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Frogtown Farm fights for its future

Updated: Apr 28

A large garden with a greenhouse and trees in the background.
Frogtown Farm

Saint Paul’s Frogtown Farm is seeking solutions to a financial crisis that, if not handled quickly, could result in the organization losing its home, according to new Executive Director Lachelle Cunningham,. 

Frogtown Farm started in 2013 as a community-led urban farm initiative, and manages a 13-acre piece of city land in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in St. Paul. But when its eight-year lease agreement came to an end last December, the city decided not to renew it. Instead it issued a request for proposals for potential management partner. Now, the Farm finds itself faced with not only a $150,000 budget deficit at the start of the new 2024 growing season, but also the strange position of having to submit a project proposal for the land it already occupies. 

“What we received is a notice that they are not renewing our lease automatically, and so with that, they decided to release the RFP instead of renewing the lease with Frogtown Farm. So we had to go through the process of applying to the RFP, which they released at the end of January. And that's for a managing partner of this space.”

Two Black women stand next to each other, looking into the camera, smiling. They are both wearing v-neck sweaters.
Frogtown Farm Executive Director Lachelle Cunningham, with facilitator Fatima Muhammad at a recent listening session.

An RFP is submitted to the MN Department of Commerce, communicating a project’s needs, such as space needed for operation, budget cycles, grants, supplies, and other external resources that a contractor would need to know to fulfill an agreement. The process can take many months - even years - to complete. But this year’s RFP deadline was April 1st, forcing Frogtown Farm to scramble.

Cunnigham says, if approved, hopefully the dynamic of the relationship between the city and the farm will be improved.

“The farm is in financial hardship right now, and there's a lot of factors that contribute to that. Some historical, some circumstantial, some situational,” said Cunningham. “From what I've seen, there was a lack of delivery on both sides. There's issues with the city with this being a public park and some of the stewardship of the space and the trash and the vandalism and the safety... And then the farm had some discontinuity in the leadership and the management and so some of the regular communication and compliance with certain things wasn't always there. So I believe there were some parts on both sides that contributed to where we're at now.”

Currently, Cunningham says the farm has operated on a $500,000 operational budget, which has been a struggle to sustain through grants. She says the largest grant she saw given to the farm was $50,000, and as a result is requesting better resources and financial investment from the city.  

The back of a pick-up truck is filled with boxes of produce and flowers, including tomatoes, squash and marigolds.

Cunningham says the lack of investment has prevented the farm from fulfilling its original mission of serving disadvantaged communities. Last year it distributed approximately 7,000 lbs of food to its communities, down from 16,000 lbs in 2019. She says farm leadership feels it’s best to develop a sustainable plan to diversify distribution channels and earned income streams to help alleviate financial hurdles. 

Cunningham says she hopes the city will recognize the farm as an asset and get it the support it needs to restore its foundation so it can continue its impact. 

“As an organization, you know, we want to build trust and foster stronger partnerships and ultimately ensure that every contribution, whether it's financial or volunteering, or any other collaborative partnerships, or other ways that people engage with us – that all of those contributions go to directly directly supporting our initiatives towards environmental stewardship and community engagement.”

Cunningham says while many would think losing the land would be the top concern, she believes firmly establishing the farm’s financial footing comes first. Currently, the farm needs about $475,000, to operate at its full capacity for the spring season, as well as another $60,000 to fulfill its educational programming.

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