Playing for the Plants Episode 1: Celebrating Community Partnerships

On Saturday, June 22nd, the 2019 Playing for the Plants series kicked off at the Peace Haven Herbal Garden located in the Harrison neighborhood of North Minneapolis. Community came together in the space to listen to live music, explore the garden, and eat colorful food served by youth. Youth Farm partners with several community members and organizations to help maintain the many native, medicinal, and pollinator plants in the Peace Haven garden. The garden has become a beautiful and lively space, last year 20 Monarch butterflies were counted in just one day! Because of the beauty of this space, Youth Farm’s Director of North Minneapolis Programs, Marcus Kar, wanted to bring community together here, allowing the work of many dedicated people to be showcased and shared with others.

The pieces that brought everything together for this project have been in the works for a long time. Back at the end of the growing season in 2017, Kar partnered with amazing herbalist and professor Erica Fargione of the Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) Herbal Studies Program. The aim of their partnership was to use the Peace Haven garden as an extension of the Herbal Studies Program at MCTC, and to host community learning events surrounding pollinator gardens and native and medicinal plants. This partnership also intended to beautify and activate dormant spaces in urban areas, giving ownership of those spaces to youth farmers, community, and educators in North Minneapolis.

Herbalist and professor, Erica Fargione, poses by the new Peace Haven Herbal Garden sign that was installed during the first Playing for the Plants garden event. Her work in the garden has been monumental to activating the space.

In 2018, Fargione and several volunteers from the Harrison neighborhood worked at the Peace Haven site to develop a medicinal herb garden. There were over 170 volunteer hours logged the first year taking care of the garden. Those hours consisted of planting, mowing, seeding, designing, tilling and watering. The plants that were on the site already were mostly medicinal and pollinator plants, now they are all doing well and the soil is supporting good health. Fargione, Kar, Youth Farm youth staff, and community members continue to maintain the space together.

Marcus Kar poses in the garden with Appetite for Change (AFC) youth and Program Manager, Michael Lee. Many partners like AFC have helped support the progress of the Playing for the Plants series.

Fast forward to 2019 and Kar, along with the North Minneapolis Youth Farm team, organized and hosted a community celebration of their growing, cooking, and eating together. Many community members came out to spend time together, with youth from Appetite for Change even coming out to help prep and serve food. Playing For The Plants strives to connect artists, musicians, chefs, and educators. The event is captured visually and used as a measure of documenting our growing season and the music is recorded live to support the guest musicians and invite the masses to help support the series.  Please visit for more info and stay tuned for Playing For The Plants: Episode Two.

The Lyndale Neighborhood Association and Zion Lutheran Church: Keeping South Minneapolis Youth & Neighborhoods Engaged

Although Youth Farm is no longer offering direct programming in South Minneapolis, there is still so much going on throughout the community.

Zion Lutheran Church, whose building houses Youth Farm’s Minneapolis office, has been hosting the Lyndale Community Dinner on Wednesday nights for close to 20 years. Over the years, pieces of the dinner have changed to better fit the needs of those who live in the neighborhood. Zion’s leadership feels this dinner is an important community building aspect of the Lyndale neighborhood and values their partnerships with the Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA), Youth Farm, and many other neighborhood entities. Zion and LNA have been long-time partners of Youth Farm and they have also been long-time partners of each other, now organizing the Lyndale Community Dinner together. This dinner offers a space for members of the Lyndale neighborhood to come together for a wholesome, fresh, and pay-what-you-can meal served alongside great conversation and community activities.

On Wednesday, June 5th Zion and LNA hosted the first outdoor dinner of the year, offering fresh grilled burgers, veggie burgers, and hot dogs.

Alison Hoyer, the Food Access and Environmental Justice Community Organizer from LNA, has worked hard in conjunction with members of Zion’s congregation to ensure that fresh and colorful produce is reaching the plates of community members.

“We have recently partnered with Co-Op Partners Warehouse and I collect produce from them on Tuesdays before the dinner,” Alison said. “These donations have been awesome because we can include fresh produce in our dinners as well as offer any leftovers for people to take home with them.”

The spread of produce and bread from local partners that neighborhood residents are able to take home with them.

As well as including produce from co-op partners, the Lyndale Community Dinner also strives to include neighborhood-grown produce from the garden located at the Charles Horn Towers. Alison, along with former Youth Farmer, Haakon Anderson, manage the garden and ensure that the crops produced there go right back into the community. This garden-to-table project of LNA aims to bring community together and create access to wholesome, locally-grown produce.  

