Pandemic propels Duluth woman into urban farming
Newton talks about the Duluth farming scene, her favorite thing to eat from her harvests and that time she met Andre 3000.
DULUTH -- Ginga Beleza Newton tore up her yard during the pandemic and started building garden beds in an effort to support her family. From that sprouted Growing Together, Newton’s urban farm and apothecary business.
The 15-year beer maker turned farmer and cottage food producer deals in pumpkins, squash, kohlrabi and beans as well as yarrow, calendula and edible flowers.
And, she sells kombucha, kimchi and CBD products.
Newton said the difficulty of farming has been made clearer with this year’s weather extremes.
Part of the inspiration for Growing Together is to show others it’s possible to grow your own food on your property — “really, on a stick of lawn,” she said.
Newton took time to talk about the Duluth farming scene, her favorite thing to eat from her harvests and that time she met Andre 3000.
Q: You grew up in a family of farmers. What did that look like?
A: Farming is in my family history, heritage and I grew up for a period of time on the Big Island in a Native Hawaiian community, where indigenous farming methods and foraging and harvesting from the land was a way of survival for most everyone, and the cultural and spiritual relationship with the land and all earth's creatures and elements is very much alive. So there was a very influential developmental period for me, which molded the way farming and business works for me.
My father always had a garden or small-scale market garden and was involved with our community farmers market. My great-grandparents on my father’s side grew cattle and were farmers in Wisconsin, and on my mother’s side, my ancestors who were enslaved were very likely farmers. (We have traced just prior to the Civil War, but regardless, African heritage is rich in agricultural knowledge.)
Q: You just finished Year Two of running an urban farm. Name your takeaways.
The most impactful takeaway was the overwhelming devastation our climate crisis is having on our food systems. The intense heat, drastic temperature change, draught, smoke in the air from fires, dying crops — that’s just here in Duluth — forced me to adapt to rapid changes with growing my crops and my business models.
The amount of labor to do it was so much more than ever before, and I’m not alone in the farming community with these experiences. It has me thinking seriously about how we can develop our local food system because the climate crisis is not going away, it’s only going to continue, and moving forward for Growing Together is going to mean more adaptations to change.
Q: You ferment foods for wholesale. Have your offerings or your process changed since you started?
This last growing season, we partnered with Garden Magic’s owner, Jeffery “Hobbs” Quast, who is an incredibly knowledgeable Duluth compost farmer and outdoor project builder of 33 years. I lease his farmland for my nano-agricultural site, and the soil I’m so blessed to farm on has been fed his compost every year, for 33 years. … It’s the most fertile soil I’ve ever worked with! Now almost all of the produce that goes into my fermented food (some of the ingredients I trade for with other local farmers) is grown by myself in this fertile soil.
Q: What's your favorite thing to eat from your harvests? And of your fermented foods?
I really love eating everything that comes out of the ground. There’s nothing like the flavors and textures that come out of food you grow, or that grows in your community. It doesn’t taste like anything in the grocery store that has to be shipped here, and the way it makes you feel is life-altering: You feel so much more vibrant and have so much more energy, every different thing that comes out of the garden is it’s own experience.
My favorite fermented food is my kombucha, it’s so rejuvenating.
Q: Describe the Twin Ports farming community.
To me, it is full of such beautiful and sincere people, I really feel like I have finally found my community within them. There’s such a fulfilling connection that comes with working with the earth and connecting with other folks who share that is amazing.
Farming is very laborious work that is most often misunderstood and misvalued. Seeing that mindset shift is huge, and our growing farming community is full of folks who have so much knowledge and information to offer.
It’s helpful to talk with other farmers in the community about what they’re seeing and experiencing as a result of the climate crisis. I value these conversations because they’re not uncomfortable.
Q: You were one of this year's recipients of Whole Foods Co-op's Grow Local Food Fund. (Congrats!) What did this support mean for Growing Together?
This was an extremely huge deal. (Thank you!)
The support meant we were able to scale our operation up this year. Growing more food for me required cold storage, it was so critical for the small size of the business, and we could not have grown this year without it. I feel so humbled and grateful. Also, the timing for receiving it was so perfect.
Q: Tips for other farmers on how they may receive support like this?
Have a clear and realistic plan for controlled growth, know how the support is going to benefit your operation and come into it with some of your own money if the project costs more than the award amount.
Also, don’t be intimidated by the paperwork, get some help with it if you need.
Q: What's your experience being a Black farmer in Minnesota?
It gets pretty lonely. I’m looking forward to more Black farmers growing into the community. It’s a fantastic time to get into farming.
Q: How can we support our farmers?
Buy food from local farmers first. Make it a priority. Seek it out.
Our individual power with our purchases is huge, and purchasing from local farmers and food producers is one of the easiest and most impactful behaviors we can practice to support climate change reversal.
When you’re not investing in things that have to be grown, packaged and shipped across the country, you are actively reducing your personal carbon footprint and strengthening your community.
Plus, you're giving your body the most nutrient-rich food available in your area.
Q: What's next for Growing Together?
Along with maintaining what we have in continuing with developing our farm site refrigeration and converting a shipping container into a cold storage unit, I’ll be putting energy into my urban farm and developing an apple tree lot into an urban orchard.
I love growing and making food for people, it’s an expression of love for me and so important for the planet, and so with the climate crisis at times overwhelming my thoughts and impacting how I’ve had to farm and operate business, I see a need and want to help grow more farmers and work on developing our local food system.
We’ve been asked by a few people to develop urban gardens for them, and I feel strongly that food scaping and urban farming are a huge part of the future of healthy local food systems and reversing global warming.
Our large-scale agricultural soils are dead, and there’s so much topsoil in our yards and community green spaces. Lawns are outdated from a colonial mindset that if you had a lawn, you were financially so well off you didn’t need your land for agricultural purposes.
Well, we’re all not well off enough to not be using our lawns for growing food. So, Garden Magic and Growing Together are collaborating this winter on what an operation would look like this season to help people convert their lawns to gardens.
Q: You can (safely) dine with three people, alive or dead. Who are they and why?
Harriet Tubman. She’s only the most badass, super Shero, ninja warrior of American History, in my opinion.
Andre 3000. I think we would have really interesting conversations about aliens and space and stuff. I got a chance to sit and talk with Andre 3000 after Outkast’s Summer fest concert in 2014, and I was so starstruck that I couldn’t get anything out other than how much I love him, blah, blah. I would love another opportunity to sit and talk with him, for real.
Spock. I know Spock is a character (although sometimes I wonder if Leonard Nimoy was really just playing himself), but it would be so cool to sit and talk with him. He’s just so logical and unemotional.