Nourish by MN350

Changing the Course of a Neighborhood

February 22, 2022 MN350 Season 3 Episode 2
Nourish by MN350
Changing the Course of a Neighborhood
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Nourish by MN350,  volunteers Shannon Lippke and Jeff Diamond share their interview with three board members of the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) - Dean Dovolis, Karen Clark, and Cassandra Holmes. For years, EPNI has fought on behalf of the East Phillips neighborhood, a majority BIPOC community with a history of rampant air and soil pollution. EPNI has proposed converting a dormant 7.6 acre warehouse into an Indoor Urban Farm facility, featuring hydroponic and aquaponic food production spaces, as well as affordable housing units, a job training center, a solar array, and more. However, the City has proposed to demolish the building and use the site for a new water yard facility. Our guests discuss life in East Phillips, the history of environmental racism the neighborhood has endured, and the benefits the Indoor Urban Farm project could bring. 

Efforts are underway within the Minneapolis City Council to pause the city’s water yard project in East Phillips, known as the Hiawatha Expansion Project. All supporters of EPNI should contact the members of the Minneapolis City Council and the mayor and ask them to support East Phillips and the Indoor Urban Farm Project as soon as possible. Here’s a message prompt with City Council contact info to help!

To learn more about EPNI, visit their website at, or find them on facebook at

To support EPNI in their legal efforts, you can donate to their GoFundMe campaign

Find the full transcript here.

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 Dean Dovolis 00:00

So not only about food sovereignty, but also about economic sovereignty and racial sovereignty. And there's a lot of pieces as part of this. That's why this vision has so much power to it because it changes the course of a neighborhood. We're not just talking about seven acres of building, but when we put all those components into it, it changes the future of a neighborhood and actually starts giving an example to other neighborhoods and other communities of how to manage their own success. 

Sarah Riedl 01:03 

Hello, and welcome to Nourish by MN350. I'm your host Sarah Riedl, Communications Manager at MN350 and MN350 Action, where we're working toward a just transition to a climate resilient future across Minnesota, the homeland of the Anishinaabe, Dakota and Ho-Chunk people. On the show today, we’re going to be talking about the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute, or EPNI, in Minneapolis: an organization fighting to repurpose a 7.6 acre warehouse site into a neighborhood food hub, complete with a year-round organic, urban farm and community kitchen, which is what first attracted our attention. EPNI's proposal is actually much more than just an urban farm - we're talking affordable family housing, solar array, green jobs and job training, retail space, even temporary housing for the homeless. The City, however, has other plans for the site in question. To help us all understand what’s at stake in this project, I’m joined today by two MN350 volunteers, Jeff Diamond and Shannon Lippke. They had the opportunity to discuss the work of EPNI with three of its Board Members: Dean Dovolis, Karen Clark and Cassandra Holmes. It was a truly interesting, eye-opening discussion, and I look forward to sharing it with you all. Shannon and Jeff, thanks for being here today. 

Shannon Lippke 02:24

Hi Sarah.  

Jeff Diamond 02:26

Nice to be here.

Sarah Riedl 02:28

Alright, well, in our last episode, Planting Seeds, we talked with Minnesota State Representative Kaohly Vang Her about the Headwaters Community Food and Water Bill, and about the need for equity-focused policy that responds to the environmental racism regularly inflicted on neighborhoods with a high BIPOC population. East Phillips is one such neighborhood. What do we mean when we say “environmental racism”? For starters, East Phillips is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the Twin Cities. The Little Earth of United Tribes is one of the largest urban American Indian communities in the United States, and accounts for about 30% of East Phillips' population. There is also a large Latinx and East African community, as well as a progressive LGBTQ+ community. It is a relatively small area, and yet, for decades it has been the home to some of the highest pollution producing warehouses and factories in the state. One such building was a chemical plant that produced an arsenic-filled fertilizer during the 1940’s and 1950’s, causing mass contamination of the soil and groundwater in the area, causing short-term and long-term illness and other harms, as we will hear from our guests. To expand on this, Jeff and Shannon, can you tell us a little more about the East Phillips Neighborhood and all the pollution the neighborhood has endured?

Jeff Diamond 03:53

Sure, so East Phillips is a subsection of the Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis. It’s really no more than like 6 or 7 blocks in either direction. As Sarah said, it’s not a large area geographically, and yet so many polluting businesses have been located here. You just talked a bit about the history of the area, but this pattern is continuing all the way up until now. In addition to being located near a freeway and featuring high levels of vehicle pollution, this area currently includes an asphalt production plant, a foundry for producing metal castings, and another foundry nearby. There is also a vacant building known as “The Roof Depot,” that used to be a Sears-Roebucks warehouse, and it’s in this building that EPNI, based on guidance from the East Phillips community, would like to locate the Indoor Urban Farm project. Unfortunately, the city plans to demolish this building and put up a new structure that will be used for their Water Distribution operations, mainly as a space for offices and training facilities, vehicles, and other equipment.    

Sarah Riedl 04:58

Wow. OK. 

Shannon Lippke 05:00

Yeah, and that is not a good idea, because East Phillips residents cannot be subjected to more pollution in their neighborhood. They’ve already been so disproportionately affected by enduring environmental pollution over the years, that in 2017 the City officially designated the area as a Green Zone. Green zones were created to, first, acknowledge that a population in a certain area has been overburdened by poor environmental conditions, and second, give extra attention to improving the health, education and economic prosperity of that area moving forward. There’s now a Southside Green Zone that includes the greater Phillips community and Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, and a Northside Green Zone in North Minneapolis. So the City’s plan to build their new, expanded public works facility in East Phillips completely goes against their own Green Zone policies. The Indoor Urban Farm, on the other hand, aligns perfectly with the Green Zone initiatives. 

