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Urban Oasis food hub idea wins the St. Paul million-dollar challenge

More than 16,000 people voted for the three finalists in the St. Paul Foundation’s contest.

A food hub inside a vacant building in St. Paul’s Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary east of downtown is the winner of the St. Paul Foundation’s Forever St. Paul Challenge.

Idea originator Tracy Sides and her partners on the project will get $1 million to make it happen. She pitched the plan with a video.

More than 16,000 people voted in the competition between three finalists; Sides’ plan received more than 50 percent of the total vote, organizers said.

When I talked with Sides last month, she said she envisions using part of the space in the vacant building for a commercial kitchen and classrooms for a catering company, a food truck, a worker-owned food processing cooperative for local produce, entrepreneurs who create healthy value-added food products, as well as classes in growing and preserving food and cooking.

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She said her partners in the plan include:

  • The Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota, which would bring urban farmers to the table.
  • Community Table of Minneapolis, which promotes local food growing, processing and marketing.
  • Farmers’ Legal Action Group.
  • Good Life Cafe and Good Life Catering.
  • Mighty Grange, a start-up commercial aquaponics business.
  • Bridger Merkt, a chef who will teach meal planning and cooking.
  • Tanya Bell and Louise Segreto for development consulting.
  • The Lower Phalen Creek Project nonprofit community organization, which is redeveloping the abandoned building.

The other two finalists in the competition were:

Craig Blakely’s Art Train and Jack Ray’s St. Paul Center for Creative Arts.

In a statement, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said:

“I’m thrilled to see community members support a project that aligns perfectly with a community need, vision and long-term master plans for the park.”

And city Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm said:

“The Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary has tremendous potential, and I strongly believe that with a lot of hard work, this ‘Urban Oasis’ concept that Tracy has developed can thrive and help shape the way this park looks for decades into the future.”