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Archive | April, 2015

Groceries-in-TrashCan

Solutions to food waste are not complicated

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin

Groceries-in-TrashCanBy JAN WILLMS

That lettuce that got stuck in the back of the fridge and went bad. The peaches that needed to ripen, but now are soft and mushy. The milk that just doesn’t smell right.

These products that can no longer be used add up. The average St. Paul family wastes $96 worth of food per month.

Eureka Recycling, a nonprofit zero waste organization, is doing its best to provide Twin Cities residents with ideas to prevent food waste.

“We received a grant through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to study preventing waste of food,” explained Lynn Hoffman, director of community development for Eureka. “We did a pilot program in St. Paul centered on collecting compost. When people started participating and all their food waste was in a separate container, they saw how much that food waste could be prevented.”

Hoffman said that from farm fields to grocery to consumer, there has been a lot more attention paid to this nationally as well as locally. “The focus of our work has really been on the consumer,” she said.

Hoffman said the food waste is accidental. “Nobody buys food with the intention of throwing it away,” she said. “People tend to waste produce, meat and dairy. But meat not so much; it is primarily fruits, vegetables and dairy.”

The solutions to food waste are not very complicated, according to Hoffman, who has been with Eureka for 11 years. “We have been talking to lots and lots of people over the years, gathering information.”

She said that as well as experts in the field, everyone else has tips, also. “You may have learned from Grandma the best way to store celery,” she noted.

She said some of the tools for food waste prevention revolve around storage. “Often the containers the food comes from in the store are not the best things to store the food in,” Hoffman said.

She also claimed that menu planning is a positive tool that can save on food waste. “Think before you go to the store. Check your fridge—you may already have a jar of mustard in there.” She suggested considering who will be home during the week to eat the meals.

“That’s always my problem,” Hoffman admitted. “I find a recipe that looks great, I get the ingredients, and then I realize I am not going to be home for four nights.”

Another way of eliminating food waste is to do an inventory of the cupboards and pantry. “People are always shocked at how many condiments they have, or how many things get hidden.”
She said there is A to Z tips on food storage on Eureka’s website, makedirtnotwaste.org.

“Everybody can find something useful in this,” she said. “I think as Minneapolis rolls outs its organic composting program, it will become apparent to people as they separate out the food waste from the rest of the trash what’s in there.”

Hoffman said composting is much more environmentally beneficial than tossing food or burning it in the incinerator. She emphasized that composting is good for things like banana peels or apple cores. But preventing food waste is the best solution of all.

“When you look at the impact of our food system, what people call the environmental footprint is huge,” Hoffman said. “Think of all the resources it takes to grow a carrot, water it, harvest it, package it and take it to the store, and then you have to drive to the store to purchase it—all of that just to get it into your fridge. So if you waste that carrot, you’re not just wasting the few dollars spent on a package of carrots, you’re wasting all of those inputs.”

Hoffman added that as a zero waste organization, Eureka is trying to find alternatives to using plastics for storage. “Disposing of plastics in the incinerator causes carcinogens,” she noted. “It doesn’t make sense to create one kind of waste to prevent another kind of waste.” She said Eureka suggests alternatives such as waxed paper or glass jars for storage, which are useful because you can see the ingredients inside.

“Another useful tip is making a box or shelf in your fridge called the use-it-up box or shelf,” she said. “Put in items that are moving toward an expiration date, and everyone can use these items first for a snack or in preparing dinner.”

Regarding expiration dates, Hoffman said there are various dates listed on products: best if used by a certain date, or sold by a certain date.

“A lot of food is wasted just because an item reaches a particular date, and consumers think its fate is inevitable. We certainly want people to be safe, but you’ve kind of got to use your nose and trust your common sense. Often those dates don’t mean anything about safety; they’re just guide plans for the stores,” Hoffman explained.

She said Eureka offers workshops on helping people with buying the food they think they can use.