Sarah Riedl 6:02

So it sounds like you two had a lot to discuss with EPNI members when you spoke with them last December. 

Jeff Diamond 06:10

Yeah, we somehow both covered a lot of ground and barely scratched the surface, but we look forward to sharing their stories with our listeners.  

Sarah Riedl 06:18

As do I, so let’s dive in!

Shannon Lippke 06:22

Today we’re speaking with three board members of the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute. Which is a mouthful, so the organization is most commonly referred to as E-P-N-I or EPNI. EPNI is a local nonprofit for the East Phillips Neighborhood in Minneapolis, and was formed in 2014 to further develop plans for an Indoor Urban Farm on a vacant warehouse site located in their community. This area is known as the Roof Depot Site, and a lot of people probably know the area because of its iconic water tower that’s kinda shaped like a little red-roofed barn with the words “Roof Depot” written on it. The property spans 7.6 acres and includes a 230,000 square foot warehouse. So it’s pretty big. Our first guest is Karen Clark. Karen has been an East Phillips resident for more than 40 years, is a former State Representative, and is the Activist Executive Director of the Women’s Environmental Institute. Karen also sits on the Southside Green Zone Council.  Karen, thank you for being here with us today. 

Karen Clark 07:29

Thank you. 

Jeff Diamond 07:32

We’re also joined today by Dean Dovolis. Dean is the Board President of EPNI and is a long-time supporter of the East Phillips neighborhood. As the head of DJR Architecture, Dean has worked on a number of community development and affordable housing projects throughout his career. He is also the head architect for renovating the old Roof Depot site for the Indoor Urban Farm project. Thank you for being here with us, Dean. 

Dean Dovolis 07:59

Thank you. And thank you for covering our story. Very much appreciated. 

Shannon Lippke 08:05

Our third guest and E-P-N-I board member is Niiwin Muck-Wa Ikwe, which translates as Four Bears Woman. We know her best as Cassandra Holmes. Cassandra is a longtime East Phillips resident and member of Little Earth United Tribes Community. Little Earth is not a reservation; it’s actually the only urban Indian preference housing complex in the country, and at last count, has about 1,000 residents and represents 38 different tribes. Cassandra is the Indigenous Community Engagement Facilitator for EPNI and is also a member of the Southside Green Zone Council. This fight is particularly personal for Cassandra after losing her son Trinidad as a result of complications from a heart condition in 2013, believed to be as a result of long term toxic exposure. Cassie, Thank you so much for being here and telling us about the importance of this project as well. 

Cassie Holmes 09:00

Thank you and thank you to your listeners. 


Jeff Diamond 09:02

Dean, for starters, could you expand a bit on the history of EPNI? 

Dean Dovolis 09:04

So the first point I want to make is that E-P-N-I is really a creation of the community. And that's what I really want to emphasize. This is not invented by me, this is not invented by city staff, or outside people. It really was created by the East Phillips community. This is really their invention. I've had the privilege of being sort of the corporate hand that's guided the vision and sort of took the words and gave it a physical reality to it. The key word, it's the neighborhood, it's the East Phillips community that really is driving this thing. This group was formed to organize this project, and this group was formed to receive money for this. I have to give credit to the community, they've raised over half a million dollars in this project through state funds, a lot through individual donations to make this dream come true. So it's a very long sustained effort to really bring hydroculture, aquaculture and other related jobs directly within the communities so that people can really have their own food sovereignty. There's a lot of other aspects with this, but the core issue is really the essence of food sovereignty within the East Phillips community.

Shannon Lippke 10:32

Cassie and Karen, since EPNI is, as Dean says, a creation of the community, I would love to hear you talk a bit more about your community. What is East Phillips like?

Cassie Holmes 10:40

For me, East Phillips is really the only home I have ever known, for all my life. I actually did move out into Uptown, and shortly after that is when I lost my son to his heart condition. And East Phillips Little Earth was, like, that comfort place for me that I wanted to move back to, so I moved back into Little Earth after I lost my child. So for me East Phillips and Little Earth has given me so much, much more than what I've ever given to the community. They've given me family, even though I do have a big family and a lot of family support, but just to be around my people, to be around community that know me, that I know that love me and love my family and are very supportive. So for me, East Phillips, Little Earth is all about family and support and community, and is just a really great place to be for the people. 

Shannon Lippke 11:41

Karen, how would you describe the East Phillips neighborhood? 

Karen Clark 11:45

Well, it's been my home for more than 40 years now. And for 38 of those years, I had the honor of representing it in the Minnesota House of Representatives, the state legislature, one of four neighborhoods, but it's my home. It's a neighborhood that I love, because it's very determined to be self-directive, I think, as was mentioned a little bit earlier. We've had numerous grassroots led fights in this neighborhood to make it a more healthy, safe place to live. And I love the the neighbors that I have. It's a very diverse neighborhood. It's a neighborhood that over these 38 years has gone through some changes. One of the things that has not changed is the strong presence of the American Indian community through Little Earth. That's, that's just a solid, constant. And I hope a permanent part of East Phillips, the neighborhood has been a place where new immigrant folks have come, new Americans have come as immigrants over the years, and you know, most recently, two groups have come in. These are my neighbors who I really love: the Latinx community, and the East African Community, particularly the Somali community. And so it's a neighborhood that is very determined to win this fight for environmental justice that we're involved in. And I think we will. But it's not easy, because this is one of the lowest income neighborhoods in the whole state of Minnesota, certainly in the city of Minneapolis. And we're struggling with a lot of toxic exposures that make environmental injustice, a real problem for us. 

Shannon Lippke 13:37

And Karen, how did we get to this point? Where this very notably diverse, little pocket of the city has so much pollution, from both past and present sources?

