East Sider’s million-dollar idea takes root

East Sider Tracy Sides is the founder and executive director of Urban Oasis, a nonprofit committed to cultivating healthy communities by increasing access to whole food. Her idea for an “urban oasis food hub” won the $1 Million Forever St. Paul Challenge in 2013. (Submitted photo)

Urban Oasis Food Fest set for Aug. 17

A year ago, St. Paulites would be hard-pressed to find tomato-canning demonstrations, condiment taste-testings and East Side food vendors all in one place.

But now, thanks to East Sider Tracy Sides and others, they can find all those things -- and more -- at the Urban Oasis Food Fest.

The free community food festival will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17 on the grassy lawn of 740 Seventh St. E. in St. Paul.

Food Fest marks the grand opening of Urban Oasis, a nonprofit committed to cultivating a healthy, resilient and prosperous community by strengthening the local food system and increasing access and enjoyment of sustainably grown, affordable, whole food.

Urban Oasis is the brainchild of Tracy Sides, whose idea for an “urban oasis food hub” won last year’s $1 Million Forever Saint Paul Challenge. Sponsored by the St. Paul Foundation, the contest was driven by one question: “What would you do with $1 million to make Saint Paul great?”

After beating out 945 ideas and securing over half of the 16,000 votes, Sides’ idea to transform existing space at the Bruce Vento Sanctuary into a food hub, a place where the community could gather to enjoy wholesome food from nearby gardens and farms, took home the million-dollar prize.

Since then, Sides has been busy growing her idea by working alongside the Lower Phalen Creek Project, Twin Cities LISC and other organizations and community members who are passionate about “creating a healthier, more equitable food system,” she says.

Food Fest is the first large community event sponsored by Urban Oasis. In addition to kicking off Urban Oasis, the event aims “to demonstrate the magic of how food connects people to the land, our own health and each other,” says Sides, who has a master’s and a Ph.D. in public health.

Food Fest brings the diverse East Side community together with dishes from Senor Sol Mexican Grill, Manana Restaurant y Pupuseria, Ginger Thai Restaurant, Market on the Bluff, Ward 6 and Swede Hollow Cafe.

Food Fest visitors can sample the diverse dishes, gather menu ideas and taste-test locally sourced condiments by Urban Oasis with sausages from St. Paul’s Heartland Restaurant. They can also watch a tomato-canning demonstration, or bring up to two pounds of their own tomatoes to turn into sauce.

“My hope is that the Urban Oasis Food Fest becomes a gathering place where people can eat, meet and interact around the topic of food as a positive community asset,” Sides says. “It’s only in community that we can create positive change.”

For more information about Urban Oasis and Food Fest visit  www.UrbanOasisMN.org.


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