Converting Vacant Lots to Urban Agriculture Plots

May 2, 2016 / By: Karen Lally, SCP Intern

This semester Chip Small's Environmental Problem Solving (ESCI 310) class is partnering with the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) to examine the possible effects on stormwater runoff rates of converting vacant lots in North Minneapolis to urban agriculture plots and other alternative uses.  At the end of the semester, the teams will present their findings and recommendations from their individual projects to the SCP partners and the St. Thomas community.

Urban agriculture plots yield many benefits to their communities by providing food security as well as fresh, sustainable, quality fruits and vegetables. These gardens also have the potential to address social justice issues, such as the food deserts found in many urban communities. Food deserts are areas that have a high density of fast food restaurants in addition to a lack of access to grocery stores and fresh produce and other nutritious foods. McKenna Reid, a student at St. Thomas, also adds that while working on this project "the number of people that come together really stood out to me. It [urban agriculture] strengthens the community bond by working towards a common goal." Clearly, urban agriculture plots have direct benefits on the residents, but what about the larger watershed and environment? Specifically, this team is focusing on whether urban agriculture plots reduce the stormwater runoff rate in North Minneapolis.

Thus far, members of this group have consulted with the MWMO project lead Michele Ross to identify specific research goals, have explored urban agricultural benefits and best management practices, and are in the preliminary stages of compiling their final report. When asked about her experience with the project, Maddie Hankard, an Environmental Science major at St. Thomas, says "this project is great because it gives us the opportunity to work with professionals and to write a professional report." Classmate Reid notes that this project has made her understand that "every contribution counts. Every person present at a meeting and every opinion helps to move projects forward." While they have not drawn definite conclusions at this time, the general consensus seems to be that urban agriculture will reduce stormwater runoff.