We have been selected as a 2020 AARP Community Challenge Grantee!

Project Food Forest is thrilled to announce we have been selected to receive an AARP Community Challenge grant. We are one of 184 grantees selected from across all 50 states, Washington D.C, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Through this grant we will be commissioning three sculptures and purchasing two picnic tables, which will be installed in the Prairie Ally food forest in Luverne, MN. Through this project, we will be adding multiple layers of placemaking and visual impact to the site. Each round picnic table will be placed within a garden bed surrounded by berry bushes and native flowers, offering visitors a place of peace and reprieve. The sculptures will be created by local artists, featuring pieces of old farm equipment and garden tools that will be sourced from citizens in the area. As we reach out to the community to procure elements for the sculptures, we anticipate LOTS of storytelling and sharing of memories from people with ties to Rock County. We hope to record stories and uses behind the objects to include on signs by the sculptures. The project will build on Project Food Forest’s efforts to connect people to where their food comes from and inspire them to grow their own. We acknowledge the harm that has been caused as a result of post-colonial industrial agriculture, particularly to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and the environment. There is still need for restructuring or replacing systems and practices in many areas. For centuries, folks in our region have grown food as a means for work, sustenance, or joy. Through this project, we hope to showcase literal pieces of our agricultural past and connect it to the present by inspiring the next generation of growers and land stewards who have the opportunity to build a more equitable and regenerative food system. 

One of the sculptures, which will be created by husband and wife duo Dean and Linda Wenzel, will have a ‘dairy’ theme. This fits nicely with the land it will be installed on, which operated as the Rock County Creamery in the 1800s. Lori Hallstrom, a stained glass and metalwork artist, will be incorporating a variety of objects into another creative sculpture. The third sculpture will be a collaborative project using objects pieced together to represent the likeness of corn. This is where we hope to honor agricultural history that goes back beyond European settlement. Long before immigrants arrived and Minnesota became a state, some Northern Plains Indian tribes in our region practiced agriculture. In Minnesota, The Dakota settled in the prairie areas in southern Minnesota. Their villages dotted the Mississippi, Minnesota, St. Croix, and Cannon River banks. Dakota men were hunters and warriors; Dakota women were farmers. They grew corn, beans, and squash, a planting style known as The Three Sisters. The ‘corn’ sculpture will double as a trellis for pole beans. In South Dakota and North Dakota, the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Yankton, and Teton tribes produced corn for their own use and for trading with other tribes. Native Americans are actually the ones who taught the Europeans to grow corn. It was first grown in central Mexico around 7,000 years ago.

Fast forward to today, and corn is America’s largest crop. According to the US Corn Growers Association, 7.8 million acres were planted in Minnesota in 2019. Corn products are not only used for human consumption and livestock feed, but for ethanol and even plastics. However, with intensive farming methods, topsoil has been lost, biodiversity has been decimated, and much pollution has been created. By using methods of more diverse cropping systems, strip till, no till, cover crop, prairie strips, and use of sensors that help farmers monitor and optimize soil and plants, there is the potential for reversing environmental impacts. It is essential for our survival. By connecting people back to their food system through places like public food forests, behavior change including buying more locally, eating more seasonally, and wasting less are often natural results. Food forests also focus heavily on using perennial crops, which build soil, sequester carbon, and produce a harvest year after year.

The fun thing about the sculpture project is that we don’t fully know what objects we will come across as we begin to seek materials, so designs may shift in the creation process. 

This project will literally and figuratively create new space for connection, reflection, and healing. Nature nourishes. Nutrient dense, regeneratively grown food nourishes. Connection to community nourishes. At Prairie Ally, visitors can experience all of that through the recreation, education, food, and habitat it provides. We believe this project will build more and more intergenerational connections. We hope that people of all backgrounds and cultures come together to share farm and garden memories and wisdom with one another as they stop to stare at the sculptures or sit and enjoy the space.

If anyone has special pieces from farm equipment or garden tools they would like us to consider incorporating into a sculpture, please contact us at 605-951-0227 or [email protected] by October 1.

Thanks to AARP for the generous support that made this project possible to help make this community a great place for all ages.

AARP believes that great communities take a long time to build and sustain. But also believes that “quick actions” can be the spark for long-term progress. Our “quick action” project will demonstrate changes and help build momentum to improve livability for residents of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities right here in Luverne.

For more information on all of this year’s grantees and their projects, go to AARP.org/CommunityChallenge.