Not only is the Lyndale Community Dinner a great place for neighbors to come together and eat, it is also a great opportunity for youth and adults alike to get involved in their community. Each dinner includes activities for anyone to participate in ranging from BINGO and board games to free bike tune ups and blood pressure checks. Along with these activities, the dinner also offers a space for community members to volunteer. Haakon Anderson is a great example of youth getting involved in volunteer opportunities like this. Not only does he help manage the garden that grows produce for the dinner, he also helps serve and clean up.

After his time at Youth Farm came to an end, Haakon took it upon himself to stay engaged in neighborhood activities.

“I’ve stayed involved with a lot of things throughout the neighborhood,” Haakon said. “I grew up in Youth Farm and have continued to love gardening. I now volunteer at the CHT garden and help Alison manage it. I also love serving at the Lyndale Community Dinner because it’s not only fun, but I see a lot of people I know from the neighborhood.”

It’s easy to see that Haakon has a passion for the Lyndale neighborhood, especially the kids. “Through working at Youth Farm, I realized how much I loved working with kids and being a leader. I am thinking about going to school to become a teacher,” he said. Volunteering with the community dinners has allowed Haakon to continue to engage with kids from throughout the neighborhood, several of which were also Youth Farmers.

Haakon (second from left) and Alison (left) serve up homemade salads to community members.

Youth Farm is very proud to see the ways in which our community partners and former South Minneapolis participants are continuing to be a shining light in the neighborhood. These partners are also helping current Youth Farmers be present in South Minneapolis neighborhoods. On June 19th, the North Minneapolis Youth Farm team will be cooking and serving at the Lyndale Community Dinner. Although we no longer have direct programs in South Minneapolis, we are thankful to our partners like LNA and Zion for keeping us engaged. However, we are even more thankful that they are keeping the community and youth engaged in their neighborhoods.

The Lyndale Community Dinner takes place every Wednesday night at 6 pm at Zion Lutheran Church. For more information about the dinner please visit Zion’s website: or Facebook page: and for weekly menus check out the Lyndale Community Dinner Facebook page:

For Lyndale Community Dinner volunteer opportunities please contact and sign up online at to get your hands dirty for the Garden-to-Table Project of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association.

What’s changing around Youth Farm?

Just as our youth grow and change through the years, so do we as an organization. Now entering our 25th year of serving youth throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, here at Youth Farm we are taking on some major changes, aiming to increase our program quality and impact.

There are currently three key programmatic and organizational changes taking place at Youth Farm:

  1. Due to our capacity and the desire to fully capitalize on it, we have recently narrowed our focus to serve three specific areas: 1) school partnerships, 2) the St. Paul neighborhoods of Frogtown and the West Side, and 3) North Minneapolis. How we engage groups in each of these three areas will look different, but this narrowed focus will allow us to be more dynamic and build off of a variety of partnerships.
  2. Secondly, as we focus on this narrowed scope, we have decided not to run a traditional 4-8 week “summer program” in any of the neighborhoods we serve. Instead, we are transitioning to “growing season” programming. At Youth Farm, our growing season typically takes place during the months of April through October. Our focus on quality year-round programming will allow us to reach more youth with the least access to quality youth development opportunities and engage these youth in new ways.
  3. Finally, although we are sad to see an era come to an end, we have decided to move out of the South Minneapolis neighborhoods of Lyndale and Powderhorn. We will no longer be running direct programs in these neighborhoods, but strive to continue our impact through consulting long-term partners like the Lyndale Neighborhood Association and Lyndale Community School as they take over the maintenance of previous Youth Farm gardens.

As an organization, we understand that these changes may come as a shock to some people, but we would not be making them if we didn’t truly believe in the positive impact they will make. We strive to always do the highest quality work and came to the realization that maintaining gardens and programs at six sites in South Minneapolis was simply beyond our capacity.

In addition to supporting our South Minneapolis partners as they take over these spaces, we will continue to work with and employ a number of our South Minneapolis Project LEAD that have worked in the Lyndale and Powderhorn neighborhoods in the past, finding new opportunities for them in North Minneapolis and St. Paul.

We are excited to see how Youth Farm evolves and grows and will continue to communicate how this manifests over time.

