The family-owned Crystal Lake Floral Design at Humboldt and Dowling Avenues, across from Folwell Park, is for sale and the Northside nonprofit urban farm movement “Project Sweetie Pie” (PSP) is considering purchasing it. PSP’s mission is to create community gardens within the city “to seed healthy change through healthy food and physical activity.” The floral business would be an ideal location for Project Sweetie Pie because of its standing year-round greenhouse (now used to grow orchids), its multi-use main building, and the four lots it occupies.
For those unfamiliar with PSP, the organization was founded by long-time community activist Michael Chaney, to offer opportunities for local residents to grow, produce and distribute their own food, and to get youth interested in gardening. PSP started with five gardens and now has over 25. Young people and people of all ages engage within the community in fun and positive ways, as together they address a critical inner city need –providing a solution to the problem of “food deserts,” places in urban settings with no fresh food markets nearby. PSP empowers, as it creates producers.
City-dwellers learn about healthy food choices, how to grow their own food, and how to care for and benefit from the environment. They connect with the outdoors and each other in positive ways, gaining experience, often finding a gateway to the trades, improving quality-of-life, and investing in the community for the common good. The award-winning PSP partners with other community groups and leaders to achieve its goals. It harnesses the energy and vision of many to create opportunity and improve livability on the Northside.
When PSP and its stakeholders met in early October to discuss purchasing Crystal Lake Floral they completed a survey to establish best uses for the site. Results from the survey, as well as an online survey of interested representatives from education, community and business continue to be tabulated. To-date, the majority envision, is in this order: First, “A youth education center focused on urban farming, nutrition and healthy life-styles.” Second is “A business facility focused on horticulture, local food production and processing.” And third is “An adult education center focused on urban farming, nutrition and healthy life-styles.”
The property could be an all-season, multi-use healthy food production center. The main building could be adapted as an activity, program and/or retail center; the greenhouse would serve to grow local produce year-round. Since the site is on the proposed North Minneapolis Greenway, it has potential as a place for people to come together for walks, healing, recreation, tours and even weddings. Its immediate value will be education and self-care, and shared purpose. It may counter advertisers targeting vulnerable populations with messages to eat unhealthy food. (An example is the billboard at Dowling and I-94, promoting quick “grab and go” food with its deliberately-misspelled message to “eat mor (fried) chik’en”.)
PSP’s acquiring the Crystal Lake Floral site is considered a great opportunity for the Northside and for Minneapolis, but it has even wider implications. It could be a model for the nation, demonstrating best practices in community building centered on much-needed healthy, local food, and spreading the message that growing food together is caring for each other and for the environment: it engages, educates and employs.