Karen Clark 13:50

Well, that's the right question to be asked. And I think, you know, probably a simple way to answer it is environmental racism. You know, the kind of decisions that were made at various levels of city, county and state that just allowed pollution to be concentrated in this neighborhood. Parts of it were pretty industrialized way back when the railroad was running through it. But the state and this county chose to build freeways and county highways and roads all in and through, and city streets, very busy one way city streets in and through this neighborhood, East Phillips. A lot of the pollution that we experience now is from traffic. It's from several industries that have been located in this community for generations, and allowed to spew toxic pollutants into the air without correction. There's two major ones, you know, they have been out of compliance with a permit. They don't have an up to date permit for more than 20 years. That was a decision that was allowed to happen at the state level. We passed some laws to change that, but enforcing them has been the challenge. So, I guess it's the willingness of the city at this point, to allow, you know, more contamination to come into this neighborhood from their own project. Because what they would do would be bringing more and more traffic congestion into the area. And probably the worst thing is that they would be unearthing and bringing up for exposure, for more air pollution, the arsenic that is in the ground in East Phillips that made it part of a national arsenic residential Superfund site. Until a few years ago, it was cleaned up, but it's still in the ground underneath the property that we're trying to build this indoor urban farm on. We will not disrupt that land, we will build atop it, but the city would be going into the ground and doing the construction, and in the process, knocking down that building, the huge roof depot, a 230,000 square-foot building. They would be knocking it down and disrupting what we call encapsulated arsenic, toxic arsenic in the ground. So it's been past decisions - to answer your question - and it’s current proposals that have made this an area where we constantly deal with disproportionate toxic exposure to our residents.

Jeff Diamond 16:19

So where did all of this arsenic come from? Is this why we always hear about the “arsenic triangle” when discussing this issue?  

Karen Clark 19:26

The arsenic triangle refers to the area where a former pesticide plant was located that created a pesticide whose main element was arsenic. And it's where all of the pollution emanated from by blowing around from piles of arsenic on the ground. And then also they had liquid arsenic, which went down into the ground in which we have been told is has reached our aquifer below our neighborhood and is moving towards the Mississippi River.

Jeff Diamond 17:00

Wow, that all sounds pretty alarming. You mentioned that things got so bad that the federal government had to conduct an emergency clean-up effort. Can you talk a little about what that was like, both for the neighborhood and for you personally? 

Karen Clark 17:16

The designation of parts of Phillips neighborhood, particularly East Phillips, and then just a little bit of the adjoining neighborhoods, is a federal designation. The United States government declared it a Residential Arsenic Superfund site, which means that the toxic pollution that is present in such a site is so serious that the federal government needs to come in with its resources to help clean it up. It's too much for a local government to do, and it's urgent enough that it gets on to a federal list. In our case there were almost 600 homes, including my own, that had our yards tested and found that we had a level of arsenic that was too toxic for us to live with. I came home from the legislature, walked in my back door, out to the front yard, and when I opened the door, I saw these men in their white covered up suits, asking me to come over and sign this document. And as I walked across my lawn to sign the documents, they said, “Oh, no, no, don't walk on that lawn. It's very dangerous!”  And I said, “I've been living here for decades. I'm going to walk across it to get you to sign this.” And then they began at the curb going down 12 inches into the ground, and began scooping up my front yard and my two side yards, and went downwards towards my foundation about 15 inches. And so they took all that, put it in a big truck, and hauled it away to another part of Minnesota to a landfill. And they did that over and over to just about 600 of my neighbors. It’s major, I mean, you can talk to many neighbors in East Phillips and they've had their yards removed. And then they brought in supposedly clean dirt to replace it, and in the process, they took down trees, and all kinds of plants, landscaping flowers, and stuff that we appreciated. They tried to restore some of them, but you know, it's never quite been the same.

Sarah Riedl 19:23

We’re gonna take a short break right now. While away, here is a message from a supporter of EPNI’s Indoor Urban Farm Project. 

Ruhel Islam 19:34

Hello everyone. My name is Ruhel Islam and I am the owner of Ghandi Mahal Restaurant. And I am very interested in the East Phillips Neighborhood Project. As you know, the last two years we have had the Coronavirus problem, then we had unrest and then our business was burned down after that. In Gandhi Mahal as you know, we've been doing aquaculture, one of the first indoor restaurants in the whole country according to some media. And after the burn down, we're really interested to establish it here in the East Phillips neighborhood. Now we need help from the city and government and new elected officials. You know, they’re all talking about justice. This is an opportunity for all of you to show that you care about justice not only talking or watching. Take the action and get it done. The whole world is watching Minneapolis. Let's start environmental justice close to our home right here. You don't have to go all the way up to COP26. We can say we’ll do it, and next year I think somewhere they'll do COP27, we can say we did this. 

Sarah Riedl 20:44

Welcome back everybody. Prior to the break we heard from Karen Clark about the horrific and deadly arsenic contamination experienced in East Phillips. As awful as the site cleanup sounds, it does sound like an extensive clean-up was done. Has this cleanup improved conditions? 

Jeff Diamond 21:00

Unfortunately, we’re not seeing much evidence of that. The arsenic has been a big part of this problem, but the pollution issues go way beyond arsenic. We talked earlier about the other ongoing causes of pollution, and they still seem to be negatively affecting air, soil, and water quality. The EPA’s Environmental Justice Index puts East Phillips in the 95th percentile or higher of risk within Minnesota for particulate matter, ozone, respiratory hazard, traffic volume and proximity, and every other pollution risk that they measure. 

Sarah Riedl 21:33

OK - that certainly doesn’t sound like things have improved, but clearly it’s not for lack of trying on the part of the community, having developed the plan for this Indoor Urban Farm project. Has the City been supportive of the community's efforts? 

