Nonprofit provides gardens for highly polluted neighborhood
Frogtown Green founder Patricia Ohmans is dedicated to her St. Paul neighborhood’s health.
By Molly Wilson and Giovanna Contreras| Reporter
In 2008 Patricia Ohmans lived just down the road from an empty 13-acre lot on Minnehaha Avenue that had just been put up for sale by a nonprofit, she had an idea. Using a napkin, her friends wrote out their details for an organic farm with her. So with help from the neighbors, donations bought the land at $4.5 million and gave it to the City of St. Paul to be used as a park. Ohmans had found a new calling and Frogtown Green was born.
“Don’t worry about finding your calling. It will find you. It will find you multiple times,” Ohmans said. “Follow your interests for as long as they lead you somewhere and then when they don’t find something else. It’ll present itself.”
Ohmans has found her calling four times, and most recently at Frogtown Green. Growing up, Ohmans wanted to be an actress. By the time she reached college, she had set her sights on being a reporter. Through her job as a reporter, Ohmans developed a love for public health and went back to school to study it. When the lot went for sale in St. Paul, Ohmans realized she could take her passion for public health into her neighborhood.
“Encounters are often cross-cultural and part of the fun of living and working here is figuring out how to make common ground with people who are different from me… I love that.– Patricia Ohmans, Frogtown Green founder
The nonprofit Frogtown Green plants trees and community gardens in the St. Paul Frogtown neighborhood. Sometimes Ohmans moves garbage cans in one of the community gardens and then she helps a family plant their new fruit tree. Frogtown Green provides gardens and trees to the diverse community of Frogtown, which according to the Environmental Protection Agency was in the 95th percentile for pollutants in the air, soil and water in the state After living in Frogtown for 40 years, Ohmans is familiar with the people and the benefits of living in a diverse community.
“Encounters are often cross-cultural and part of the fun of living and working here is figuring out how to make common ground with people who are different from me in terms of upbringing and expectations and ways of doing things. I love that,” Ohmans said.
Not much has changed during the Coronavirus pandemic, Frogtown Green cannot run its education classes but the nonprofit still plants fruit trees and maintains its gardens with the help of socially distanced, masked volunteers.
Renoir Gaither works for Frogtown Green as his AmeriCorps assignment in September. AmeriCorps is a Federal Agency that provides volunteer workers for different areas in need throughout the United States. Gaither works in a subsection called the Community Forestry Corps, which includes 18 cities in Minnesota to revitalize local forests. The big difference between Gaither and those in his cohort — he is an average of 40 years older than them.
Gaither and Ohmnas had to move a garbage can and he did not get grossed out when small brown pill bugs no bigger than a chocolate chip crawled along the ground.
Gaither shouted, “Oh these are isopods!”
Gaither recognized the bugs because they were like the ones in his terrariums. He uses his own soil mixture and native plants for the miniature isopod habitats as inspired by the YouTube channel “Serpa Designs.” At the same time, Gaither says he had to stop taking classes at the University of Minnesota for his Doctorate in Education because he became ill with Pneumonia. Because he had to stay home, Gaither was not offered a teaching position and could not afford to continue his degree
So, 37 years after graduating college, an ad for AmeriCorps popped up in Gaither’s Facebook feed and he decided that was the next step for him. He was placed at Frogtown Green where he researches emerald ash borer, works with the various Frogtown Green gardens and Hamline Midway to develop a similar garden. While most of his cohort sits behind desks solving problems, Gaither is out engaging with the community.
Like in September, when Gaither was tasked with moving a 500-pound sign to Frogtown Green’s Lily Pad Garden with a motorcycle club. Ohmans remembers these men asking her for a $5 advance to pay for gas on their way back to Frogtown. Although this may seem like an odd and unprofessional request, Ohmans has learned that agreeing helps get the job done.
“One of the sweet details about the move was that they came over in their truck, which was a bit of a rattle trap truck, and they did a great job,” Ohmans said. “Working in a community setting especially, in a place like Frogtown, you gotta be ready for people making what might seem like unprofessional requests but help to get the job done.”
Ohmans also loves the community, she has know Andy Thompson, pastor of St. Stephanus Luthern Church on Lafond Avenue since he and his family moved to Frogtown. Once, she stood outside the church and convinced Thompson’s son to take a pear tree, since Frogtown Green ran out of cherry trees. The 9-year-old wasn’t hard to persuade, especially since she knew the family
.Even in rough times Ohmans and Gaither are happy they found their calling at Frogtown Green. Gaither’s advice for young people seeking their calling is something he learned from the book “How to Find the Work you Love” by Laurence G. Boldt: “Where the needs of the world intersect with one’s own interests that is where your life’s work begins.”