by Steve Bivans
Maureen has been living in St. Paul’s ‘West Side’ community for over 17 years.
She’s one of those neighbors who is everywhere at once and knows everyone. She’s a connector of people. I met her this spring. She had posted a call on the Growing West Side Facebook page for a flash weeding event to pull weeds and clean up some raised garden beds in a neighborhood plaza where she planned to plant a salsa garden for the residents of the District del Sol, the predominantly Hispanic area of our community. I was immediately enamored with her energy, friendliness and her commitment to the community. In the coming months, Patience and I became more and more involved with Growing West Side, the organization that she and a handful of others have organically constructed over the last few years.
Several years ago, Maureen and another neighbor decided to raise chickens. Instead of reading “too much” into the city regulations—which actually require you to keep them in a coop—they decided to let them roam around the fenced-in yards. As it turned out, the roaming fowl became a natural conversation starter with wandering neighbors. This brought about connections with the neighborhood that they had never thought would happen. Maureen thought that maybe there was a way to expand on that community-building idea.
Then she came up with an idea one day to plant some beans on her boulevard and to try
to get a handful of others to do the same. She says, “Originally, I’d emailed the idea out to about 30 neighbors I knew, and I figured about 15 of them would respond. Of those, I calculated that about half would humor me and agree to do it. But before it was done, we had 85 people wanting to grow beans on their boulevards!” Maureen had originally thought that she would have enough supplies—poles, string, seeds—to supply the 7 to 10 she had predicted but there was no way she had enough scrap supplies to pull off 85. So she contacted the West Side Community Organization who gave her a small grant to purchase the supplies for the project and Beans on the Boulevard was off! But that’s not the end of the story.
Maureen was also growing garlic in her home garden— among many other things—and was selling it at various farmers markets around St. Paul when she and her partner, Martha, decided to try to open up their own little market behind the local coffee shop, Jerebek’s, which for many years had operated on the corner around from my house. Jerebek’s agreed and the little market was up and running with two vendors.
Shortly thereafter a couple more friends joined, Leah and Ellen, and a local CSA farm, Tusen Tack. This worked well for awhile until a baker asked them for permission to set up next to them. Since Jerebek’s was a bakery and coffee-shop, that didn’t work out so well, so they went looking for another spot and managed to make a sweet deal with Pompeo, the owner of the local ice cream joint, The Icy Cup, who has a fairly large parking lot.
That was three years ago and the West Side Farmers Market has really taken off. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a small, neighborhood market but that’s what’s so awesome about it. It’s cute and friendly as hell. They have a steady number of vegetable farmers,
Todd—the organic chicken-egg farmer, and Tony, a neighbor who’s started his own hot sauce line, Isabel Street Heat. He used the market as his testing ground and after some great success selling his sauces to the neighborhood—I’ve had them and they’re pretty kick-ass—he’s expanding his operations for next year!
There’s almost always live music and entertainment and the police department occasionally brings out their mounted unit, and the fire department brings out trucks, which are a big hit with the kids. They hold gardening and cooking classes to give tips on how to grow and prepare many of the things found at the market. All of this was accomplished by a small team of volunteers in the neighborhood. The collective talents of local farmers, gardeners, cooks, bakers, musicians, entertainers, and the generosity of the neighborhood, and that of Pompeo, the owner of the Icy Cup.
Any neighborhood can do what Growing West Side has done in our little Shire. And that’s not the end of the plans. We’re working on raising funds to expand the market, hire a part-time manager, and offer coupons to neighbors that might normally find fresh food out of their price range.
We are currently running a campaign on GoFundMe to raise money to do these things. Watch the video below, click the link to our campaign and consider a contribution to help build a Shire on the West Side!