Civic beat // Gardens lease

New gardens lease a Homegrown step

Homegrown Minneapolis is about to get specific.

The health-inspired, Mayor R.T. Rybak-backed program is nearing implementation stages, starting with the adoption of a new type of lease agreement aimed at expanding community gardens. The policy is meant to make it easier to transform non-buildable or non-developable parcels into residents-farmed land.

“It’s significant because this is the first time we’ve had a community garden lease, not a lease with broader purposes that’s been modified to suit community gardens,” said Karin Berkholtz, who sits on Homegrown’s Implementation Task Force.

Examples of non-buildable parcels include those that are less than 3,500 square feet in size or have less than a 30-foot frontage. An example of a non-developable parcel is one that doesn’t have access to public sewers.

A recent inventory came up with about two dozen such sites in the city, Berkholtz said, most of which are located in North and South Minneapolis. None were identified in Southwest, where work with other public agencies likely would be necessary to create gardens.

Homegrown started in the city’s Department of Health and Family Support in 2008, when staff was trying to figure out a way to get more people access to quality foods as an obesity-prevention strategy. Rybak added the project’s homegrown aspect, making it a program that focuses on improving health while also supporting the local economy.

The council was expected to vote on the garden lease language at its April 2 meeting, after this edition of the Southwest Journal went to press.

In other Homegrown news, its task force recently presented the city’s health committee with a lengthy update. They touched on a number of topics, including:

Community kitchens: Thirty sites were identified in a recent inventory of possible community kitchen locations. Most are inside park centers; seven are commercially licensed. Community kitchens would be used for activities such as cooking, food preservation and classes.

Market expansion: Organizers of Homegrown envision a Minneapolis Farmers Market, currently situated near Target Field in the Lower North Loop, that’s considered one of the city’s top assets. It isn’t on that pedestal now, said task force co-chairwoman Cara Letofsky, but recommendations for improvement are being developed.

Accessibility: One of Homegrown’s many goals is to expand access to locally grown and organic foods beyond the city’s wealthiest populations. The Minneapolis Farmers Market is taking a step in that direction this summer, when it will start to allow people to pay through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT).

Ag policy: The Community Planning and Economic Development department is planning to work with an outside consultant to perform a land capacity analysis within the next couple of months. The study’s results will weigh into the creation of a policy that would guide future urban agriculture-related planning. Public comment is expected in the winter, followed by council adoption in early 2011.

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Planetarium money kept in finalized bonding bill

When Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut about $300 million from the Legislature’s
$1 billion bonding bill, he chose to spare Downtown’s planned planetarium — a reversal from actions he took in January.

Before the legislative session got under way, Pawlenty had suggested cutting the planetarium’s $22 million bonding guarantee, which had existed since 2005. He expressed concerns that because fundraising for the project wasn’t progressing, the project might no longer merit the appropriation.

The House of Representatives and Senate didn’t go that route, instead opting not to touch the money. On his second go-around, Pawlenty didn’t touch it, either.

That was a relief to Minneapolis Planetarium Society President Angus Vaughan. He said he was happy to have the monkey off of the project’s back, especially because losing $22 million would have meant his fundraising goal would have more than doubled. The project has a
$35 million price tag.

After Pawlenty’s initial recommendation, “we continued to make calls and talk to people and say we’re moving ahead,” Vaughan said. “We always felt that this was not going to be X’ed out of the bonding bill. But now there’s no doubt for any potential funders.”

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Candidates to file in May

Following on the heels of legislative changes that moved this year’s primary to Aug. 10, the city announced new candidate filing dates.

They now begin May 18 and will run through June 1. Candidate withdrawals must occur by 5 p.m. June 3.

The election is Nov. 2.