Shannon Lippke 21:50

Not…really…no. The community was certainly on board. After all, EPNI designed the Indoor Urban Farm project by directly involving community members in the process and incorporating their ideas into this comprehensive, holistic project. In 2015, EPNI was negotiating the purchase of the Roof Depot site with the owner, and things were going well. It was priced at about $5 million, but they were raising a lot of money. They were awarded a $320,000 grant from DEED - you know, Minnesota’s own Department of Employment and Economic Development. They were getting money from various donors, direct from community members, and local businesses and entrepreneurs were committing to setting up shop there. But then, the City of Minneapolis bought the Roof Depot site out from under them for $7 million, and threatened eminent domain. 

Sarah Riedl 21:50

So they were in the process of acquiring the property, but the City actually bought it out from under them? 

Shannon Lippke 22:44

Yep. And there’s been an ongoing political and legal battle since then to determine the fate of The Roof Depot site. 

Jeff Diamond 23:04

Right. Last October, the City Council voted 7 to 6 to approve moving forward with the City’s proposed Hiawatha Expansion Project, which will use the Roof Depot site to bring a new Public Works water and maintenance yard. The expanded Public Works facility would serve as a city hub, so it would house more than 400 commercial city vehicles, larger maintenance vehicles and equipment like water and sewer pipes and manhole covers. And it would include a multi-story parking ramp for the 400-plus employee vehicles that would be coming into the facility each day. As of now, approval is in place for the Expansion Project to move forward. 

Sarah Riedl 23:45

So is the city moving on demolition then? Have they said why they are choosing the Hiawatha Expansion plan over the community’s plan? 

Shannon Lippke 23:55

Some elected officials released statements after the vote to try and justify their decisions, and their responses have been interesting. We actually wanted to give our guests a chance to respond to some of those City Councilmembers' explanations. 

Sarah Riedl 24:06

Alright, let’s hear what they had to say. 

Shannon Lippke 24:08

Before the final City Council vote last October on whether to move forward with the City’s Hiawatha Expansion Project or pause it, Council member Jeremiah Ellison, who once expressed support for the Indoor Urban Farm, ultimately voted in favor of the Hiawatha Expansion Project. In an explanation on Twitter, I’m paraphrasing a lot, but he said something about it being better from an environmental perspective to just demolish the building and remove the arsenic from underground to prevent further contamination of the soil and groundwater. That seems to contradict what you’re saying about keeping the building intact and not disrupting the existing arsenic. Can anyone speak to that idea? 

Dean Dovolis 25:00

Yes, it's an absolute wrong assumption, because the building was built in 1946 and it was originally built as a Sears distribution center. This building was built adjunct to the railroad line, to supply the inventory, to feed all the Sears stores in the region. So when it was built, a lot of the grading occurred, not necessarily to remove the arsenic, but to remove the soil, and grade the site. The city's clean up plan does not include soil remediation, because they're just going to deal with the strictly surface grading, remove it, and then basically make it a storage lot. So, there is no underground arsenic remediation in their plan, it’s strictly topical. And the fact is, that by destroying the building, by disturbing the soil, by creating the dust, they are somewhat recreating the historical arsenic problem, which began with, as Karen mentioned, large stockpiles of arsenic, which blew in the wind and thus contaminated the neighborhood. So they're going to reopen up this whole issue. But yet, their budget isn't getting at the groundwater contamination, or the deep soil conditions. It's strictly topical. So there is no real, clear arsenic removal, or solving the problem on it unfortunately, because of the demolition, it makes the whole episode occur all over again. So, that is a, I won't use the word “falsehood”, I’ll use the term “misunderstanding” of really what the city's cleanup plan entails. And doesn't really describe what would occur during the process of the demolition and deconstruction of the building, and disturbing of the soil. So it's not like, it'll make the situation better. It won't improve anything by removing the building on an environmental basis, but actually will exaggerate, and make it much worse. 

Cassie Holmes 26:35

Can I just add, like, I think that's misinformation. There's a lot of misinformation that's put out by city staff, not only about that particular topic and statement, but also you know, about that area needs to be under the city's plan, because it's going to be better for our water. Nothing will change with our water, except it will get worse with all the new pollution in the air, and it's got to come down somewhere. And I've literally had a council member ask me if I want clean air or clean water. In City Hall, that was a question asked to me. So it was really upsetting because that let me know that they didn't actually fully understand what they were signing on. Karen and Dean know more about this, but the City doesn’t monitor those small particles that people will be breathing in. And they can't say what’s safe for what type of body type. Do you know what I mean? So it's really dangerous. And for me, and I've said it numerous times, this is another form of genocide. And this is why I talk about when people do land acknowledgement- and especially city staff and then they support this. They are literally going to be doing genocide and reaching 38 different tribes, if not more, at one time, and we are already losing people. I can't imagine the loss this would mean for not only for Little Earth, but all of East Phillips and surrounding communities.

