Thomas-Dale/Frogtown Weed and Seed Program (a special kind of gardening)
By Mary Thoemke

One of the areas that Commissioner Rettman represents is the Thomas-Dale/ Frogtown neighborhood of Saint Paul. Recently the Saint Paul Police Department received a $100,000 Weed and Seed grant from the State of Minnesota to be used in the Thomas-Dale/Frogtown neighborhood. Although the main focus of the Weed and Seed program is crime prevention, the goal of the Thomas-Dale/Frogtown program will include other neighborhood issues as well. It is hoped that eradicating some of the serious crimes in the neighborhood will lead to improvement in other areas as well. Engaging the area's youth, increasing voter turnout, neighborhood clean-up, and improving housing are some of the areas to be addressed.

I represent Commissioner Rettman on the Weed and Seed Steering Committee which began meeting weekly last September. Members of various government agencies and community organizations, as well as neighborhood residents were invited to participate in the two and a half month planning process. Boundaries for the program targeted area are as follows: Thomas on the north, Rice Street on the east, University on the south, and Victoria Street on the west.

The area chosen for the program is one of the most ethnically diverse in the city, and has a high population of youth. The ethnic make-up of the neighborhood has changed significantly since the 1990 census. It is estimated that 35% of the total residents presently living within those boundaries is Asian; Thomas-Dale/Frogtown now has the highest concentration of Southeast Asian residents in St. Paul. The community is home to the highest population of youth in St. Paul, 40% of its residents are under 18, and 70% of the youth are children of color.

Over 60% of the target area residents live in rental property. Median family income is $20,252. Single mothers head 40% of the households in the area. From 1980 to 1990 there occurred a 55% increase in the number of families living in poverty. Over 25% of the families live at or below the federal poverty line.

The Thomas-Dale/Frogtown neighbor-hood was chosen as a Weed and Seed site due to the numerous serious problems occurring there, but also the highest potential for improvement. Many projects have been started and even completed in the neighborhood; but, because they were not highly visible or wide-ranging, they went unnoticed. Residents of the community are often challenged as their work and life commitments are more than a full time job. Thus, residents involved should receive highest accolades.

The Steering Committee worked to draw up the Strategic Plan, which outlined the Community's Profile, its needs and its strengths, and its potential for improving the livability of the neighborhood. Problems are identified along with goals and objectives with specific tasks listed to begin to solve the problems in the area. For example, the Law Enforcement Strategy would include solving problems with drug dealing, both on the street and from houses in the area. This would be accomplished by focusing law enforcement resources to the defined areas and to intensive street-level investigations.

Other strategies include Community Policing Strategy, which would work to strengthen existing block clubs and create new block clubs where none exist. While there are many programs in existence for the youth, there are not enough of them, and often the young people choose not to participate.

The neighborhood has the lowest voter turnout in the city, leaving many of its citizens feeling alienated and powerless. One of the goals of Weed and Seed is to change that by educating the community on the importance of voting, and encouraging them to register and vote.

The Weed and Seed Program is wide-spread, and if successful, will have far-reaching effects on the community. The present grant is for one year. At our most recent meeting, the Steering Committee voted on a tentative budget, which includes hiring a person to coordinate the Weed and Seed program. Cristina Sroka, Community Organizer of the District 7 Planning Council, has been serving as the contact person for the Steering Committee.

The Thomas-Dale/Frogtown Weed and Seed program has applied for official federal recognition, and once that is received will apply for federal funding to assure continued implementation of the Strategic Plan. Steering Committee members will continue to make decisions concerning the direction of the Weed and Seed program as it begins to take effect.

Note: Information about the census, and percentages quoted were taken from the "1998-99 Application for Official Recognition, Thomas-Dale/Frogtown Neighborhood."

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