“Buying from bulk bins can actually be a good idea and save you money, but are you really going to prepare the food or use it or store it? It’s all about having a plan before you come home with 20 pounds of strawberries.”

If someone has questions about recycling, compost or preventing food waste, extensive information is available on the website or at a hotline number, 612-669-2783

She said that when Eureka started its food waste program, it followed some tips from a huge campaign in Ireland and England called Love Food, Hate Waste.

Hoffman stressed the importance of the zero waste approach to compost and preventing as much food waste as possible.

“There is a difference between food waste and wasted food,” she emphasized.

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Garden Fresh Farms

Garden Fresh Farms

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin

Garden Fresh FarmsSomething fishy is happening on Pierce Butler Rd.

Reporting and photo by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

A few years ago, Dave Roesser and his wife DJ had a problem: what to do with a warehouse they owned in Maplewood that was sitting idle? The business they’d run there had been sold and, in Roesser’s words, “We were looking at a clean slate.”

As a former executive in finance and accounting for Hewlett-Packard, Roesser considers any business challenge from a dollars and cents standpoint. “First I evaluate all the parameters and then I ask myself, will this make financial sense?” he asked.

These veteran entrepreneurs (the Roessers have built and sold three successful businesses) had a vision that their next venture should follow current social trends. In the brainstorming period, they kept coming back to the same four words—green, fresh, local and natural.

According to their website, “In 2010, we embarked on a mission to change urban agriculture,” which is no small undertaking. The vehicle they chose as their agent of change was aquaponics: the combination of aquaculture, or fish farming, and hydroponics, the growing of plants in water instead of soil. They named their new venture Garden Fresh Farms (GFF), and went on to create a business model that would soon win major sustainability awards in Minnesota and beyond.
Though Roesser doesn’t care to fish or garden, he “just got hooked on aquaponics.”

“I figured we could buy the right equipment, install it in our Maplewood warehouse and be up and running—but it wasn’t quite that easy. The available equipment was expensive and inefficient; in other words, it didn’t make financial sense,” he said.

Believing that problems are opportunities for learning, Roesser, along with son Bryan (now Chief Science Officer at GFF) set out to build their own aquaponics equipment. “We wanted,” Roesser said, “to increase production per square foot while using substantially less energy and water.”

They found innovative ways to farm fish and plants together in a symbiotic system, where each is helping the other. Simply put, waste water and organic matter from the fish break down to create nutrients the plants need, and the plants act as a filtering system to keep the water clean and the fish healthy.

GFF has outgrown their original Maplewood facility and built a second indoor farm in Hamline-Midway at 875 Pierce Butler Rte. The space measures 45,000 square feet, or slightly more than one acre. Roesser explained, “We divide our farm into 5,000 square foot sections, employing 2.5 full-time employees per section. We’re re-vitalizing an old industrial building, paying taxes, feeding people and creating jobs in the neighborhood.”

Roesser and his team believe that the future of farming lies in changing the food supply chain—growing affordable, organic produce right in the heart of the city. They harvest about 2,000 plants per day, five days/week, and work with distributors and sellers within just a few miles’ radius. The morning harvest is brought to the distributors early in the afternoon, and sitting on grocery shelves within 24 hours after being picked. Nutritional value is high, because the produce is fresh. Prices are competitive, as no long-haul trucking is involved.

Look for GFF products at Mississippi Markets, Nature Valley and Whole Foods stores.
GFF also has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) option, with a pick-up site next door at Sunrise Market, 865 Pierce Butler Rte. Other pick-up sites stretch across Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Theirs is the only CSA in the Twin Cities that offers fresh food from the farm year-round, and memberships are available in 12 week increments. Because GFF’s selection of micro greens, herbs and lettuce is consistent throughout the year, they augment their CSA shares with products from other farmer/growers. Examples are Sunrise Market’s organic, gluten free pastas, fresh honey from Bare Honey, and an assortment of vegetables grown by nearby farmers.

