Homegrown Minneapolis is a
unique collaboration between
city government and citizens
that is breaking down barriers
to healthful food access
through both policy change and
grassroots projects. You may
not know it, but Homegrown has
probably already touched your life
in some way. Read on to learn more
about the good work they do and how
you can get involved!
A few years ago, when Eric Larsen, Robin Major, and Alex Liebman started cultivating previoiusly
vacant city lots in the Phillips and Whittier neighborhoods of Minneapolis for their community-supported
agriculture (CSA) program, Stone’s Throw Urban Farm, what they were doing wasn’t strictly legal.
Decades-old city laws put their urban agriculture efforts into what could optimistically be called a grey area.
Not that it stopped them; they were getting too much positive feedback from their neighbors aobut how important
their work was. So instead they just kept farming, having conversations about what could be done and waiting for
the bureaucracy to catch up.
It did, in March of 2012, with City Council’s adoption of the Urban Agriculture Zoning Text Amendment. Under the
new code, regulatory barriers were removed expanding agricultural land use in all zoning districts, and making it
possible for commercial food growing in residential areas for the first time since 1963 – including small
“market gardens” on vacant lots. The new rules also allowed urban growers to put up hoop houses plastic-covered
structures that are mor temporary than greenhouses but still extend the growing season. And it gave them
access to city water hydrants for use during the spring and summer.
These code updates were the first big accomplishment of a citywide initiative called Homegrown Minneapolis (HGM).
The project, which was first started in December 2008, brings together key partners from local government,
area businesses, community organizations, nonprofits and residents to build a healthy local food system.
The majority of that work happens on the HGM Food Council.
The HGM Food Council was established in January 2012 as a way for the City of Minneapolis to interface with
its citizens on food related issues such as agricultural zoning. It was initially comprised of 21 individuals,
6 city officials, and 15 community members. Participants for the city include representatives from the
health department environmental health division, economic development department, the mayor’s office, and a
city council member. In February 2015, additional council seats were added, to include the park and recreation
board as well as the public schools, so that today the coucil is 25 member strong. Community representatives
include chefs, educators, gardening experts, farmer market managers and cooperative workers. Co-op Partner’s Warehous’s own Rhy Williams was an inaugural
member of the council and served two years, volunteering his time and expertise.
According to HGM’s Local Food Policy Coordinator, Tamara Downs Schwei, it’s the variety of experience on
the council that has enabled it to become a vital tool for understanding the demands of the community and creating
a city government that is responsive to those desires.
“People in cities have rediscovered and reconnected with their food,” she said. “There’s been a real
shift recently, with people saying, ‘we want this to be part of our life and environment in a way that
fits with an urban system.’ And so, a big part of our learning has been finding a way for residents to do
things like grow food and raise animals and for everyone to still have a functioning city.”
With so many departments touching food in some way (think zoning, licensing, leasing, hydrant permits,
health and safety inspections, just to get started), the Food Council acts as a necessary mediator between
the bureaucracy of the city and the community. But because of its unique arrangement, where commmunity
members have mor votes than city representatives, the red tape seems to fall away much faster from Food
coucil intiatives than from other municipal policy endeavors. By all measures, HGM has a ccomplished a
lot in a very short amount of time.
In the last year alone, The Food Council ammeded state laws to make it easier (and legal ) for people to
exchange seedds and to sell homemade food products *like jams and pickles) at farmers markets. It passed a
pollinator-friendly city resolution, limiting pesticide usage on city properties. It made it easier to raise
bees and chickens in the city by removing the neighbor-signature requirement (if you have six or fewer birds).
And it increased the number of people who can benefit from urban gardening.
The city of Minneapolis owns a lot of vacant lots. Over the years some of them had been made available for
gardening. But the demand was outstripping supply – people wanted longere leases, wanted the option to purchase,
wanted to be able to sell the food they grew. So the HGM Food council worked with
the Community Planning and Economic Development office to make more land available for leasing and to amend
the rules so to give market gardens as much priority as community gardens. After adding 17 new parcels in 2016
(that are currently in the process of being leased), the city now has a total of 64 lots where people are
producing fresh food for themselves, their neighbors and their communities.
“We have been involved in promoting the local food system in terms of economic development and healthy access,”
said Downs Schewi. “We see this as hitting on both of those. Growing food next door gives people the
opportunity to feed their families and to participate in the eonomic system, while growing community in
Eligible parcels have been mapped out on Homegrown’s website, so you can see who is leasing land near you,
and whether or not vacant city-owned parcels are stilll available for lease. Lots are available on a rolling
And the reach of HGM goes beyond just gardens and beyond the city and even the state. During 2014,
HGM’s Staple Foods Ordinance Task Force was instrumental to the city’s approval of amendments, which mandated
grocery stores and corner stores stock certain minmum amounts of produce, proteins, and dairy products.
Increasing healthful food access at these small stores has already demonstrated sizable positive effects on
public health. The city’s Health Department and their university partners are currently engaging in national
conversations of the impact of the ordnance here and how it might be replicated elsewhere. Just this spring,
Minneapolis hosted a delegation from the city of Baltimore, Md. whose staff and policy workers are interested
in implementing a similar ordinance of their own.
“We’re not alone,” said Downs Schwei. ” But we’re one of the real frontrunners.”
For more information, visit the Homegrown Minneapolis website
or contact Tamara Downs Schwei at 612-673-3553
Get involved with homegrown!
Food Council meetings are open to the public, and citzens are enthusiastically welcome to participate
as members of the council’s working groups.
Food Council meetings are held on the second Wednesday of each month from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
There is a short optional presentation before each meeting at 5:00pm.
Wednesday, June 8
6:00-7:30 pm. meeting,
5:00-6:00pm. presentation and activity led by City Food Studio
(City Food Studio, 3722 Chicago ave S., Minneapolis)
Wednesday, July 13
5:30-7:30 pm. meeting,
5:00pm presemtation from food building
(food building, 1401 Marshall st. NE Minneapolis)
Wednesday, Aug. 10
5:30-7:30 pm. meeting,
5:00 pm. presentation from Gardening Matters
(Gardening Matters, room J at the Sabathani Center, 310 E. 38th st, Minneapolis)