Minneapolis nonprofit focuses on food to train, heal

Savion Barnett and Chevy Partee
Savion Barnett, left, and Chevy Partee cultivated tomatoes at an urban farm site in north Minneapolis, August 4, 2015. The farm is managed by Appetite For Change, a north side nonprofit that teaches young people about food.
Jared Hemming | MPR News

After living with the effects of gang violence in north Minneapolis for 16 years, Princess Titus hungered to change her neighborhood.

Titus was no stranger to gang violence. Her son, Jessie McDaniel, belonged to a gang. Her other son, Anthony, had been shot and killed by a gang when he was 16.

After Anthony's murder, Titus said, her family struggled. "Jessie and I weren't doing good in grieving," Titus said. "We couldn't really look at each other, because I look like his brother to him, and he looks like his brother to me." They grew distant.

Titus felt a change was needed on the north side. She searched for a way to express her grief.

She started cooking.

She had the idea to invite her north side neighbors to cook and eat with her.

Soon Titus was serving meals to people in her neighborhood to talk about the change they wanted to see in north Minneapolis. In the process, she and McDaniel reconnected.

"It brought our relationship closer," she recalled. "Once we brought food in, it was really healing to our family."

Titus realized that she could use food to help get more young men like her son off the streets.

She teamed up with Michelle Horovitz, a lawyer turned chef, and fellow north sider Latasha Powell. Together, the trio created Appetite For Change, a nonprofit that trains north Minneapolis youth in the food industry and provides jobs in farming, facilities and service to north siders.

AFC already has a long list of accomplishments: Last year, it fed 500 people healthy meals through its Community Cooks program. In May, it opened a restaurant, the Breaking Bread Cafe. It harvested more than 5,000 pounds of fresh food from 18 urban farm sites in Minneapolis, five of which it manages.

Jessie McDaniel tended greens
Jessie McDaniel tended greens at an urban farm site in north Minneapolis. The farm is managed by Appetite For Change, a north side nonprofit that McDaniel's mother, Princess Titus, co-founded to teach young people about food.
Jared Hemming | MPR News

Appetite For Change has created more than 30 jobs for north siders. It has focused its work on young people, training and hiring mostly African-American men between 14 and 24 years old.

Now it will be training and hiring a whole lot more youth. A recent Kickstarter campaign earned more than $60,000, an amount that was $20,000 past the campaign's goal.

With the Kickstarter money, Titus said, AFC wants to hire more kids to work on its urban farms and at Breaking Bread. "It's going to be used to build these youth up, so they can enter into the workforce," she said.

It's a long way from where AFC started out, said McDaniel, who is now youth leader and program facilitator.

In the beginning, McDaniel and his mom gave away homemade apple pies throughout the north side.

"In the most dangerous areas in north Minneapolis, in front of gas stations, we'd be making apple pie in a cup, handing it out to people," he said. "I didn't know that was against the law ... you've got to have a license to do stuff like that. So, we started from the bottom."

Now, he leads young north siders through urban farm training.

"We show them how to till up the garden, make the raised beds, maintain the garden, harvest the garden, sell the produce," he said.

One of the kids he trained in farm work is 15-year-old Dakota Jewell, who was hired this summer as one of the program's 24 north side youth employees. He said his job at AFC helps him avoid bad decisions.

"When I got put in this, it helped me personally because I wasn't on the right step," he said. "This gave me a workplace where I can be around a lot more positive youth than I was before."

With the new money from Kickstarter, AFC wants to create more jobs for young north siders like Jewell. It also plans to add more classrooms and hire additional teachers to train young people in urban farming, cooking and food serving.

Co-founder Horovitz said she'd like AFC to function like a business school for north side kids. She'd like to model the program "after a traditional management training program," she said, which would teach kids each facet of the food industry.

She said the new money would help train kids who can take those skills into different jobs.

"So then the goal would be to help those youth get jobs in the community, whether it's in food or in an area that they're interested in," she said. "And, I think ultimately, we'd like to have the youth be entrepreneurial and be able to walk away with the skills and confidence they need."