Dean Dovolis 28:10

You know, Cassie has paid the ultimate price unfortunately with her son. As you mentioned before, the misinformation, and it was Councilmember Bender that tried to create the argument, clean water, versus bad water and really set that whole situation she made comparisons to Michigan with the lead pipes and laid out a very emotional argument. The reality is, this has nothing to do with water quality because no water is being processed here. What the city is proposing is strictly a storage yard to store pipe water mains, hydrants, water meters, elements like that - to store their diesel trucks there, having them come in and out. It's absolutely divorced from the water process but really is strictly, which I'll say, a service truck parking area and that basis, so there is no equation between the two. Yet, the argument became this dichotomy between like Cassie said, “Do you want clean water or not?” and has nothing to do with that. That became the situation and became the argument. So that was sort of the basis where some of the council members are forced to say, “Oh, gee, do you want to support clean water, or we want to support clean air?” and so forth. And none of that's the case, it's simply a storage yard that unfortunately brings a heavy impact in the neighborhood because of the amount of diesel trucks being brought out. So even if you get look past the demolition, and look past the soil disruption, and you look at the operation to where they had up to 400 diesel trucks coming in and out a day, plus they’re building a parking ramp that holds 300 to 500 cars, you can imagine the cumulative effect of the additional ongoing pollution that would occur in the neighborhood for many, many decades. Because once a yard goes in, it's a permanent fixture that will never go away. So it's like we pay twice, once through demolition and interruption of the soil. And then the neighborhood pays every year by the continued operations of what this represents, and sort of the truck traffic, the car traffic and diesel traffic, and all the operations within it. And then the neighborhood pays again for the lost opportunity, because when they build a yard like this, it may employ 50 union jobs. That's it. There won't be up to the 1,000 jobs that could be created out of the hydroculture, aquaculture, and food operations of it. So it's a heavy, heavy price that the neighborhood will pay for this and has nothing to do with the quality of water. 

Sarah Riedl 30:45

OK, so it seems like some of these arguments were flimsy at best, and maybe even misleading. Have there been other arguments or any attempts at compromise by the City? 

Shannon Lippke 30:55

Another argument by the City that I heard is that it’s too late to change course now because millions of dollars of public money have already been invested in the Hiawatha Expansion Project. They also say the site now costs $13 million (up from $5 million in 2015)  and they’ve expressed doubt in EPNI’s ability to secure those kinds of funds…and generate revenue with their progressive business model. When they passed the Hiawatha Expansion Plan in October, they did set aside 3-acres for community-led development as a compromise. 

Jeff Diamond 31:35

Right, but, in order to offer that “compromise,” they got rid of initial plans to include a job training center on the site, which is something that’s always been critical to EPNI’s proposal. More importantly, it still calls for the demolition of this historic 230,000 square foot warehouse and still moves forward with the Hiawatha Expansion project. At the very least, this plan is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions and worsen the air quality in the short-term through the demolition and construction processes, as well as the increased vehicle pollution. 

Sarah Riedl 32:10

So really there are two overlapping but separate issues here: advancing the community’s urban farm proposal forward, but also just preventing the city from making the problem worse. 

Jeff Diamond 32:24

Absolutely. EPNI has a slogan - “Stop the Harm, Urban Farm,” and it was clear in our discussions that they are extremely passionate about both aspects of that. Even when we moved forward to focus on the indoor urban farm project, it was clear that minimizing and reversing the harm already done was a clear priority. 

Shannon Lippke 32:44

And hopefully both parts of that slogan can be realized. As we’ve stated, plans for the Indoor Urban Farm Plan very much followed the principle, for the community by the community, and EPNI as a non-profit was born out of trying to make the community’s vision a reality. And this is a plan that is truly an inspiring model for the type of resilient community we have to build to address the climate crisis. This plan does so, and it does so with a focus on racial equity. 

Sarah Riedl 33:16

Absolutely. Well let’s hear a little more from our guests about this project then.   

Jeff Diamond 33:20

So I would love to focus a bit on the Indoor Urban Farm project now. Maybe Cassie or Dean, could you tell us a bit more about it? 

Dean Dovolis 33:30

Cassie, do you want to start? 

Cassie Holmes 33:32

Sure. So, and I really love that we want to focus on this. But it is also really important to know, like, even if this doesn't happen or something else, what the real dangers are, because it's real, right, we want people to understand just how real this is. We're losing people, it's lives that are at stake. The community vision would be all about, you know, green education, green jobs, green living, green training, second chance jobs. This is for our community, to actually, you know, have opportunities right here, that they can move up in. I always tell a story about Little Earth and how we got some funding and we're like, we want to create something that's like a stepping stone to the bigger vision of the East Phillips indoor urban farm. So what we did at Little Earth was, we had hired some kids, some youth in the community to actually work. My Aunt Joleen Jones was the executive director in term at the time. So it was two hours a day. But at the end of all this, we had, we had a bunch of youth who came to work every day, learned about food, learned about, you know, indigenous stories that had to do with food and medicines, really worked on the farm, got to learn some of the history about pollution and why it was so important that they understand what's going on. And here we are with these kids that are growing radishes, who have never seen a radish. And probably never, you know, never tasted, you know, some kids never tasted a radish. And they're like, growing them, they're caring for them. And then they're enjoying eating them and sharing them with their family. And they're so proud. And at the end of all this, these kids had made up to like $300-$500 each, and community members who volunteered took these kids shopping for school. So these kids worked their butts off, learned to love food and learned to work with the Earth, made their own money, went and bought their own school clothes, and was so excited for the first day of school to show off what they worked for. So this was just something that was so successful. And it was on such a smaller scale of what the community vision would be that I mean, telling that story alone and how that started was a lot of kids who weren’t making school, they weren’t going to school, and that’s for a lot of reasons - asthma, you know, a lot of them didn’t have nice clothes, nice shoes, and one of our teenagers told my Aunt Joleen at the time, like, you need to listen to that because I was that kid and I started selling weed to make my money and now I’m in the court system, so you need to listen to that. And that’s where this idea came from to hire kids and they made their money you know, they worked really hard and they were proud. With the murder of George Floyd, the little Earth Farm, because you know, with all the stores being burned down, it was our farm that was able to pack up all our fruit and vegetables and share with the people in our community in East Phillips, especially our elders and our people who didn't have ways to drive out to stores. That's just on a smaller scale. So I can't imagine to be able to provide thousands of jobs for people in our community. There's also a coffee shop. The community vision is all about community for community. So the coffee shop was to, you know, have the youth run it to be on the board so they can gain skills, you know, for their future and also for community members, that to have a space to share their crafts, their artwork, to sell, or just to share, and, you know, a gathering, but the whole community vision is just something so beautiful, because, you know, it would have had our plan was to have low income housing, you know, solar paneling on top, a bike shop right there that's right there on the Greenway. You know, and Dean can touch more about it on everything like that, but it's just a beautiful vision. And it's just, you know, I just can't believe we're fighting for something that just makes sense. 

