Frogtown Park And Farm

By Mike Hahm

As development increases and populations grow, finding additional property suitable for park land becomes a growing challenge for many metropolitan areas.

When the non-profit Amherst H. Wilder Foundation decided to relocate its administrative offices in 2008, the city of Saint Paul, Minn., was given the rare opportunity to create a new park on the foundation property that had been occupied for nearly four decades.

By utilizing partner organizations, public engagement, innovative design, and progressive programming, Saint Paul Parks and Recreation designed a multifaceted, public greenspace that redefines the traditional definition of a city park and meets the needs of a growing and changing urban center.

A Natural Fit
With 100-year-old shade trees and hilltop views of the city, the 12.7-acre plot of land was a natural fit for a new park in an area that had previously been underserved by close-to-home parks.

Enthusiasm for a public greenspace spread quickly, leading to an open dialogue among the city, the Trust for Public Land, local organizations, and community members on the future of the land parcel.

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Appraised at nearly $5 million, the property initially appeared cost-prohibitive until the Wilder Foundation agreed to significantly reduce the price because the project aligned with the organization’s goals. In 2013, the Trust for Public Land purchased the plot at a discounted $2.2 million and immediately conveyed the land to the city. 

Community involvement played a monumental role in planning what would eventually become Frogtown Park and Farm, an innovative greenspace serving as a hub for health, recreation, local food, and a connection to nature. Extensive community input was gathered through a series of listening sessions, community dinners, and design workshops to ensure representation of Frogtown’s diverse population.

An Opportunity To Teach
Today, Frogtown Park and Farm is home to a nature preserve, recreation area, sledding hill, nature play area, and a 5.5-acre certified organic farm.

The permaculture-based farm includes a hoop house with 2,700 square feet of growing space, a demonstration farm, an outdoor kitchen, and a communal garden space called Frogtown Farm Commons. Vegetables, fruiting shrubs, pollinator plants, medicinal herbs, edible weeds, and native plant species are grown on site. Produce from the farm is sold at a weekly on-site farm stand, purchased by neighborhood food entrepreneurs, or donated to local food shelves, partners, residents, and schools.

One of the largest contiguous urban farms in the country, Frogtown is used to teach the community about sustainable farming and gardening practices that can be incorporated into residents’ own backyards. A new non-profit, aptly named Frogtown Farm, was developed to manage the new growing space and continues to rely heavily on community input to guide programming and events. Programming began prior to the park’s official opening to give community members the opportunity to learn about all stages of farm preparation and development.

Since officially opening in 2015, Frogtown Park and Farm has proved to be an invaluable resource to residents and visitors, providing knowledge and skill shares, weekly maintenance events, open walking, educational events, and workshops ranging from growing mushrooms to making kimchi. Multiple neighborhood celebrations have been held at the park and farm, including the Backyard Farm Fair, sledding parties, and a harvest festival.

A Ripple Effect
To foster further interconnectedness within the community, Frogtown Farm partners with other local organizations. During summer 2016, in conjunction with the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Kitty Anderson’s Youth Science Center, a group of high school students spent the summer on Frogtown Farm learning community organizing, permaculture, farm production, and job skills. Other partners include the YMCA, Youth Farm, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, and many others.

Frogtown has improved the neighborhood’s walkability, making it more inviting to both the elderly as well as the younger generation. A 2014 study by City Observatory cited the number of young, educated adults moving to livable, walkable urban neighborhoods has increased by 37 percent since 2000. The nature play area, sledding hill, family festivals, on-site farm stand, and other programming and amenities all contribute to a more desirable neighborhood.

The momentum around the park has also spurred additional private development and programming within the neighborhood. The residents who spearheaded the original movement to preserve the land for public use went on to develop the organization Frogtown Green, which has since created a half-dozen parklets, pollinator gardens, and community gardens. The volunteer-based organization has planted more than 200 trees in the community and supports FrogLab, an effort to bring Frogtown’s namesake tree frogs back to the neighborhood.

In only a few short years, Frogtown Farm and Park has provided the city with new recreation opportunities, increased access to healthy foods, improved the environment, supplied educational opportunities, encouraged neighborhood walkability and livability, and promoted community investment and development.

Frogtown Park and Farm beautifully illustrates how government collaboration with non-profits and community members can result in game-changing public amenities. It is the hope of Saint Paul Parks and Recreation that Frogtown will serve as an inspiration to other cities as they reimagine public lands for the 21st century and beyond.

Mike Hahm, CPRP, is the Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Director, a lifelong Saint Paul resident, and a dedicated career employee of the Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department. His career began more than 25 years ago as a recreation-center employee while he was finishing his business degree at the University of Saint Thomas. For the past 15 years, he has served on the senior parks and recreation management team, holding a variety of positions, including recreation-services manager, special-services manager and director of Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. Reach him at michael.hahm@ci.stpaul.mn.us.