Twin Cities Coop Unites Diverse Coalition of Farmers in Shared Pursuit of Economic Viability
November 23, 2016 | Trish Popovitch
Straddling the rural urban divide, Shared Ground Farmers’ Coop in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota seeks to unite minority and immigrant farmers and help them gain access to local food markets, achieve economic viability, and enhance leadership skills all while emphasizing sustainable farming.
“Our coop aims to bring together farmers from diverse backgrounds to work towards a better living and more healthy food for folks in the city,” says Emily Hanson, co-founder of Shared Ground and co-owner of Amery, WI-based Whetstone Farm, a 40 acre property that is primarily in pasture with approximately five acres of vegetables is one of the founding farms of the cooperative. “We strive to help make farm ownership possible, especially for immigrants and others who struggle with land tenure.”
Seedstock first spoke to Emily Hanson in 2013 when she and her husband were transforming vacant urban lots into green space as part of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm. “Over the three years I was there, we grew from three vacant lots to 16, from 17 CSA members to about 100,” says Hanson. (Stone’s Throw is a founding member of the Shared Ground Coop).
The idea for the coop began to take shape when Hanson and her husband Klaus Zimmerman-Mayo connected with the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC), who had been doing cooperative business management training with several groups of Latino farmers around the region.
“These folks were growing great produce and having a hard time finding markets for it all. The five founding farms, two Anglo and three Latino-owned, came together, with guidance and support from the LEDC, to form Shared Ground Farmers’ Coop.”
Hanson’s husband Zimmerman-Mayo wrote up the incorporation articles for the coop in the winter of 2013-2014, and the farmers immediately set to work. The founding farms, Agua Gorda Coop, Cala Farm, La Familia, Stone’s Throw Urban Farm and Whetstone Farm collectively offer their customers sustainably produced meat and vegetables. The Shared Ground Farmers’ Coop sells to 150 families through its CSA program and to 30 local restaurants and wholesalers as well as through the Minneapolis Farm to School Program.
“Between all the member farms, we grow pretty much the full gamut of vegetables that can be produced in our climate,” says Hanson. “At Whetstone, we focus mostly on root vegetables, heavily in the fall. Rodrigo Cala (Cala Farms) grows incredible broccoli as well as peppers, tomatoes, leeks, and garlic. Agua Gorda grows a lot of tomatillos, eggplant, melons, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes. La Familia grows tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Stone’s Throw mostly supplies the fresh greens, heirloom tomatoes, and spring crops.”
The Shared Ground Coop has helped to improve access to local food markets for immigrant and minority farmers, fulfilling its mission of using food and farming to fight for social justice.
“Before the coop started, Agua Gorda farm had several thousand pounds of tomatoes rot in the field, because they didn’t have a market for them,” says Hanson. “That doesn’t happen anymore as members of Shared Ground.”
By using the cooperative model, the farms help each other by sharing education, equipment, resources and business connections. “The goal is to grow the coop’s sales to a point where we can support our member farms in growing as much produce and making the income they want/need to be making, and also provide one more income stream to a network of non-member farms,” says Hanson. “We also aim to be able to run the coop solely off the business we do, without having to rely on grants for our operating budget.”
As the founding and member farms find their sustainable footing, Stone’s Throw Urban Farm, one of the catalysts for this venture, has begun to phase out production so that it can move on to other projects. “The other farms will be picking up the slack. We are in conversation about adding several new member farms for the coming season,” says Hanson. “We aim to keep growing our sales, keep getting more organized and efficient at what we do, and growing our name in the Twin Cities.”