Jeff Diamond 37:20

Dean, do you want to add on to what Cassie has shared about some other components of the Indoor urban farm plan? 

Dean Dovolis 37:28 

So I'll try to keep it concise, but there's a lot to cover here because it is a beautiful complex project and Cassie really gave it’s sole reason why I came into being. What she stated is important and sort of became the nucleus of why this became such a passion project.The obvious components are hydroculture and aquaculture as major components and we’ve had requests from the three major communities, through the Native American, through Latinx and through East African, to develop their own plots, their own urban indoor urban farm, their own aquaculture. Ruhel, who owns Gandhi Mahal says I would grow all my food within this building. He's the famous person on Lake Street that said let my building burn for justice. He came forward and wanted to do it. So you have a corps of residents that want to grow their hydro culture agriculture, commercially within this building, which is an outstanding way because it gives a tremendous level of jobs. And it's not just your typical tech jobs that require coding, people innately know how to grow food. So that'd be a core of it. And we have both a lot of community members that have raised their hand that want to be in this building. And also commercial companies, like Blue Water farms, and so forth. So a core of that would be the hydroculture and aquaculture. But in addition, as Cassie mentioned, the cafe, youth run, a world market, a bike shop that's on the Greenway, small housing for the homeless; the union training center would be part of this, which use the truck bays, right now they have it up and Hugo, it'd be brought down to the cities and create direct access for the residents to work this; new construction housing for adjusted median income at 30%. And then, as Cassie mentioned, we will have a solar array be the largest in Minnesota 220,000 square feet. It could generate up to $400,000 a year in tax credits and income to the roof people or to the neighborhood, depending on how that gets distributed. To have a tremendous solar energy revenue that comes off of this. 

Jeff Diamond 39:40

And who exactly would own the building under this plan? Would it be EPNI?

Dean Dovolis 39:45

It would be community-owned. Think of the Green Bay Packers, I try to give the example that most people are familiar with - it would have three tiers of ownership: the community, East Phillips residents would be the first tier at the least cost per share. The tenants themselves can buy into the building and be the second tier of shares. And outside investors would be the third. The key is that the asset would be owned and managed by the community, so that community members can start taking advantage of what real estate brings, which is intergenerational wealth, tax credits, appreciation, all those elements that are sort of reserved for private sector developers now would be brought in the community. So what that does is start creating wealth within the community, education of the community, ownership with the community, and maintains a building. 

Jeff Diamond 40:32

Wow, I’m not a city planner, but it really seems like you all have thought of everything. 

Dean Dovolis 40:36

We did analysis, and it was Bruce Ferguson who I work with, who was one of the leaders at George Floyd Square, but also very intelligent business consultant. And we've discovered that over a 10 year period, if we let the city go with their yard, based on the number of union jobs, could create about $60 million in revenue. And it'd be about 60 jobs. If the community building goes forward, it'd be about 1,000 jobs and represent $600 million, over 10 years, coming into the East Phillips neighborhood. So it's a huge difference in what the future means between the city service yard, and between this agricultural project. So not only about food sovereignty, but also about economic sovereignty and racial sovereignty. And there's a lot of pieces as part of this. That's why this vision has so much power to it because it changes the course of a neighborhood. We're not just talking about seven acres of building, but when we put all those components into it, it changes the future of a neighborhood and actually starts giving an example to other neighborhoods and other communities of how to manage their own success. 

Karen Clark 41:43

If I could add one other dimension to this is, you know, “why farming?” Because food is a public health strategy towards healing a lot of the environmental illnesses that people experience in our community. So for example, one of our highest environmental injustice situations deals with childhood lead poisoning. What is the way that a family in East Phillips or anywhere deals with a childhood lead poisoning, it has to do with the nutrition that they are able to take in to help their body throw out the toxic lead depriving their brain and neurological system of oxygen. Green, leafy green vegetables, other other kinds of vegetables will help that little body is a toddler disease, childhood lead poisoning is mostly and it'll help that little body throw out the toxins. So urban farming is a strategy towards environmental justice, especially regenerative urban farming and some of the aquaponics. And other strategies that we're talking about here, are really helping to put good protein, good vitamins and minerals, throw out the toxins that are there and help heal the environmental racism from a public health strategy. I just wanted to say that because those little children who are learning to grow, those foods are actually helping to heal their bodies.

Dean Dovolis 42:59 


Shannon Lippke 43:01

That's a really good point, Karen, thank you. Everything I'm hearing sounds amazing, and like a very well thought out plan that really meets the need for environmental and economic justice through a culturally conscious framework. What kind of feedback have you received from the community about this plan?

Dean Dovolis 43:21

How fast? How fast can you get this going? And the other contrast is, is how, how can they not, the city referring to, how can they not want this project? That's probably the most common thing. How can they not understand what this could bring and what this could do?

Shannon Lippke 43:39

So you're saying that the community has been very supportive of the plan, but the city has not?

Dean Dovolis 43:45 

Absolutely, it's, it's insane. We're fighting our own city on this. And it's really city staff. City staff set a direction to destroy this building and develop the service yard, and they cannot get off that direction. And unfortunately, I don't want to get into the negative details. But it's almost like cancer within our own bodies, we’re sort of fighting our own city government to make something good. But, fortunately, with the change of leadership and council, we’re in a much much better position because the four candidate elects are fiercely for this project. They see the benefits it can give, they sort of come with a fresh perspective that's not influenced by internal city staff. And because of that, we really now have a chance to make this happen.

