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Natural Awakenings Twin Cities

Urban Roots: Growing Healthy Communities

Courtesy of Urban Roots

Empowering youth through nature, healthy food and community is the mission of Urban Roots. Located in East St. Paul, this urban agriculture nonprofit organization engages thousands of youths each year. They offer education, training and work projects that provide service to the community, develop young leaders and improve community health and the environment.

Urban Roots provides paid internships to low income students (ages 14-18) who live or go to school on the East Side of St. Paul. Over 60 interns are employed each year in a progressive program model designed to develop future leaders. Most students return year after year and advance through the following program levels:

  • Seed Crew - Engaging first-year interns in learning basic job skills, teamwork, career exploration, entrepreneurism, financial literacy and accountability.
  • Grow Crew - Providing second-year interns with opportunities in leadership by mentoring the new youth and taking on additional responsibilities.
  • Harvest Crew - With increased hours and responsibility, third-year interns also participate in three hours of field experience each week in which they learn about small businesses thus increasing their skills in entrepreneurship. Interacting with these local businesses helps the students make connections for future education and career paths. This year-long program includes visits to local colleges and participation in their own Toastmasters group. Interns then utilize the skills they learn to conduct public presentations to organizations throughout the Twin Cities. Harvest crew interns also provide tours of the conservation and garden sites.
  • Harvest Stars - Working up to 22 hours a week, these four-year veterans engage in television interviews, present to legislators and produce newsletters and other communications. They also take the lead at Hill City Farmers’ Market and lead Urban Roots’ efforts in Roots for the Home Team, in which they design recipes, name them, grow the vegetables and sell the salads at Twins’ home games.

Interns work in one of the three programs each year, including:

  1. Market Garden - Interns plant, maintain and harvest small-scale crop production within the six urban gardens managed by Urban Roots. With just over one acre of land, they are able to distribute over 13,500 pounds of food a year through community supported agriculture (CSA) shares, the Farmers’ Market and small-batch food preservation for seasonal sales. New this year, they have added a crop of fresh ginger. The youth are also involved in creating the marketing materials for the Farmers’ Market and other retail outlets.
  1. Conservation - Interns participate in the restoration of local parks around the East Side through the removal of invasive plant material, native seed collection and installation of native plants. Youth also engage in citizen science projects, including insect surveys, butterfly counts, water quality studies and forest inventories.
  1. Cook Fresh - Youth interns learn how to prepare food fresh from the garden and create seed-to-table meals for lunches for the summer interns. They also create healthy recipes for affordable meals and help teach youth and family cooking classes. They produce value-added products like salsas, sauces and chutneys for market, increasing their entrepreneurial knowledge.

How to Get Involved

If you are looking to connect in a meaningful way, you can support the work Urban Roots is doing by:

  • Providing financial support. Helps pay youth intern wages and purchase needed program materials like soil amendments, seeds and plant materials. This support is also used to purchase clothing items like raincoats, boots and sweatshirts. Interns are also provided with meals and snacks throughout the day for which expenditure is generally not allowed through the grant programs.
  • Lending your expertise. Technology volunteers, assist with computer and networking maintenance or teach computer skills. Other volunteers, assist with fundraising events, participate in a career panel or provide training job skills. Tradesmen with skills in carpentry, electrical, plumbing and landscaping are also needed for property maintenance.

For more information, visit or email [email protected]. To make a financial donation, visit To volunteer, visit

Read the full December 2022 Magazine