Also, watch for a sign outside the Sunrise Market announcing the next Community Fish Day. The tanks at GFF optimally hold about 1,000 two lb. tilapia. Just like with any other kind of farming, when the “herd” get too numerous or too large, it needs to be culled.

Anyone who has ever visited a farm knows the joy of looking out over an expanse of productive land. The experience at GFF is different because you’re looking up at the rolling, green fields. “With our one acre farm,” Roesser said, “we’ll eventually be able to produce as much as we could on a 100 acre farm. We grow on the vertical plane as well as the horizontal. It’s a floor to ceiling operation with tall growing racks for seedlings, giant orbiting gardens and vertical sliding panels for established plants. The system is designed to optimize energy by placing plants very close to their LED light source. Energy efficiency will be optimized further with the future installation of roof-top solar panels.

Water consumption for GFF is a fraction of what conventional farming methods take. Roesser estimated that five gallons of water are required to grow one head of lettuce in California’s heavily irrigated Central Valley, and as little as one pint is used for the same at GFF.

All of these factors combine to make GFF’s business model highly sustainable. Roesser commented, “I like to say that the first environmentalists were probably accountants.” By his own admission, this man who still wears button-down collars seems to have found a current social trend he not only can follow, but even stay ahead of.

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Daily Diner

Daily Diner abruptly closes

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin

Daily DinerBy JAN WILLMS

Nearly all of the online reviews of the Frogtown Daily Diner at 625 University Ave. were positive—customers raved about the parmesan hash browns, the pancakes and bacon, the chicken and waffles. They liked the bright and airy atmosphere, enhanced by local artists’ work. And they described the welcoming feeling and the efficiency of the servers, stating they would be back.

But the numbers of diners were not sufficient to keep the restaurant afloat, and the Frogtown Daily Diner closed its doors abruptly Feb. 12 after nearly two years of operation. Operated by the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) as a program to teach its clients all aspects of the food industry, the Diner was as much an employee training project as a restaurant.

“Our original plan was to run a vocational training program,” explained Brian Molohon, director of development for UGM. “We had individuals going through other programs at the mission, and once they became stable this would give them a chance to step out into the real world. This was an opportunity for them to get a real work experience.”

The 12-week program provided the trainees with an apprenticeship with another restaurant, once they had completed their training at the Diner.

“We had 12 clients go through the program, and when they finished they were better off,” Molohon said. “But we were losing a lot of money, and the costs were prohibitive.”

He said it was a very tough, tough decision to close the Diner, but UGM determined it could continue vocational programs that would be much more cost-effective.

“Operating the restaurant was not about making money,” Molohon continued, “but we can’t be losing tens of thousands of dollars to make it work.”

He said the Diner definitely had a loyal following of customers but was never overly busy.

“That was part of the challenge,” Molohon said. “There was not enough volume for the trainees to interact with customers. The Capitol renovations took away customers, and the Green Line construction and a lot of different pieces were affecting traffic flow.”

Molohon said that people were still nervous about coming down to University Ave. after such a long period of construction. “The Green Line finally opened late, and initially the ridership was not as high as had been predicted.”

He said UGM did a lot of marketing and tried different things to bring in customers, but there was not enough volume.

“The Mission is very healthy,” he added. “It was not that we had to cut the restaurant because the Mission was hurting. The question is how can we be better stewards? We worked with a dozen trainees in two years, and we can do a lot more with internal programs for a lot less cost. “

“God has blessed us with funding from donors,” Molohon stated. “We’re in a growth mode that allows us to help many more people.”

The connection he had with both the trainees and hired staff, a total of about 22 people, is what Mike Olinger, who came on as general manager of the Diner in September 2013 will miss most.
Olinger was responsible for the over-all operation of the Diner from the front to the back of the house.

“I worked with employees, schedules and customers,” Olinger said. “I miss the day-to-day interaction with the staff. I felt like we created a family, and I think everyone felt that way.”

“I miss the interaction with customers, also,” he added, “and a lot of the good relationships that were developed. I knew a lot of them by name, and we would hug each other and talk about our families. I miss the interaction with my UGM family, too.”