Jeff Diamond 44:35

There’s another layer to all this we haven’t really mentioned yet, which is your ongoing legal battle over the City’s plans to build the water yard in your neighborhood, part of which is attempting to enforce the Clark Bergland Environmental Justice Law - a law that Karen, you proposed and got passed during your time as a State Representative. 

Karen Clark 44:55 

The law that is being referred to here, and that is some of the basis for suing the city, is a unique law in the whole country. And it was passed in 2008. After the organization that I work with now and have helped start many years ago called the Women's Environmental Institute, we did some mapping of the toxic exposures of the community in East Phillips and we put on the map the disproportionate impact of a number of toxic exposures, including the things that cause asthma, that cause childhood lead poisoning, the arsenic contamination, and the traffic congestion. We put those on a map. And in 2008, we passed a law that said, because there is this disproportionate occurrence of these specific health problems in our city in two neighborhoods, basically, the Phillips neighborhood and then the Northside Neighborhood. We need a stronger law, we need some specific protection. And the law that was passed said that before any polluting company or agency, including government can bring a pollution source into this neighborhood, within a half a mile, what's called the arsenic triangle, half a mile of where that original arsenic plant was, there is going to be a heavier standard, a more strict standard for what you're allowed to put into the air. The threshold by which we measure what you're allowed to do, has to look at the cumulative health burden on the people who live there. What are their health problems already? And because we mapped and showed that there's this incredible concentration of environmentally caused diseases in East Phillips and right around there. The law said, Okay, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, okay, Minnesota Department of Health, you need to raise the standard here and require that any agency has less pollution than they would have if they were in some other neighborhood. Less pollution allowed: a stricter threshold. And the problem is the city of Minneapolis has basically said, Oh, we're not covered by that law. I mean, it's incredible. It's a state law- it covers our city as well as every other part of Minnesota and I shouldn't say it covers at all it's restricted to the area within a half a mile of the arsenic triangle; but it covers any entity in the rest of the state that would come in and cause harm there. So that's that law is some of what’s been the basis for the lawsuit. The city again, denies that they're covered by it. It's an unbelievable battle that we have to fight. There are numerous companies that tried to come into East Phillips, and were stopped because of this law. So the city should be stopped because of this law.

Cassie Holmes 47:37 

And can I just briefly say too, the green zones were put in place by the city council, and, you know, a lot of their platforms are about, you know, greener this and better that, so the fact that we have to fight so hard, and get people to understand who sit on, you know, who, and I will, and I, and these are my words, you know, that sit on the council or the past ones, they have this platform, and they weren't held accountable. And when we did try to hold them accountable, they acted like they didn't have to answer to us, you know, their constituents. And it was really sad, because, you know, they, they did all this, they, they helped get the green zones in place. And then it's like, they left it, and that was it. And they thought, like, okay, they did something, and maybe that was good enough, but it wasn't, and, and it's not good enough. And, I just feel like, there's maybe some new hope with some of the people on here. And hopefully, they follow through with what they were saying, while they were running. And now that they're seated in office, you know, that they hold themselves accountable. And they really ask themselves, like, you know, we want to follow through with what we were saying, and we want to help the community and we want to do what's best. It's not just about money and land, it's about lives. And really being able to move forward and our future generations to move forward in life and to have for us to leave something for them to grow on, and not have to still fight and fight and fight like we've been doing all this time. But you know, I just wanted to say that. 

Dean Dovolis: 48:56 

Now the good news is, as EPNI, we fought very hard for the candidates who support the urban farm, and they basically all won. So what was a previous board under the old council, we lost six to seven. Under the council elect, we may have a supermajority and the candidate elects that have come on board are extremely enthusiastic of this project. So we have a lot of hope with this new council, and they're willing to bring forth a resolution in support of this project. So because of that, we really believe that this will be successful. I couldn't say that under the old Council. But under the council elect, we have a very good chance of making history as part of this. And all the efforts of Cassie and Karen or the community is really going to come to light because of the new council and their understanding of the project, and sort of their freedom for not being influenced by city staff, and they see the urban farm as a method of allowing that to occur. Enough so that some of the candidates said, what you've done here, with urban farm, we want to use ideas of that on the redevelopment of Lake and Nicolett, the Kmart site, because we see a real model that can really guide communities into the future. So due to the hard work of the community, Karen, and Cassie, this thing is really starting to root and I think it could be very successful. It's not done till it's done. But it's a lot better story today than it was before the elections. If we could get the vote, everything goes our way, we literally could be open in six months. So the dream is not so distant. Once you get to go ahead and a half a year. It's showtime. So I just want to emphasize that this is something of the present, and not the future.

Sarah Riedl: 50:57 

Let’s take another quick break here, and when we come back we’ll talk about how our listeners can support EPNI and their fight for the indoor urban farm. But first, let’s hear from another EPNI supporter. 

Councilmember Jason Chavez: 51:10 

Hi everyone, my name is Jason Chavez and I'm the councilmember for the Ninth Ward. And I represent the East Phillips neighborhood where I was born and raised in, and a big supporter of EPNI's project with the East Phillips indoor Urban Farm project that would bring affordable housing, small businesses, a training center, and a better future for our residents here not only the Ninth Ward, but in the Phillips neighborhoods, specifically to our black, brown, indigenous and immigrant people that live in the surrounding areas. And in the coming weeks, we're proposing to pause the Hiawatha Campus Expansion Project to rescind the action that was made back a couple months ago and move forward with the East Phillips Indoor Urban Farm project to make sure that we can have breathable air for our children, good employment opportunities for the people that live here, and a better future for everybody in our neighborhoods.

