This farm team has been converting vacant lots to tiny farm plots all over Minneapolis since 2011.
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Tillamook

If you ever find yourself walking through the heart of Minneapolis, keep an eye out for something unusual: a farm.

What — a working farm plot in the middle of a city? Yep.

16 different farm plots, to be exact, across Minneapolis–St. Paul.


They look like this:

A Stone's Throw lot in the Twin Cities. Image by Carina Lofgren Photography.

Since 2011, Stone's Throw Urban Farm has been busy morphing vacant lots in the Twin Cities into farms that give back to local communities.

"[Our lots] range in size from 0.11 acres to 0.5 acres," farm employee Caroline Devany explained to Welcometoterranova. "Most ... were formerly residential spaces, but several have had less conventional past uses, such as a bowling alley parking lot and [a] funeral home."

Houses, a bowling alley, a funeral home, all converted into small fields that produce a wide variety of crops: tomatoes, squash, peppers, onions, eggplant, greens, herbs, carrots, beets ... the list goes on.

A straight-up RAINBOW of veggies. Image courtesy of Stone's Throw Urban Farm.

So, tell me again why we don't just convert all our unused urban space into farmland?

Farming in the city is a bit out of the ordinary, so it understandably comes with a unique set of challenges.

Though a bowling alley may sound like a cool place to grow onions (or kale, or oregano), the soil quality of vacant lots is another issue entirely. Many of the plots used by Stone's Throw have soil that requires careful attention and added nutrients.

Stone's Throw uses waste from local breweries to produce compost that can help bring depleted soil back to life.

But being "part of, and accountable to, multiple communities," as Caroline explains, provides the farm with many opportunities for unique solutions to match those challenges.

For example, Stone's Throw recently began using waste from local breweries to produce compost that can help bring that depleted soil back to life. Old beer to veggie compost!? Yes, please.

A farm employee sprays crops with fish emulsion, a natural fertilizer. Image by Carina Lofgren Photography.

As a visible part of so many different communities, Stone's Throw tries its best to be a good neighbor — and it has many neighbors. The farm offers a sliding scale, EBT-accessible market stand and hosts volunteer and skill share opportunities for the community.

They also partner with rural farms outside the city (who lack the urban advantage of visibility) in a cooperative called Shared Ground.

Of course, this uncommon land use doesn't come without its naysayers.

The aftermath of the 2009 foreclosure crisis allowed space for new ideas about best uses for land. Areas that had previously housed commercial businesses were suddenly available for new, creative uses. That's what allowed Stone's Throw Urban farm to get up and running — with so many vacant lots, the city was open to using some of them for farming.

But Caroline explains that "as the market recovers, people are interested in seeing built development." Stores. Offices. Housing developments. "Traditional" urban land uses.

An aerial view of one plot in St. Paul. Image via Google Maps.

As a result, sustainable land access is one of the biggest challenges faced by Stone's Throw. In fact, the farm's future may depend on their ability "to better articulate the ways that urban agriculture is a form of development with many benefits to urban residents."

But the Stone's Throw team is determined and optimistic.

And they're not about to let the challenges of urban farming get in their way.

What's more, they're noticing changes in the way the community — and policymakers — talk about issues of food and development. And that gives me hope.

It's not easy to cultivate healthy and just communities, but a little grit and diligence can go a long way. A fondness for weeding probably doesn't hurt either.

Image by Carina Lofgren Photography.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Welcometoterranova and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Welcometoterranova-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.