International Women’s Month with Women’s Environmental Institute

Food, Farming and Justice: Women’s Environmental Institute

Written by guest writer: Stacy Carlson

The Amador Hill Farm & Orchard in North Branch is home to thirty acres of certified organic vegetable crops and an organic apple orchard. As a program of the Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI), a Chisago County charitable nonprofit, it also is much more than a farm!


“People know us for our farm programs, which deliver weekly produce boxes directly to local and city consumers and to health clinics across East-Central Minnesota,” says Jacquelyn Zita, a founder and WEI’s Director of Farming, Education and Operations.

“By supporting the farm they’re supporting our mission of environmental justice through agricultural, racial and gender justice strategies.”


In 2003, WEI was founded through the vision, drive and determination of a small multi-racial group of environmentalists who wanted to focus on environmental justice – meaning addressing the human health disparities caused by the disproportionate exposure of environmental toxins on low-income communities of color and Native Americans. They determined it meant organizing to ensure equitable access for all to a healthy, sustainable, and resilient environment in which to live, play, work, eat, learn, and grow.


The group decided to form a non-profit organization to advocate for meaningful solutions. At the time, Karen Clark, one founder and now WEI’s Activist Executive Director, was a public health nurse/nurse practitioner and member of the MN House of Representatives – serving several South Minneapolis neighborhoods and working steadfastly to address social and economic justice issues. Jacquelyn, also a founder, was a professor in the Department of Gender, Women’s, and Sexualities Studies at the University of Minnesota whose creative and visionary teaching approach included community organizing. Both have family roots in farming.


This was the time of the early environmental justice movement in Minnesota. So when farmland with an apple orchard next to Jacquelyn and friend Hilary’s house in Chisago County came up for sale, Karen and Jacquelyn suggested that it could become the place to ground the group’s work – a place to practice environmental justice. “It had a decrepit orchard, with the weeds halfway up the trees,” says Karen. “But Jacque, in her usual visionary zeal said, ‘Look at that orchard! We could transform it into an organic apple orchard!” And that is the first farming WEI did.


In those early days, Karen and Jacquelyn had the strong encouragement of their neighbor, Bill Riley, who at the time was Amador Township’s Board Chair, and a supporter who credited “those girls” with bringing back the local Amador Hill Apple Orchard.


At WEI’s first Board of Directors retreat on Amador Hill, they determined their mission to be “a place for women and allies to renew, learn and organize for environmental justice.” It had a strong theme of bringing rural and urban communities together for that purpose and it still does.


That was the beginning…now fast-forward to 2023, when WEI celebrated its 20th anniversary on May 23, 2023, in a packed auditorium together with allied partners, members, volunteers and other supporters!


Key 2023 accomplishments include:


3,000+ boxes of organic produce delivered through WEI farm programs

7 free, public community farm events including summer pizza nights, volunteer work days, and seasonal celebrations

200+ still surviving and organically certified apple trees

200+ students attending WEI classes, farmer trainings and events

Dozens of partial and full scholarships for WEI’s educational programs

Successful organizing with an urban coalition to create an indoor urban farm in Minneapolis.


As you can tell from the list above, WEI’s work is organized around numerous main program areas:

Organic and Sustainable Farming

WEI operates the Amador Hill Farm and Orchard, a certified organic education and demonstration farm. Being certified organic means WEI crops are grown and processed according to federal organic agriculture guidelines which address, among many factors, enriching soil quality, non-toxic pest and weed control, and sustainable growing practices. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible. WEI Farm programs include a three-season CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with weekly organic veggie boxes delivered directly to consumers; Veggie Rx – growing and delivery of organic produce to 5 local M Health Fairview Clinics in East-Central; managing the North Circle Online Farmers Market for organic and sustainable small-scale local farms; selling produce at the Mill City Farmers Market; plus farm Volunteer and Workshare programs. In 2024 it will also include “incubator farming” opportunities for new, emerging farmers.


WEI offers a variety of classes to our rural and urban communities focusing on hands-on organic farming, foraging and herbalism, nutrition, food preservation, aquaponics, bee-keeping, orchard tree pruning, goat husbandry, food as medicine, “women and chainsaws,” and other topics.

Environmental Justice Research/Advocacy

WEI’s current environmental justice initiatives include collaborating with the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute’s fight to purchase the former Roof Depot site in Minneapolis for an indoor urban farm and community hub, the Southside Green Zone Council’s community organizing and Nawayee Center School’s on-site farm development. WEI also provides board representation on the Little Earth of United Tribes Housing; on Wicoie Nandagikendan Ojibwe and Dakota language preschool; on Healthy Legacy’s Steering Committee, and is a member of the Indigenous Food Network.


WEI’s members make up more than half of individual contributions to the organization. Members are a foundation of WEI’s environmental justice work, and contribute ideas and time to shaping WEI’s future. Members receive discounts on farm produce and classes, and opportunities for early registration and other benefits.

Eco-Retreat Center and FarmStay

WEI offers an Eco-Retreat Center at Amador Hill Farm as a community resource, and a FarmStay Program for people to stay overnight to explore the land and learn more about WEI’s mission and farming work. The Center also provides a venue for several annual events open to the public and free of charge.

WEI is now looking ahead with thoughtful ambition to its next 20 years of hard work – on the Amador Hill Farm and for environmental justice and community building in both rural and urban places. All of us at WEI hope to see you soon.


Ways to Get Involved with WEI:


Become a WEI Member – Member benefits include seasonal, members-only farm events, discounts on CSA veggie boxes, WEI classes, and more.


Join our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program – and receive up to 23 weeks of farm-fresh organic produce delivered to your neighborhood.