Slow Roll 2019 Kick-off

Slow Roll Twin Cities is a project of the Cultural Wellness Center that empowers people to rediscover, reconnect, and reimagine their communities together, on bicycles. The ride helps to build healthy, economically vibrant, connected, and people-centered cities and the 2019 kick-off ride on Monday, June 3rd did just that! We were lucky to have beautiful weather, great music mixed by DJ SciPreme, and some seriously delicious food served by Zamaya Delicious Catering. Youth Farm is a committed partner in organizing this event alongside several other organizations, musicians, chefs, and community organizers.

Ride leaders review safety and riding hand signals before the group heads out.

Monday night’s ride was attended by young and old alike. The Loppet Foundation did an awesome job assisting riders with free bike rentals and tune ups. After everyone was outfitted and ready to go, the ride leaders led the way and the group took off to ride through North Minneapolis neighborhoods, stopping at local businesses and landmarks to learn more about the city’s rich history and culture.

Youth Farm’s North Minneapolis Program Director, Marcus, and Farm Steward, Sergio, ready to welcome back riders.

The ride started and ended at the University of Minnesota-UROC building. As riders came back, they were greeted by fresh food and music. Youth Farm’s North Minneapolis Program Director, Marcus Kar, alongside our North Minneapolis Project LEAD and Farm Steward staff have been and will continue to coordinate music and food for the Slow Roll 2019 season. Participating in this vibrant community event allows youth to meet people within the neighborhoods in which they are growing and leading. By making these connections, youth are better equipped to lead conversations surrounding social, racial, economic, and environmental justice.

Riders were greeted by this colorful spread provided and served by Zamaya Delicious Catering.

This summer, Slow Roll Twin Cities will take place every Monday night at various locations throughout North Minneapolis. Each night will feature a fun, safe, and inclusive bike ride for all community members as well as music and food. For more information and location announcements please visit

Joining the Conversation: Environmental Justice in Minnesota

Local artists also attended the community conversation and created a beautiful display of the speakers and their causes.

Minnesota has long been known as a leader in tackling climate change and last night Congresswoman Ilhan Omar lead the way at a community conversation with other environmental leaders regarding environmental justice in our state.

Youth Farm’s North Minneapolis Program Director Marcus Kar was joined by Program LEAD staff member Michael to attend this groundbreaking conversation. Kar makes it a priority to expose all of the Youth Farmers, Program LEAD, and Farm Stewards he works with to the environmental issues surrounding them. Connecting these issues to the work Youth Farm is doing is fundamental. Providing access to urban gardening, fresh and local produce, and quality outdoor youth programming are some of our top priorities. The time is always right to also provide youth the connections they need to link these activities to the environmental justice movement that they are ultimately involving themselves in.

North Minneapolis Program Director, Marcus Kar (left), pictured with Program LEAD, Micheal (center), and environmental justice leader and speaker at last night’s conversation, Tara Houska.

The BIG Dinner Party – 2017

Throughout the summer of 2017, Youth Farms’ Hawthorne Community Organizer Marcus Kar worked with a cadre of North Minneapolis organizations including Appetite for Change, Northside Fresh Coalition and West Broadway Business & Area Coalition, as well as North Minneapolis residents to combine resources and talent around a series of community events focused on healthy eating, food access and creative solutions to public safety. This inclusive dinner series, supported by the City of Minneapolis Public Safety Initiative, named The BIG Dinner Party by Youth Farmers in North Minneapolis used produce grown locally by Youth Farmers and local gardeners to break bread with thousands of North Minneapolis residents at community gatherings throughout the summer, to celebrate community, healthy foods, and active living in North Minneapolis.

In addition to food, the BIG Dinner Party actively utilized art and music as gathering and engagement tools. Musician/Organizer Marcus Kar led an African Drumming workshop focused on Djembe during the dinners. Youth Farm also worked with Soul Tools Entertainment to help document the happenings throughout the summer and fall in association with The BIG Dinner Party, culminating in a soon to be released short film. As the summer progressed into fall, the project, originally conceived as a series of 3 stand alone dinners, morphed into a project that utilized community and organizational partnerships to “bring” the BIG Dinner Party project to 7 different events and public gatherings across North Minneapolis with food, art, music, and engagement around public safety.

While the events have ended, The BIG Dinner Party work continues on. Marcus Kar will be releasing an EP with Youth Farmers and local hip hop artists highlighting many of the themes of the project. Artist Brandon Brown of Onyx Cycles and a group of Youth Farmers will be finishing their solar powered bike which will be utilized for neighborhood food distribution in 2018, and Youth Farm will be releasing the results from our community surveys around health and food access over the coming months.

