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Minneapolis fights for community-owned sustainable urban farm

By staff |
June 9, 2022
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Minneapolis, MN - 25 community members and organizers entered Mayor Jacob Frey’s office, June 6, to demand that the city stop stifling the East Phillips neighborhood’s efforts to build a community-owned sustainable urban farm on the site of an unused Roofing Depot plant in their neighborhood. The coalition was led by the Climate Justice Committee and the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI). 

The site, which has decades’ worth of toxic arsenic waste in its soil and structures, is slated to be demolished by the city to accommodate more public works facilities. This would throw all of these toxins into the air of a neighborhood that already has some of the worst air quality in Minnesota.

East Phillips is also one of the most Black, brown, indigenous, immigrant and working-class areas in Minneapolis. Speaking for the CJC outside of Frey’s office, local organizer Rob Hendrickson brought up the unfairness and environmental racism of the city’s continued stonewalling of the EPNI’s urban farm.

“We’re addressing how the city of Minneapolis is choosing to further burden East Phillips with industry in order to benefit itself,” said Hendrickson. “Even if the city has the best intentions to minimize harm to the community, there is still harm, and East Phillips has had enough of that! Why do we continue to oppress the same people to benefit some greater good?”

Hendrickson continued: “In all of these cases, we see those in power make decisions using ‘business as usual’ tactics that are rooted in white supremacy, colonialism and putting profits over people. We at the Climate Justice Committee believe that real solutions to the climate crisis center the well-being of Black, brown, indigenous, immigrant and working-class communities.”

The EPNI has its own plans to deal with the toxic soil and has been adamant in opposing the demolition of the Roof Depot building. They have been advocating for a sustainable urban farm for over five years. 

Only recently, however, has the city of Minneapolis begun meeting with them in any official capacity. On June 5, EPNI met with Mayor Frey’s office and were offered a deal for a $1, hundred-year lease on 3.5 acres of the 14-acre lot and were promised that the city vehicles which are planned to use the space would get priority in being converted to electric. 

Although the EPNI has not accepted these terms, it is willing to accept the city working and negotiating with them in good faith. Even these tentative promises, however, were verbal. They have yet to be put into writing. 

“The good news is that we have the words of commitment, and now the next stage is that we get the action of commitment,” said Dean Dovalis of the EPNI. “We have to keep the pressure on, keep pushing, and drive this.”

After gathering outside the mayor’s office, the crowd entered and submitted the following demands:

“We demand that Mayor Frey and the City of Minneapolis host a community meeting in East Phillips to talk about the Urban Farm and the City’s plans for the Roof Depot site. We demand that Mayor Frey and the City of Minneapolis follow through, codify and strengthen agreements around remediation of the site, vehicle traffic, and commitments to move the city’s vehicle fleet to electric,” and “We demand that Mayor Frey and the City of Minneapolis regularly meet with EPNI.”

There is a community meeting scheduled for June 12. Updates will be published as negotiations develop.