Take a class with us – Upcoming classes include Aquaponics, Fruit Tree Grafting, Keeping Backyard Chickens, Spring Herbalism & Foraging, and an Earth Day Celebration on the Farm.


Volunteer with us – Get your hands dirty on the farm, or join us on Saturdays at the Mill City Farmers Market.


Stay with us – WEI’s FarmStay program is a fun way to get to know the farm and organization. Have friends or family visiting from out of town? Our FarmStay may be the place for them.


Sign up for WEI’s Newsletter – For farm news, classannouncements, urban environmental justice updates and more.


Follow us on Instagram and Facebook


February Networking Luncheon

The February Networking Luncheon was amazing!

Our survey showed attendees would love more time to network and socialize AND hear speakers without feeling rushed, so we had our first lengthened, 90-minute luncheon this month!

There was chittering and there was chattering while we registered and then a quick ice-breaker/speed networking activity. We switched nametags and you had to locate the person to whom your nametag belonged to and ask each other questions. It was fun to watch the buzz of conversation in the room.

Staying right on track, we had a delicious pasta meal from Tailgaters as we listened to updates from the chamber, schools, city and county.

We proudly introduced our featured business of the month: Neighborhood National Bank. Eric, Joe and Peggy gave us information about their role at the bank, the services they provide and shared their pride in their work. You can read more of their story in THIS blog post.

As our caterer of the month, Kathy, highlighted Tailgaters as being the place to go for great food and live music & entertainment.

Sami Peluso of All Things Social was our featured speaker and provided an excellent presentation on how to take your social media game to the next level and how to utilize your DM’s or direct messages to make connections with potential clients and customers.

Lastly, it is always interesting to hear what our #businessfamily is up to – we reserve 1 minute to the first 5 people to sign up and give us an update, a humble brag, promote an event/sale or just tell us about their business.

Then, we get to giveaway great door prizes to our luncheon guests given to us by our members and attendees.

We hope you join us next month where lunch is better when it’s shared with like-minded professionals and making connections!

January Networking Luncheon

Nothing will help build a stronger business better than relationship building. Building these partnerships through our networking luncheons reduces your marketing and advertising costs and expands your reach. A networking luncheon supports the leadership position you want to establish and is almost unlimited in the potential for new ideas for working together in your community!

This month’s luncheon was a fantastic one! We went to the North Branch Area High School and our meal was served and catered by the ProStart Program and culinary students. It was so deliciously good! The students served frozen hot chocolate in a mason jar, a Caesar Salad, Chicken Alfredo and for dessert, a scoop of ice cream drizzled in chocolate and caramel sauce over a warm, soft cookie.

Right!?  I KNOW! Your tummy is grumbling now.

We had the opportunity to network and socialize with business leaders around us while we ate and listened to updates from the chamber, schools and the county.

The second half was getting to know Superintendent and EDA Chair: Sara Paul a little better. She spoke about her family and explained both hats she wears while serving our community. We heard from the Sunrise Elementary Principal Taylor Swanson and City EDA Director Jason Ziemer. We were introduced to NBAHS Senior  Amelia Bjerketvedt, elected to state DECA president and her accomplishments. And rounded out with an explanation of the ProStart program from Principal Clint Link and Instructor Hannah Rawleigh.

At the end of every Luncheon, leaders are allowed a 1-minute highlight of their business and often bring in a door prize of branded items, gifts or gift cards to share in a drawing.

We hope you will watch our website and emails and join us for the February one!

Thank you Sara Paul and the Culinary Students for an excellent meeting!



Tap the video above for our Facebook video highlight.

Meet Your New Board Members in 2024

Introducing our new president who succeeded the chair from Past President Frank Gomes, Christina Huesman of Anytime Fitness!

I’m Christina Huesman the Chamber Board President for 2024. I’ve been on the board for a few years. We struggled a bit through Covid & it’s aftermath but are excited for what the future holds for our North Branch Chamber. We have an opportunity in 2024 to expand & make some changes to see the Chamber thrive.
I have been with Anytime Fitness for 7 ½ years. My husband & I have been married over 30 years & have 3 sons & a daughter-in-law. We will be grandparents to twins next summer. So excited for that chapter in life!!
If you have suggestions or want to be an active part in the Chamber’s growth reach out to myself or any Board member.
My contact information is:
office phone: 651-674-0580

Hello everyone,

My name is Nathan Keech. I own a marketing agency called Kreativ HQ. We specialize in brand and logo design, as well websites, hosting, video production, and online marketing that grow businesses. We’re headquartered out of the Twin Cities, but have a base of operations here in North Branch, where I live with my wife Amber, and daughter Julia.

I am excited to serve on the board of directors (again)! I’m confident that my experience with other Chambers will help with the re-building process. I am passionate about seeing our businesses thrive because it is the life-blood of our community. Therefore, my focus and goal as the newly appointed Chair of the Luncheon Committee is to grow these events back to pre-pandemic levels.

I share a common passion and zeal that other board members do, and that is to make the North Branch Chamber of Commerce the strongest and most highly sought after business organization in our county. We have a lot to do, but together, we can make 2024 a stellar year!



Hello! My name is Nick Hammond, I am a commercial banker at Frandsen Bank & Trust. I grew up on Rush Lake (Stanchfield, MN) and attended Braham High School. I then attended Bemidji State University, graduating in 2016 with an accounting degree. I have been in banking for almost 8 years, and enjoy building relationships with new and existing clients to the bank.

I joined the chamber because I see an opportunity to be part of a rapidly growing community. I believe I can help the chamber board by originating new ideas, and participating in some of the housekeeping work that’s currently without someone to be accountable for. I am hoping to get to know many of the business members of the community and see in which ways we can be beneficial to their business and the community.  612.619.3836