The Farm at St. Francis receives $433k grant

Phase one of the project entailed building raised garden beds to grow staple crops like potatoes, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage and peppers.

CHI St. Francis Health received a three-year $433,000 grant from the Mission and Ministry fund at Common Spirit Health to support the Farm at St. Francis, a project that has been in the works for several years.

The project spawned from the results of the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) report which tracked obesity in Richland and Wilkin Counties over a span of five years, Director of Mission at St. Francis Luke Preussler said. he rate of obesity in Richland county was above the North Dakota state average, and the rate of obesity in Wilkin County was just below the Minnesota state average. The long term goal drawn from the CHNA report was to reduce adult obesity by 5 percent by 2025, Daily News previously reported.

Data from the USDA Economic Research service shows two areas in Wahpeton and Breckenridge that are labeled low income and low access points.

“Studies have shown that really up to 60 percent of an individual’s health status is socioeconomic,” Preussler said. “Social risk factors like food insecurity can contribute to poor health. It’s something that health care is aware of and needs to address.”

The Farm at St. Francis aims to increase food access, strengthen food security and advance equity. Preussler said there are already great programs and initiatives happening in the Twin Towns Area to address food access; he hopes the Farm at St. Francis can be added to the list.

“We really want to do a great job being a community partner and where this is unmet needs, we want to meet those needs, but we also don’t want to take away from anything that’s already underway. We want to enhance what’s already happening here in Wahpeton and Breckenridge,” Preussler said.

While it’s the hospital that is hosting the Farm at St. Francis, the project is driven by community partnerships and volunteers. A project committee consisting of Cargill, PartnerSHIP 4 Health, Wilkin County Public Health, the Richland Wilkin Food pantry and others have been supporting the project.

In 2019, Cargill donated and built a well at the hospital to provide irrigation for the Farm at St. Francis. Volunteers took seeds home and grew starter plants that were then transplanted into the raised beds.

“This is a community project with our partners here. We don’t just want it to be about St. Francis,” Preussler said.

2020 was the year of site development. It was also the year Preussler ran 100 miles to raise money to be able to complete the irrigation system, and buy seeds and other gardening supplies that prepared the team for spring planting.

The project is important to Preussler personally and as director of mission. The work that can be done for the community through the farm aligns with the hospital’s values of health and wellbeing. Personally, food is central to everything, Preussler said.

“Food in my work — whether it’s in the healthcare space or in nonprofit, or human services, all the areas I’ve worked in over my career — it just keeps coming back to food,” he said. “Food is so important for social connections, cultural traditions, religious things and then an individual’s health status and the health of a community. So for me, the connection is really about being able to have a community thrive.”

Phase one of the project entailed building raised garden beds to grow staple crops like potatoes, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage and peppers. Almost all of the yield was donated to the Richland Wilkin Food Pantry, save for a few peppers, tomatoes and onions that made their way into a salsa making class the hospital hosted.

Phase two will involve capital improvements, such as introducing structures to the farm and improving the irrigation system. Phase three would be to have the full 1.5 acres of land allotted for the farm in full production by 2024. The goal is to grow both fruit and vegetables.

The grant money will not only fund the phases, but cover the cost of hiring a full-time project coordinator, Preussler said.

“We’re really excited about that,” he said. “We’ve got really great volunteers that have been dedicated to this project for a number of years, but this grant money will allow us to hire somebody to be full-time.”

Preussler said they want to explore the idea of the farm being a place for new producers and entrepreneurs to create some economic activity through incubator farms or demonstration farms.

“One of the areas we can really do work in is being able to close the gap when it comes to how expensive local foods can be sometimes,” Preussler said. “Being able to access it is one thing, but then being able to afford it and have it be regionally and culturally appropriate (is the goal).”

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