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Fighting for environmental justice in Minneapolis’ East Phillips neighborhood

The East Phillips neighborhood, a majority BIPOC population, is overburdened with pollution, and residents experience disproportionate rates of asthma and other health issues.

A rendering of the indoor urban farm proposed for the East Phillips neighborhood.
A rendering of the indoor urban farm proposed for the East Phillips neighborhood.
East Phillips Neighborhood Institute

I am a very indecisive person. I remember as a college freshman everybody would ask, “So what is your major?” And I wouldn’t have anything to tell them except that I was currently undecided. I took intro to psychology, intro to peace studies, a theology class, and more. It wasn’t until I took intro to environmental studies that I felt an immediate connection. We discussed a variety of topics from renewable energy to plant-based diets to sustainable living and climate change. No matter what we were talking about, everything felt important to me. As I progressed in the major, I learned about environmental justice and its connection to racial, gender, and food justice. It was this interest in justice that led me to an internship at MN350, where I learned about the East Phillips neighborhood and their goal of creating an indoor urban farm.

The East Phillips neighborhood is a very diverse place made up of a majority BIPOC population. The neighborhood is overburdened with pollution, and residents experience disproportionate rates of asthma and other health issues. East Phillips is resilient, and the neighborhood has a plan to turn the abandoned Roof Depot building into an indoor urban farm. The urban farm would bring many benefits to the community including an urban farm, farmer’s market, world café, affordable housing, a bike shop on the greenway, solar panels and more. The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) has been fighting for eight years to make the vision of a community-owned indoor urban farm a reality, but the City of Minneapolis bought the Roof Depot building out from under the community and has plans to turn it into a service yard. The city’s project would increase pollution and arsenic contamination in East Phillips, an already overburdened area. This is environmental racism. EPNI’s plan, by contrast, would not only bring environmental justice to East Phillips, but racial, economic, and food justice as well.

Megan Greenberg
Megan Greenberg
At college I had the opportunity to find my interests and a major I wanted to turn into a career. I was able to discover more of who I was. But as I go out into the world, it will be full of worsening challenges due to climate change. Challenges that my generation has been left to deal with. If we do not start creating a sustainable future now, future generations will be even more burdened by climate change and will not have the opportunity, like I did, to explore who they are because the world will be in climate chaos. We cannot let future generations be robbed of the chance to discover what they are passionate about and build a career doing what they love. We have the power right now to address climate change and help alleviate the burdens of future generations.

Addressing the climate crisis can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be when you remember that we already have solutions for creating a sustainable climate future. The envisioned indoor urban farm in East Phillips is exactly what would belong in a just and sustainable future. It would provide access to local nutritious food, green transportation, clean energy, green jobs and community-ownership. This would increase social capital, wealth, equity and contribute to environmental, racial, economic and food justice.

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I am still an indecisive person, and with graduation this past spring came the other dreaded question, “So what are you doing after college?” Though I cannot give a precise answer, I do know that I will continue to learn and fight for environmental justice, to contribute to the sustainable world I want to see. I encourage you to take action today and support your fellow Minnesotans fighting for justice by donating to the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute. We can begin creating a just future today, starting in our own backyard.

Megan Greenberg is a recent graduate with a degree in environmental studies. She is a volunteer for MN350.