The Cities Blog

‘Urban oasis’ in Bruce Vento Sanctuary wins $1M in St. Paul idea competition

An "urban oasis" that aims to connect food, nature and culture is a million-dollar idea, the Saint Paul Foundation announced Monday.

The oasis received the most votes from Minnesotans as part of the Forever Saint Paul Challenge, a competition organized by the Saint Paul Foundation and Minnesota Idea Open.

City resident Tracy Sides proposed the hub, which would process and promote local food. She says the center would help local farmers, who often don't have a place to sell their excess produce.

"By creating a worker-owned cooperative where local farmers could go sell that excess produce, we're creating jobs because we need people to process that food, market it, distribute it, say as healthy snacks to kids in schools," she said. "Or it gives small local producers access to markets like a co-op or grocery store."

Sides proposed to create the food hub and event center in a vacant building in the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. She will receive $1 million to implement the idea.

"Creating this example of how we can have a food system that serves the health of the people and the land is going to be a tremendous asset and set St. Paul apart as an extremely creative, sustainable, and equitable city," she said.

Urban Oasis

Organizers said the idea received more than half of the votes.

The Forever Saint Paul Challenge started with nearly 1,000 ideas that were narrowed down by volunteers and a panel of judges.

Sides spoke with Tom Crann on MPR News' All Things Considered. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation:

SIDES: We’re going to be drawing people to in, to learn, work, create new food businesses. We’ll be training food entrepreneurs and we’ll be sending it out. We’re going to have a food truck and take advantage of these incredible market opportunities with the Union Depot scaling up, the Saint Paul Saints starting to play ball in 2015.

CRANN: They’re all located pretty close to the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary which isn’t far from downtown St. Paul. I want to ask you about the $1 million -- what will it go to and is it enough for all you want to do with it?

SIDES: The million dollars -- a small part of that would be going towards the planning and figuring out some of the business model details for the food hub. The majority of it should be going toward capital, like the freezers, ovens, stoves, things like that. We won’t need to be using it to put in the electrical or plumbing in the building. Thankfully, there is an existing development process that we’re just plugging into. This is about building on good things that are already happening.

CRANN: Take us five years into the future. I want to know how you envision if this project is a success in five years.

SIDES: In five years, I would love to be seeing people biking or walking from Lowertown along the trails over into this building that is a model for a sustainable future, a building that is LEED certified, and a food hub where all of these activities are happening, where people are coming together around food. You could eat at the cafe, go and have a cooking lesson on how to cook with kohlrabi -- that was a new ingredient to me this summer. People will be celebrating weddings, Ecolab will have retreats there with their management teams up on the roof, looking back with a bird’s eye view on their business literally and figuratively.


Marcheta Fornoff, a University of Minnesota student, pulled together this timeline of the site in St. Paul that will include the "urban oasis."  The site is also a holy place for the Dakota tribe. Dates were taken from the National Park Service.

1766: The site became known as Carver’s Cave after colonial explorer Jonathan Carver visited and described the cave.

1837: The Dakota ceded their lands east of the Mississippi River

1853: North Star Brewery was built on this site

1868: Railways were constructed in Phalen Creek.

1920: The peak era for railway stations at Phalen Creek

1970s: The use of railways began to decline. The Lowertown Depot was abandoned.

1997: The Lower Phalen Creek Project, a non-profit partnership between the Eastside and Lowertown communities to develop and maximize ecological resources connected to the Mississippi River.

2002: Land was purchased by the city of Saint Paul and named after deceased Congressman Bruce Vento from Winona.

2003: Hundreds of volunteers removed more than 50 tons of trash from the land.

2005: Bruce Vento Sanctuary became a Saint Paul city park

MPR News reporter Julie Siple contributed to this report.

Past stories on the Forever Saint Paul Challenge:


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