which at times included very large groups. The Hmong men and women who came to work on the Hmong farm field were very experienced farmers. The other two groups – Indigenous Peoples Task Force and Immigrant Freedom Network — were less involved with their farming and really lacked good farming experience. These last two groups were largely guided by one individual who took on too much responsibility for the project. Hence, we learned that from the start an organized group needs to be engaged in the project.

I personally learned from the Hmong farmer’s new ways to do vegetable farming and we shared knowledge resources as best possible. The language barrier was sometimes difficult.

At the end of the season in October, the deer came into all of our farm fields and destroyed our crop along with the cultural heritage crops. The necessity for a better deer predator control will be a more salient part of our farm planning for the coming year.


Siona Nchuto Plan for 2010:
1. Explore the opportunity to raise poultry at the Golden Valley farm site (Already have neighbor’s permission to use land, the city will allow up to 20 birds per family)
2. Explore the possibility to establish a hoop house on the farm site in Brooklyn Center
3. Explore the possibility to partner with a Goat Farm and the University of Minnesota
4. At the end of the project all project partners and participants will explore the possibility of starting a Cooperative.

Deborah Torraine Plan for 2010:
1. Develop business plans, planting and harvesting plans, and evaluation form.
2. Attend additional workshops and trainings for the project
3. Keep better records of farming practices
4. Keep better records on produce and marketing strategies

Jacquelyn Zita Plan for 2010:
In the coming year, we plan to continue working with Hmong farmers through the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women and develop with them a pilot marketing plan for their produce and better record keeping. We are also moving a large part of our farming cultural heritage work to Little Earth of United Tribes (LEOUT) to start collaboration between our farm and a new urban garden. We are currently working on a business plan for this project, training programs for urban farming with the help of Growing Power, Inc., and a planting and projected harvest plan for 2010 season. The LEOUT farming project will be using WEI greenhouse space to start their seeds in March and April.

The two pilot projects – the smaller plots with Immigrant Freedom Network and with Indigenous People’s Task Force — will continue at WEI on a more informal basis, but I do not foresee that these projects are working towards a market plan or should be included in the second year of funding.

For the 2010 season, we will focus the second year of our grant funding on the Hmong farming project at WEI and the LEOUT/WEI urban farm project in south Minneapolis.

We are also considering putting some time and money into project for growing peanuts in Minnesota under a hoop house this coming summer.

Permaculture Research Institute Plan for Next Year:

Urban Farming Production Skills (offered in April 2010)
This workshop is divided into 4 segments based on the foundational knowledge needed for successful urban agriculture. This will be a hands-on workshop and PRI will provide fact sheets for each of the sessions. Possible instructors include Cornucopia staff, Krista, Stefan, Pete Willcut. We want a strong presence of women instructors.

Building & Managing Soil Fertility (1.5 hrs)
* Introduction to soil chemistry and soil biology
* Challenges in urban soils (contaminants, low fertility)
* Methods for dealing with contaminants
* Methods for building self-renewing soil fertility
* Jumpstarting the system (raised beds etc)
Managing Pests & Disease (1.5 hrs)
* Common garden pests (insects & mammals) – identification & management
* Common garden diseases – identification & management
Managing Crops (2 hrs)
* Common crops – planting, growing & harvesting techniques
* Good varieties for Minnesota urban conditions
* Polycultures & relays for common plants
Extending the Season (1 hr)
* Starting plants from seed
* Tools & techniques for extending the season & modifying microclimates
Additional Resources

In addition to the workshop training, PRI will encourage the Women to attend an Introduction to Permaculture workshop and another Urban Agriculture Workshop of their choice regularly offered by PRI (Urban Agriculture series, Urban Soils, Gardening with Insects).

Up to 6 hours of Garden Coaching services offered by Backyard Harvest will be provided on-site at the Brooklyn Center farm.


Project Partners:

1. Conduct four additional classroom business planning and funding workshops in March and April 2010 with additional workshops scheduled based on need.
2. Conduct Urban Agriculture: Green Jobs workshop at Twin Cities Sustainable Communities Conference March 13, 2010
3. Partner with Preventing Harm MN tabling at Eden Prairie Yard and Garden Fair March 20, 2010
4. Conduct Urban Agriculture: Green Jobs workshop at Twin Cities Community Garden Resource Fair March 27, 2009
5. Participate in tabling at Randolph Heights School Green Fair March 15, 2010
6. Participate in AfroEco spring Film Festival March 14, 2010, April 17, 2010 and April 24, 2010
7. Presentation at the Living Green Expo St Paul May 1-2, 2010
8. Participate in Gardening Matters Parade of Gardens August 21, 2010
9. Participate in EJAM’s Founder’s Day 2010 date TBD
10. Continue to partner with The Minnesota Project on the Excel Energy Incubator site
11. Tours and Volunteers at spring farm preparation by trainees
12. Tours and Volunteers at Planting events for community members
13. Weekly Farm Market Stand, Pick-Your-Own and Other Events