There is a transformation underway at the Eco3 Urban Farm! This spring and summer, the Farm has made huge strides towards becoming a welcoming community space and a fully productive growing space. Brush has been cleared to promote growth of berry bushes and to create a shady picnic area. The flower bed is overflowing with blossoms. The field, which has never been planted before, is packed with rows and rows of vegetables. Grapes are being trellised by the high tunnels, which are full of tomatoes, peppers, and more. The tools and materials are getting cleaned and organized. The space is fully alive; not just with plants, but also with people. Partner organizations come and go throughout the week, and every weekend brings visitors to enjoy Saturdays at the Farm. It is truly incredible to see what has been accomplished in just a few months.
These developments are thanks to the hard work of our Farm team, with special credit to the summer VISTAs. The AmeriCorps VISTA program matches members to nonprofit organizations and government offices for service, with the ultimate goal of eradicating poverty. Summer VISTA associates focus specifically on direct service. At Ecolibrium3, we have been lucky to have eight summer VISTAs this year; seven who served at the Farm, and one who served at our office as the Duluth Age-Friendly Capacity Building VISTA. (You may remember them from this post about their work with accessible design at the Farm!) Farm VISTA associates have been taking care of daily chores like watering, weeding, and harvesting; they have also been implementing updates like preparing areas for growing, clearing out brush, and contributing to the design of the Farm. As their summer service comes to an end, we can clearly see the impact they have made.
This transformative work is a fantastic example of how VISTA service can benefit communities and VISTA members. The VISTA program is designed to allow members to explore their interests during their service. In addition to their day-to-day service, the summer Farm VISTA associates have also each been working on a passion project. The projects the summer VISTAs chose served the dual purpose of furthering their own knowledge and also helping our Food Systems work at the Farm and beyond.
Cece has been using her artistic talents to beautify one of our equipment storage pods, with the plan to eventually update both pods. We can already feel the difference; instead of looking like an old shipping container, the pod is starting to look like a functional, welcoming fixture of a community space! You can see the progress she’s made on the right.
Parker has put together a guide to all the fruits and berries growing at the Eco3 Urban Farm. The guide is detailed and easy to follow, giving tips for identification, information on uses, and location of each plant. It is already helping Farm visitors explore and enjoy the delicious in-season fruits and berries.
Markeyda has been researching how the plants growing at the Farm can be used beyond the kitchen. She is especially interested in the medicinal uses of herbs and native plants. Her work will culminate in a community class on Saturday, August 12, at 10:00 am, where people can come to make their own lip balm.
Andy is also planning to lead a workshop for Saturdays at the Farm. The workshop will show volunteers how to make seed balls, a fun and effective way to help seeds germinate and grow.
Other summer projects have been focused on long-term research and implementation. The effects of these projects can’t be seen yet, but the impact will be felt for years to come. Molly has been looking into rainwater catchment and storage systems, as well as planning fundraising and community education events. Evan has been exploring strategies for the small-footprint grocery store we plan to create in Lincoln Park. Gus has been researching ways that people engage with gardening at home, such as our Garden in a Bucket program; this research is part of the work for his Master’s degree.
Serving as a VISTA member promotes education, personal growth, and professional development in these ways, while also providing support for organizations and communities. It’s clear to see this principle in work at the Farm this summer. All around, the impacts of these VISTAs can be seen and felt. In fact, everyone who comes to the Farm leaves it a bit better than they found it.
Have you left your mark yet at the Eco3 Urban Farm? With programming until September 30, there’s still lots of time to enjoy Saturdays at the Farm! We are also always eager to partner with organizations and community groups, for recurring visits or one-day events. Visit this Saturday to start a conversation and enjoy some fresh produce. As a shared space, we rely on input from our volunteers and neighbors. Come help us continue the transformation and shape this community space!
Funding for farm development, food access, and community engagement events has been provided by the USDA, Essentia Health, and AARP.