Sarah Riedl: 52:03 

Well, we have covered a lot in this episode! And it’s clear the Indoor Urban Farm is not just a plan for a local food hub, but is an ongoing example of so many other social - environmental - economical - racial - and legal issues, and food sovereignty is really at the heart of it! What really stands out to me when listening to Dean, Karen and Cassie is their passion for this project. 

Shannon Lippke 52:29 

Yes. Cassie actually conducted that entire interview in her car. We met up a week earlier at a Community Informational Meeting, and she was so excited to talk to us - they all were - but they were all so busy, it was hard to find a time to all meet. But the fact that they so eagerly created, when they really didn’t have any free time to spare, just shows how dedicated they all are to this plan. And Karen was actually recording from her friend’s house, because she too had just finished another meeting and didn’t have time to go home first!    

Jeff Diamond: 53:02

Yeah that really struck me as well, just how inspiring and dedicated they are, and how thoroughly they’ve been able to develop their plans and how successful they have been at inspiring others to support this project. They’ve got 10 signed letters of intent from professionals who want to build out their businesses in that space, and they've got community support. The City received more than 2,000 public comments in opposition to building the new public works yard in East Phillips and very few in support of it. 

Sarah Riedl 53:33

Yeah, our guests sound hopeful in the prospects of it becoming a reality with the recent changeups in City Council after last November’s elections. Yet they’re still pretty candid that they need more support so let’s talk about that. How can listeners help? 

Jeff Diamond 43:48 

I know we could go on for hours, clearly. But I want to respect everyone’s time so let’s move onto our final question. Karen, what can our listeners do to support EPNI and also to support the Southside Green Zone Council?

Karen Clark 54:00

Well, one of the things is to contact the city council members, even if you don't live in East Phillips, or especially I guess, if you don't live in East Phillips. We have strong support from our own East Phillips city council member, but we need to make sure that all of the Minneapolis city council members stay with us that are newly elected, and the ones who have been with us throughout the whole struggle. Contact those city council members. There’s going to be a resolution, and it's going to do a couple of things. It's going to say let's put a pause on the city's project proposal. Pause it. Don't you dare go forward and start knocking down those buildings or digging up the ground. Pause it, and then let the neighborhood's projects see the light of day and be discussed.

Dean Dovolis  54:44

So that's part of it, writing to the council and letting them know. And even an EAW had 1,000 responses. So there's a broad base of support for this. But the second thing, because we're in a legal tussle, we need donations and money. Anybody, any listener, can donate money in this period, that will really help our cause in terms of keeping the vision going. And, obviously, defending ourselves against the city on this litigation to preserve the building, because the city is still intent, under the old Council resolution, to tear this building down, and that will not happen. But getting your support will really make sure it doesn't happen. And the fact that we can really start progress on the future of this, so, write the city council members, let them know your position on this, donate to EPNI because we’re an official 501(3)(c) so it’s obviously tax-deductible. And you can really help create a future of community ownership, hydroculture, aquaculture, food sovereignty, racial equality is all mixed in this so really, really can show what a future economy in the US could look like. 

Karen Clark 55:55

I just wanted to add, the Southside Green Zone, we're trying to have a hearing on the suppressed report of a better alternative site at the original water yard’s location. And we are kind of astounded that it took a whistleblower to allow this information about an alternative to pushing this down into East Phillips. They could have stayed over at the existing site with renovation, saved money, been loved by the neighborhood over there and not added to our pollution burden. We hope they have the whistleblower or some of that person's allies come forward with this report. And we think it could shake up City Hall because this report was requested by City Hall - alternatives to dumping this on East Phillips was requested by a staff direction, and when the city staff came back they only presented a site up in Fridley, which was the reason that our Northside city council members actually ended up opposing our position because they thought they would be subject to the traffic. And it's just unbelievable that that report was suppressed. And that city council members were threatened that if they voted for the East Phillips project, they might not get some of the resources they needed in their own wards. That kind of ethical, unethical behavior, which seems to have been done by city staff, needs to surface please support the Southside green zones effort to get that suppressed report out and considered.

Jeff Diamond  57:30

Thank you, Karen. For more information and latest updates, listeners can visit your website,, and your Facebook page with the same name, fully spelled out. Listeners can also donate to your GoFundMe page, and we’ve included links to all these pages in our show notes.

Karen Clark 57:51 

Thank you, Jeff and Shannon.  

Cassie Holmes 57:54

chi miigwetch, thank you for taking the time to talk to us and ask us these questions. And, just listening to us. And let us give us a platform, you know, to have our voice heard and put out there further. 

Dean Dovolis 58:05

A thousand thank yous. Very appreciated from all of us. 

Sarah 58:10 

And thanks to Jeff and Shannon for bringing us this conversation. 

Jeff Diamond 58:16 

No problem, thank you Sarah.  

Shannon Lippke 58:18 

Yeah, thanks for highlighting this story. 

Sarah Riedl 58:22

Because this situation continues to change, be sure to check our show notes for links to support and stay up to date on EPNI, as their fight continues to stop the harm and build an urban farm in East Phillips. You can also go to for the most recent updates and calls to action, including the links to donate to their GoFundMe and to sign the petition of support. That’s That’s our show today. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time! 

Nourish by MN350 is a production of MN350’s Food Systems Team. We are changing the way people think about food production, distribution and consumption practices in the context of rapid climate change. This series is made possible by the hard work and passion of a group of dedicated volunteers. 

This episode was written and produced by Shannon Lippke and Jeff Diamond, with support from Paige Westra.

Our audio editors were Shannon Lippke.  

Our logo was designed by Fizz Design Collective.

Our music is by Ecuador Manta.

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