Little farm in the big city

Marjorie Otto photo/Review • The Rivoli Bluff Farm, located in the Railroad Island neighborhood at the western end of Minnehaha Avenue, consists of a large garden, an orchard, beehives and a gravel garden for starting trees. New this year, a high tunnel greenhouse is being constructed, which will extend the time for produce to grow. The farm is run by Urban Roots, an East Side youth organization that employs area high school students and teaches them agriculture, cooking and conservation skills.

Marjorie Otto photo/Review • The Rivoli Bluff Farm is located behind 12 new houses that have been constructed by Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services. The farm is included with the new housing development, along with a future bike path that will meander through the plot of land.

Marjorie Otto photo/Review

Marjorie Otto photo/Review

Walking down to the Rivoli Bluff Farm, some may forget they are still in the heart of the city as they breath the smell of fresh-turned soil and watch bees whiz by. 

This farm, which is is managed by Urban Roots and has come into fruition through a number of community partnerships, has been a dream for nearly 30 years. 

Urban Roots is an East Side-based, urban agriculture youth organization that provides East Side high school students with paid internships where they learn various agriculture, cooking and conservation skills while working in the community. 

The farm is about a half acre and nearly doubles the growing acreage available to Urban Roots, said Summer Badawi, the organization’s special projects manager. Rivoli Bluff Farm is located in the Railroad Island neighborhood at the western end of Minnehaha Avenue. Urban Roots also has small growing plots across the East Side.

This particular site includes an orchard with fruit trees, a large garden, a gravel garden used to start tree seedlings, and beehives, which were all installed last year. 

The orchard was planted last year with Super Bowl volunteers as a part of the Super Bowl’s Legacy Fund. 

This year, a new addition has been constructed — a high tunnel greenhouse. This greenhouse was constructed and is being used in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. 

Badawi said the greenhouse will serve as a model and demonstration site for future organizations that may work with the Department of Agriculture.

This greenhouse will allow Urban Roots to extend its growing season — produce can be planted beginning in March and can grow through November. It will also make it possible to add a new crop: ginger.

Badawi said it will be quite a bit different compared to the ginger from the grocery store. It’ll be a lot fresher, which can affect the taste. She said they’ll also be growing cucumbers and different kinds of peppers in the greenhouse. 


New experiences

With the added space and variety of crops that can be produced at the Rivoli Bluff Farm, the site also adds to the experiences and skills the interns will benefit from, Badawi said. 

For example, the hives at the site will be divided this season, which will give interns the chance to learn beekeeping skills, a new thing for Urban Roots. Students in the organizations’ Youth Conservation Program will also be working on planting a pollinator garden near the hives. 

With the organization’s growing space nearly doubling, Urban Roots is hoping to add internship spots. Currently the organization employs about 60 paid interns during the summer. This year the organization was able to hire some of its alumni as additional staff to help prep the new growing area. 

Badawi said this is a really unique and special site not only because of what Urban Roots is doing, but because of what is going on at Rivoli Bluff in general and the community collaboration taking place. 

Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services has been working for years to build homes on the site and create a unique housing development that includes this urban farm.

While development at the site has taken years to come into fruition, during the past year 12 homes have been constructed on the site, all selling right away after being put on the market. More homes are being planned, and a bike path will also be constructed within the year, according to the housing services Executive Director Jim Erchul.

Not only is Rivoli Bluff being used as a unique housing project, a solar garden will also be installed on the site, just up the hill from the farm. The solar garden will be connected to low income households in the neighborhood to provide direct access to renewable energy, the first program of its kind in the state. 

Badawi said Urban Roots is grateful to Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services for letting the organization use the land for this urban farm, and that it’s exciting to have this site come together. 


– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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