The BIG Dinner Party is just beginning. What started as an idea about hosting community dinners and community engagement, has become a central part of Youth Farm’s way to engage youth in North Minneapolis in the real day to day work of food justice. Stay tuned for more in the coming months.

Powderhorn Empty Bowls event this Friday November 3rd

It’s that time of year again – the first Friday in November, November 3rd, is Powderhorn Empty Bowls! Come together with your friends and neighbors for a community meal of bread and soup to help raise money to impact food access in our neighborhood.  Pick out a handmade bowl for your meal, enjoy visiting with your neighbors, and when you leave, take your bowl home with you–now empty–as a reminder that you’ve done something good to help your neighbors.

Powderhorn is an amazing neighborhood and community, and this event signifies so much of what is good in Powderhorn. Started in 2007 by 5 neighbors, this event raises thousands of dollars, engages thousands of engaged supporters, and provides food access for so many. Beyond being a recipient of some of the funding in the past, Youth Farm is proud to work with PEB. They support so many organizations a groups doing amazing work – take 60 minutes out of your Friday, bring your co-workers or family, get a beautiful bowl, eat some good food, and be a part of this great work. More info can be found at:

photo: David Woolley – Powderhorn365

Thanks to Schwan’s Corporate Giving Foundation for their Bold Support of Youth Farm

Dimitrios Smyrnios, CEO of Schwan’s Company announces a new charitable partnership with Minnesota-based non-profit Youth Farm. Smyrnios presents Gunnar Liden of Youth Farm a $150,000 financial donation from Schwan’s Corporate Giving Foundation at U.S. Bank Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Minneapolis. (Andy Clayton-King/AP Images for Schwan’s Company) (PRNewsfoto/Schwanís Company)

We were beyond honored to receive support from the Schwan’s Corporate Giving Foundation last night at Schwan’s Feast on the Field event, a celebration in partnership with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee to honor the people, the food and the cultural traditions that distinguish the Bold North, as well as a celebration of Schwan’s Company’s 65th Anniversary and their commitment to the community. We look forward to our partnership and utilizing these resources to do great work and support amazing youth leaders in the Twin Cities!

Summer Leadership Institute 2017 – Youth Farmers

Today marks the last day of our 4 week Summer Leadership Institute for our Youth Farmers (ages 9-11). So much great work has happened over the last 4 weeks – growing food, creating friendships, cooking amazing summer lunches using vegetables from our farms, and all the leadership and mentorship that goes along with making 5 neighborhoods run smoothly. One of the exciting things about our new Summer Leadership Institute is that even though our structured 4 week programming is finished for Youth Farmers, we still have lots on our plate for August. Our Farm Stewards (19-24 year olds) and Project LEAD (14-18 year olds) will be continuing their work through the end of August harvesting and distributing produce to Youth Farmers and their families, offering additional programming for All Stars (ages 12-13) on a neighborhood basis focused of farming, cooking and/or other interests of the All Star participants throughout the summer, and providing opportunities to celebrate the neighborhood level leadership our Youth Farm participants take at neighborhood harvest celebrations.

We would love families and community partners to join with us in breaking bread together at these gatherings. The dates are as follows:

  • Frogtown – Saturday Aug 5th, 11am-1pm – St. Stephanus Church
  • Powderhorn – Thursday Aug 10th, 5:30 – 7:30 – Powderhorn Park Garden 34 1/2 St. and 11th Ave S
  • West Side – Friday Aug 11th, 5:30 – 7:30 – La Puerta Abierta Church
  • Lyndale – Wednesday Aug 16th, 5:30 – 7:30 – Zion Lutheran Church

Furthermore, Northside/Hawthorne will be hosting/collaborating on a series of “BIG Dinner Party” events throughout the remainder if the summer and into the fall that you will hear more about soon.

Thanks to all the hard work and support of our Youth Farmers and we look forward to continuing to use food as a catalyst for social change through the work we do.

St. Paul LEAD City Retreat

Last week, all the Project LEAD from St. Paul gathered for a three day “city” retreat to team build, plan for our Youth Farmer program, visit Philadelphia Farm, and soak up the sun at Lake Nokomis. Look at these delicious strawberries we picked at Philly Farm! In addition, we planted acorn squash, played with goats and chickens, and took a hike to a waterfall and native prairie.

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