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East Phillips Neighborhood Community and Press Conference a Major Success

By EAST PHILLIPS NEIGHBORHOOD INSTITUTE

 “I can’t in good conscience continue to support unsustainable unimaginable policies that continue to disrupt our communities. I really support this effort to create a more sustainable future for our communities, for our City.” – Minneapolis City Council Vice President and Ward 8 Council Member Andrea Jenkins 

On January 16, the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) hosted a virtual press and community conference to discuss the future of the Roof Depot building. Community members and elected officials joined together in solidarity for the fight towards environmental, racial, and economic justice. Dean Dovolis, EPNI President, began the conference by introducing EPNI’s diverse board of directors and their tenacious commitment in making the community’s vision of the East Phillips Urban Farm a reality. They hope that the 230,000 square foot Roof Depot building at 1860 E 28th St will become a community owned and operated enterprise that includes hydroculture; aquaponics; affordable low-income housing; a world market; community kitchen; entrepreneurial start-up spaces for people of color; and the largest solar array in Minnesota. 

Andrea Jenkins, vice-president of the Minneapolis City Council, spoke passionately about her experience as a civil rights advocate, declaring that racism is “a public health crisis” in the City. 

She pledged her support for the East Phillips Urban Farm, viewing the project as “a way to mitigate harms and address the inequities hoisted upon communities of colors, particularly in the East Phillips neighborhood.” Though Jenkins is just one voice on City Council, she is working to convince her fellow members to stand with East Phillips. 

Veda Kanitz, Chair of the DFL Party Environmental Caucus, gave a compelling speech on the history of environmental racism and health disparities in East Phillips. Kanitz asked, “Where is the justice?” in Minneapolis’ Public Works plan and urged the City Council to “reconsider and allow this community to heal and grow.” Kanitz finished by listing the many attributes of the East Phillips Urban Farm and the importance of investing in green futures for all. 

We heard from MN State Senator Patricia Torres Ray, who recognized East Phillips neighborhood’s “long and difficult journey” in achieving environmental justice. She praised the diversity and resilience of the community, highlighting the power of collective voices coming together. 

MN State Senator Omar Fateh pledged his support for the project, emphasizing the need for capital investment in East Phillips and communities of color. Fateh called the project a “standard for the future” that combines economic opportunity, food security, and sustainability. 

EPNI introduced their investor, Mark Erjavec of Agro Fund One, who restated his commitment to purchase the Roof Depot from the City of Minneapolis and develop the 40,000 square foot hydroponics operation. He pledged a donation for EPNI’s legal fund and offered to support the bond to prevent the City’s demolition of the Roof Depot building. He hopes that the East Phillips Urban Farm will become a model for collective community ownership and green economies. 

Attorney Elizabeth Royal reported on the progress of EPNI’s legal case to challenge the City’s plan in East Phillips, stating that the lawsuit is in the discovery phase and has great merit. She stressed the urgency for financial support, as more funds are needed to stop the Roof Depot demolition. 

This project is made possible through the efforts of the East Phillips community, elected and community leaders, EPNI volunteers, East Phillips Improvement Coalition, Global Shapers, and financial backers. This will be a national model for an equitable community-driven economic opportunity. The  authors of this article are very proud and thankful for the leadership shown by EPNI and the East Phillips community as they continue to work towards making the East Phillips Urban Farm a reality. 

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