What’s up with the Dowling greenhouse?

Neighborhood garden captains building a trellis for tomatoes.

This article was written by Amanda Dobbs

The backhoe crunched apart the metal beams and tore at the roof. Water was constantly sprayed at the work site as a safety precaution. The contractors worked for days last month to take down the greenhouse at 1420 Dowling Ave N. 

According to Loppet Director Claire Wilson, “When the Loppet purchased the building we came to understand that it had a special history in the story of the City of Minneapolis. As the only area zoned for urban agriculture it had been a part of several buildings which had active greenhouses either attached or previously attached. The greenhouse still attached to what was then a florist shop was in fairly significant disrepair – and the Loppet doesn’t have expertise in gardening or farming. But we knew that Youth Farm did – and we wanted to honor the history of the building while generating new opportunities for youth in North Minneapolis. Today, Youth Farm, with Marcus Kar as the fearless leader of the project and the Loppet Foundation, is partnering to build a new greenhouse and community space on the land. He says, “We look forward to everyone’s input and engagement as we move forward!” 

An elder in the community once told Marcus, “If you don’t move your physical, you lose your spiritual.” Youth Farm helps young people connect with the land and teaches them how to practice urban agriculture. These kids are learning to be good stewards to the land and they work to bring together our community through food—the one thing that unites us all. The immediate next steps for the greenhouse are to remove the concrete foundation and build a pollinating maze in the space to help remove toxins from the soil; in the middle of the garden will be information available about the historical narrative of this place as well as the plans for the future. 

A $3.5-million greenhouse will be built, it will include offices for Youth Farm and have teaching spaces, creating a sustainability destination. Right now, Youth Farm cares for three acres of farmland on the Northside. The youth grew 10,000 plants this season and have been very busy tending gardens. The goal is to teach us to “love the places where we live regardless of the noise” according to Marcus Kar, the Director of Programming for North Minneapolis. The community will benefit greatly from “a controlled environment greenhouse system that will extend the growing season in this zone.” The next step for this project is public outreach.

Grass roots community engagement is the only way to successfully create community supported urban agriculture. A capital campaign to raise funding for the building will soon be underway. The city and the state need to ‘buy in,’ and Youth Farm and its partners on the ground will be discussing possibilities while fundraising. They will be visiting local neighborhood organizations, and inviting people to share the experience of nature and become educated about the benefits of the Northside natural landscape.  

This space will allow Youth Farm to connect rural and urban communities. They will invite rural farmers to this diverse area. Accessing rural farmer’s expertise will build a bridge to tackle our food problems. The greenhouse will create a hub for local food distribution channels such as grocery and corner stores. The seeds for this new community space have been planted long ago because, as Marcus says, “We want everyone to grow together.”