Chowgirls Greenhouse Project
As COVID-19 continues to bring out the interconnectedness of people, health, and the systems of our society, Chowgirls Catering has been making the most of this tough situation, partnering with other organizations with similar values to implement positive changes. On March 17, 2020, with Second Harvest Heartland and Loaves & Fishes, Chowgirls launched Minnesota Central Kitchen to prepare emergency meals for people in need throughout the Twin Cities metro area. The collaboration has been ongoing since then with Chowgirls making 10,000-12,000 meals per week and kitchens at Surly, United Health, Appetite for Change, The Sioux Chef, and others using the same model. The meals are prepared with donated ingredients as well as ingredients from local farms.
Chowgirls Greenhouse Project, an innovative partnership with urban farmer David Gray of Bullthistle Gardens, is motivated by a spirit of collaboration. David, whom Chowgirls knows through long-time work with the Northeast Farmers Market, is no stranger to growing food with a higher humanitarian purpose. Ten years ago, he developed the disabled adults job program at eQuality Farms, where they grew all organic and heirloom vegetables in Buffalo, Minnesota. He then launched his own endeavor with Bullthistle Gardens, a family urban garden in South Mpls, to grow for farmers markets, local restaurants, and grocery stores.
David recognized Chowgirls work with Second Harvest Heartland as a “powerful mission” and offered to donate a 90’ x 30’ greenhouse for Minnesota Central Kitchen and Chowgirls. The first challenge to make this dream come true was finding a space. The parking lot at Chowgirls headquarters was not large enough. Thanks to the community spirit of Solar Arts Building landlord Duane Arens and neighbors at Indeed Brewing, the big empty lot behind the Solar Arts Building was just the ticket.
The frame was built in June, rich organic compost was laid out in rows, organic peppers and tomatoes seedlings were planted, beans, cucumbers, squash, and herbs were planted from seed. A greenhouse can yield 3 times the harvest of an outdoor farm by using vertical growing methods and season extension practices. The heat from the asphalt will help accelerate the growing process. Hopes are to run the greenhouse at least through the end of October, extending the season as long as weather conditions allow. David believes he can continue to harvest into early December.
As Chowgirls target at least 10% of each Minnesota Central Kitchen meal prepared to feature locally sourced ingredients, this project goes a long way to their goal to invest in Minnesota to feed Minnesota.
Chowgirls is grateful to David for sharing his growing knowledge and willingness to experiment. Growing on a parking lot poses new kinds of challenges that are worth the energy to resolve as a way to find a higher purpose for under-utilized urban space and to make fresh food accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford it.