Olinger said that he knew, from his restaurant experience, how it is always difficult to get the word out when you open a new place. “Getting people in the seats is always a big challenge,” he said.

“From the aspect of UGM, we had a vocational training program that was a great program,” Olinger noted. “The concept was fantastic. Putting everything together, we saw success in getting people into jobs and going out and having self-confidence.”

He said that administering to people who needed help had brought him the greatest gratification.

“From a program standpoint, I understand the decision that was made to close and it was a good decision, but that doesn’t make it any easier,” Olinger said. He said that he couldn’t emphasize enough how much he appreciated the opportunity the Mission gave him at the Diner. “I thank the staff at the Mission for that chance,” he said.

Olinger said he would love to see the same type of concept in the same location. “My goal would be to reopen with backers and keep that concept. It’s the right idea to create opportunities where people become self-sufficient. I miss the fact that we were able to help these people.”

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Reading Program

Yearly gift sets in motion great things

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin

Even though she left the neighborhood decades ago,
Rozanne Ridgway’s annual gift honors her mother

By JAN WILLMS

Besides giving them life, Ethel Ridgway gave her three children the gift of reading. And since 1998, her daughter Rozanne Ridgway has been passing that gift along to children through a grant in honor of her mother.

In spite of the fact that Ridgway has lived in Washington, DC, for many years, she has not forgotten the neighborhood she grew up in. The Hamline graduate served 32 years with the State Department in many capacities, including being an ambassador to East Germany and Finland, and ending her career as an Assistant Secretary of State of European and Canadian Affairs.

“Every year she gives the Hamline Midway Library money so we can buy books for students at the Hamline Elementary School,” said Sam Ryan, a library associate. “This is a book that the students get to keep. The gift is given to Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, and they in turn pass it on to us.”

Ryan said the funding is somewhat flexible but has to be used for literacy-related programs. He said the grant has allowed the Hamline Midway Library,1558 W. Minnehaha, to purchase a children’s PC with learning games on it and a circulating selection of Big Books. “Mainly, we use the grant for books,” he said. “What we don’t use by giving away to Hamline Elementary, we give away to Galtier School later in the year. And we buy books for a summer reading program that is city-wide.”

Ryan said he has been at Hamline Midway Library for five years, and it has been a little different using the grant every year.

“Typically, we contact Hamline Elementary towards the end of the school year so that we can either have the students, in K-2 classes, visit us or we go over there. Along with giving a book and talking about the importance of reading and an explanation of why we’re giving the book and a little bit about the history of Rozanne Ridgway, we use the time to talk about the library,” Ryan explained.

“We want to implant in their minds what they can do at a library and ask them about their favorite things to do there,” Ryan said. “We show them how they can get a library card and ask them if they know what libraries are close to their house. We also tell them the library is a place they can go to in the summer. The summer reading program is an initiative where we are encouraging reading and keeping track of what is being read. There are activities they can check off on a list.”

Reading ProgramRyan said the teachers also encourage their students to use the library over the summer. “That’s a time when a lot of students will go into summer slide,” he smiled.

He said that this year Hamline Elementary contacted the library early because the children were doing a Read-A-Thon, and teachers wondered if they could receive books a little early to mesh with the Read-A-Thon. Also, they were celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

“So we brought the books, and the teachers picked a Dr. Seuss book specifically for their classes, and we ordered those books,” Ryan continued.

Rhonda Simonson, who teaches kindergarten at Hamline Elementary, said the students read the Ridgway-purchased books the last two weeks in February. Each child got to take home his or her own book at the end of February.

“The Read-A-Thon lasted for two weeks, beginning on March 2, Dr. Seuss’ birthday,” Simonson said. She said that each child was given a packet and asked to raise money for a school-wide Artist Residency and Apps for IPads. The Parent Teachers Organization (PTO) organized the fundraiser, and families could get sponsors for minutes read or give a lump sum.

