Jennifer Peña, an intern at the Latino nonprofit Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio, used to grow food in a community garden on the East Side of St. Paul, an area predominantly made up of people of color, but then sold the produce to white neighborhoods.
“It just goes to show that most of the time, healthy food is catered to white and rich people. And a lot of BIPOC don’t live in high-income areas,” she said. “We don’t have access to good food.”
A nonprofit organization created by and for Latinos in the Twin Cities, CLUES was founded in 1981 with the goal of supporting Latino individuals and families by providing needed services. In addition to many programs, such as classes and food distribution sites, CLUES is actively enacting change through a newly established community garden. After a series of conversations in Ramsey County about health, wellness and access to food, the desire for a garden specifically catered to Latino families was brought up again and again, and so the project was born.
“One of the best ways to build power and build community is through green spaces and gardening, because everybody has some kind of connection to food, regardless of your background or cultural traditions,” says Abigail Hindson, the community garden coordinator at CLUES.
Located on the East Side of St. Paul right behind the CLUES office, Jardín de Armonía y Acción, translating to Harmony and Action Garden, was built in 2020 amid the pandemic with a three-year grant through Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Many fresh produce items are grown, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and jalapeños.
Gardener Reyna Lopez has seen a large sense of community growing around the space.
“I’ve met a lot of Latinos there (at the garden), people from my country I’ve never met before,” she said. “It’s just amazing.”
Hindson spoke passionately about how, historically, many BIPOC people have been kicked off of land and not allowed to grow their own food.
“Agricultural workers in Mexican and Central American communities had a lot of rich agricultural traditions and agricultural knowledge coming here (to the U.S.). And because of immigration status, not being able to start their own businesses and instead being relegated to work on white-owned farms for really, really low wages. And then, the whole process for starting urban farms or community gardens or rural farms (is) really complicated.”
“There’s loan discrimination,” she continued. “There’s all kinds of barriers in terms of the processes you have to follow; the permitting, the language access. And the amount of capital you have to have to start a farm or business, and then who you can sell the food to. Like Jennifer said, you’re mostly catering to wealthy white people instead of communities that are already experiencing not being able to afford high quality food because of all the systems that are in place.”
In the future, CLUES hopes to create an additional garden, either on the East Side of St. Paul or at its South Minneapolis office. For the time being, though, Jardín de Armonía y Acción is growing healthy and fresh food, improving the lives of community members and bridging the gap of long-lasting food access disparities.
“Everybody eats food and wants to eat good food and wants to have a closer connection to their food,” Hindson said.