Food Hub Wins $1 Million Prize As Best St. Paul Idea

"We won!" Tracy Sides said after her plan for feeding the community was picked.

September 10, 2013 | Source: Star Tribune | by Kevin Duchschere

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Tracy Sides had just ordered a quiche, scone and coffee Monday morning at the Swede Hollow Cafe, near her office on St. Paul‘s East Side, when her cellphone rang. Heads swiveled. Eyebrows lifted.

Sides listened, then raised her arms and let out a whoop. “We won!” she said.

Her choice of pronoun was significant. The winner Monday of the $1 million Forever St. Paul Challenge was not merely Sides, an epidemiologist and entrepreneur with a doctorate in public health, but all those who backed her idea to revitalize the capital city that she said promises to turn part of an East Side park preserve into a national model for local food production and distribution.

The St. Paul Foundation and the Minnesota Idea Open announced Monday that Sides’ “Urban Oasis,” one of three final entries that emerged last month from among nearly 1,000 ideas “to make St. Paul great,” had garnered more than half of 16,000-plus votes cast by the public and was the winner of a $1 million grant to turn her idea into reality.

In the next couple years, Sides and her team plan to turn part of a vacant century-old rail warehouse at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary into an all-purpose “food hub” where local produce, meat and fish can be gathered, prepared and sold to schools, hospitals, restaurants and groceries.

The center would include a cafe, a commercial kitchen for the use of a catering firm, classrooms to teach cooking and canning, an affiliated food truck and a worker-owned food processing co-op. One of the warehouse floors would have a nature-themed event center.

“The community has been committed to restoring this land for years and a vision to transform that building into a community asset,” said Sides, who lives and works on the East Side. “When the challenge came along, this seemed like a natural next step to make St. Paul even better.”