Simonson said she gave her kindergarteners their forms, with a lump sum $1 pledge. They were instructed to put the form on their fridge and mark off how many minutes they had read. They drew more pledges, and 90 per cent of her students returned their reading forms, raising enough money to turn in $270 from their class. The class had read over 3000 minutes in two weeks.

“The PTO surpassed its goal and raised over $2, 000,” Simonson said. “The PK-second grade rooms where Ridgway had given books were the biggest contributors.”

Simonson said the kids do get excited about receiving a free book, especially a hard-cover.
“I am a teacher, but most importantly I am a mom. I took my kids to the library for a stack of books weekly and enforced a quiet reading time daily all summer,” Simonson said. “My children are grown-ups and they still love to read.”

Simonson said she told her students every day of the Read-A-Thon that Ridgway believed in them becoming great readers. “She bought you a book because she wants you to read. She knows that reading matters.”

Jessica Kopp, a parent with a daughter in the first grade at Hamline Elementary, also knows that reading matters.

“At some point last year she came home with a book,” Kopp related. “I had no idea where it came from, and I thought it was something her teacher gave her. This year I became more aware of the source of the book. She brought home a Dr. Seuss, and I said okay, I know where this comes from.”

“My daughter loves to read, and I just thought it was so wonderful that there’s a person who doesn’t even live in the neighborhood anymore but at some point thought enough of where she had lived to give that gift,” said Kopp.

She said her daughter loves to read. “She likes disaster books about earthquakes and tornados, and she loves mysteries. After she reads them, she likes to pretend she is a detective.”

Kopp said she is very grateful for this grant. “I always think the neighborhood kids go to school knowing someone is thinking of them. It’s nice to be in the world and know someone is thinking of you who maybe doesn’t even know you.”

She said she hopes that the children can get the idea they could be that person on the giving end someday. “Maybe it won’t be books, but there might be something else they can give back to their neighborhood.”

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Snelling Ave. reconstruction narrows parking lane

Will reconstruction restore Snelling Ave. as Minnesota’s Main St.?

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin

Business owners upset about narrowing of parking lanes, assessments nearing $20,000

Reporting and photo by TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

They dealt with three years of construction along University Ave. while the Green Line was built.
Now businesses at Snelling and University are facing another construction season.

This time Snelling will be torn up.

Although attorney Stephen Nelson is located several blocks north of the University intersection at 665 Snelling, he says his business suffered from the University construction. Clients didn’t want to deal with the hassle of the construction area, and so avoided his office, he said. It wasn’t uncommon to have traffic backed up all the way from University to his office building.

Nelson is very concerned about the effect another construction season will have on local businesses, and points out that there are already many vacant structures in the area.

But it isn’t just the plan to repave Snelling that has Nelson and other business owners upset.
It’s the decision to add decorative lighting on the sidewalks.

The decision to add double lantern decorative street level lamps brings assessments and the loss of street space because the sidewalk boulevard area will be widened. The parking bays will be narrowed from 11 feet to 9 feet.

When Nelson asked why the sidewalk had to be so wide, he was told it was to avoid car doors dinging the light poles. He thinks a few dents is worth the potential loss of life from someone stepping out of their car into the path of an oncoming semi.
“Is a life worth less than a car door?” he asked.

City “not business-friendly”

Nelson is concerned about how the narrowing of parking lanes will affect his older clients. He can only park three cars in his small parking lot, so most of his clients park on the street.

Nelson had purchased land next to his in order to expand his parking lot to 8-10 cars a few years ago, but the city denied his request, despite it being in a commercial zone.

“If they don’t want to give us parking lots, they need to give us street parking,” said Nelson. “They say they’re business-friendly, but I’ve never seen it.”

Nelson’s dad moved his law firm to Snelling Ave. N. in 1956. Nelson joined him in the 1970s.
Nelson has encouraged his council member, Russ Stark, to come down to Snelling and park two feet away from the curb in order to discover what it will be like when the street is reconstructed. “I never saw anyone come out and never heard from anyone that they did that,” said Nelson.

