St. Paul nonprofits win more than half a million dollars in grant funds from Bush Foundation

Two St. Paul organizations, including an East Side-based nonprofit, were each awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Bush Foundation.

They were chosen, according to the foundation in its Nov. 14 announcement, “as models of true problem solving [that] work inclusively, in partnership with others, to make their communities better for all.”

The Latino Economic Development Center was awarded $500,000 and the Frogtown-based Hmong American Farmers Association was given $247,425. They’re two of a total seven organizations to be chosen this year.

The Bush Foundation, established in 1953 by former 3M executive Archibald Bush and his wife Edyth, gives out the prizes annually in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 native nations within the three states.

Winners were chosen by panels of community members from each state. The Bush Foundation received 127 applications for its 2017 prizes.

The grants are unrestricted and have no expiration, giving the organizations the flexibility to use the money as they see fit and to be able to save cash for future programs and endeavours.

“We think these organizations are great examples of problem solving happening in their communities,” Duchesne Drew, community network vice president for the Bush Foundation, said.


Recognition for the Latino community

Ramon Leon, founder, CEO and president of the Latino Economic Development Center, said as of right now, the prize money will go towards operating costs for the nonproft to fill gaps and to “put more people on the streets for Latinos and immigrants in East St. Paul.”

The origins of the Latino Economic Development Center go back to the late 1990s and the creation of Mercado Central in Minneapolis, a marketplace of 45 businesses. LEDC was created in 2003 to continue creating entrepreneurship opportunities for the Latinx and immigrant community. 

The development center teaches classes, helps with business development and has been involved with projects like the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, as well as the creation of the East Side Enterprise Center, which recently celebrated its three-year anniversary.

“We are very humbled and honored that we were chosen,” Leon said. “It is a recognition to the Latino and immigrant community,” he added, explaining it proves the success the communities have had making a life in the U.S.


Farming for food access

The Hmong American Farmers Association was established in 2011 by Hmong American farmers and Pakou Hang, who is now the executive director of the organization. It works with farmers across the Twin Cities and many of its members live on the East Side. 

Hang had been a part of a fellowship offered by the Bush Foundation, where she analyzed challenges for Hmong farmers and how to address those challenges. 

“HAFA was the solution,” Hang said. “It’s kind of come full circle.”

Today, HAFA leases 155 acres of land in Dakota County, where members can lease land to grow food. Hang said her organization would like to purchase the land and create a land cooperative. 

HAFA also has a “food hub” where farmers can bring their produce to be aggregated and sold to local schools, grocery stores and other large institutions. 

The organization also trains farmers in food safety and has a business development program, working with the East Side Financial Center to help farmers create a business plan in order to be able to get loans. 

HAFA also has a long-term research program that engages farmers on difficulties they may be having with their farming, and how to solve them. 

“We’re a young organization,” Hang said, explaining the funding received will help to solidify the its administrative infrastructure, allowing it to hire an in-house bookkeeper and a full-time director of operations. She said the money will also be used to update HAFA’s website and marketing.

“It’s really humbling,” Hang said of winning the grant, adding her organization does important work. “I think that communities of color are impacted heavily by a lack of access to healthy food.”

She said the award recognizes that people of color are engaging in food systems, but that there is still an equity problem when it come to food access.

“It’s also a recognition that Hmong farmers contribute a lot to the local food economy,” Hang said. 


Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

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