Nelson has asked the city to reconsider its decision regarding the street lights.

“It has been a frustrating experience,” he remarked.

Nelson isn’t the only one upset.

Midway Books suffering

Tom Stransky of Midway Book Store at 1579 University Ave. watched his business cut in half during the light rail construction. The shop has been there since 1965, and plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary this summer— during the reconstruction project.

Midway Books received a $2,100 assessment for the University Ave. project, and is now facing a $18,700 assessment for Snelling.

“Does that sound fair to you?” Stransky asked.

The city has offered payment plans for 20 years at 4.5% interest. “The city is going to make a lot of money off us,” noted Stransky, who has considered relocating.

Businesses say they were not informed about assessments

Nelson has polled most of the businesses near his location about what they think of the street lights and assessments. He discovered that many of them had no idea what was happening on their street and didn’t know they were facing assessments of $154 per linear foot.

While some knew about the street repaving, few knew about the street lights that were added to the project at the last minute, according to Nelson.

“It’s not going to improve anyone’s business,” Nelson stated, who noted that most businesses in the area close at 5pm.

What upsets him the most is how the city handled the project.

“They just jammed it down our throats,” Nelson said. “No one got a chance to have input or react.”

“Lighting we don’t want”

Nelson wants to know why the city isn’t covering the large price tag of the lights.
So does Brian McConnon of Metro Automotive (675 Snelling Ave. N.).

“They are making it harder on existing businesses, making it harder for customers to do business,” commented McConnon. “On top of that, they’re assessing businesses for lighting that we don’t want.”

McConnon believes that lighting is a normal part of a street reconstruction project and should be covered by the city. His assessment is about $8,000. Nearby, Great Fans and Blinds is being assessed $15,000.

“We weren’t consulted about whether we wanted it, but yet we have to pay for it,” said McConnon.
When he attended a meeting in February to complain, he didn’t feel like the city was listening. “The city said, ‘It’s a done deal. Nothing you can do about it,’” recalled McConnon.

Snelling Ave. reconstruction narrows parking lane“Kinda scary on Snelling Ave.”

There are 37,000 cars a day traveling on Snelling Ave.

“Sometimes it’s kinda scary on Snelling Ave.,” said McCon­non, who has operated Metro Automotive since 1991.

McConnon added, “Basically, the city is putting pretty decorative lighting over safety.”

Nelson pointed out that Snelling Ave. is a major truck route. Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) operates a large unloading site on Pierce Butler Route, and trucks pick up trailers using Snelling.
He doesn’t see how narrowing the existing 11-foot-wide parking lanes to 9 feet will work with 8-foot-wide semi tractor-trailers driving by. In addition, there are emergency vehicles and buses on the street.

In fact, the reconstruction project along Snelling is being driven by Metro Transit’s new A Line bus rapid transit project, coming by the end of 2015.

The new line will connect the two light rail lines to the Snelling commercial area and to Hamline University, Macalester College, Highland Village, Rosedale Shopping Center, Minnehaha Park and Midway Shopping Center.

Touted features of the new line are buses so frequent riders won’t need a schedule, fewer stops, buses with wider aisles and additional doors, enhanced stations and fares paid before boarding.
The buses won’t pull over to board passengers, but will instead remain in the right driving lane.

Nelson questions the estimate that it will take just 10 seconds for the bus to pull over, load and resume traveling. “It will be just like the Light Rail line,” Nelson said, with a travel time much more than the initial projections.

He recently rode along a similar bus line in Washington D.C. while visiting his daughter, and it took between 45 and 60 seconds to load, especially if there were wheelchairs or bicycles to get settled.

Nelson envisions traffic backed up for some ways behind these rapid buses.

“Return to glory”

Kyle Mianulli of Hamline Midway Coalition/District Council 11 thinks this project will be a very good thing for the neighborhood in the long term.

“While not perfect, the project does incorporate many important measures to make the street a more pleasant place to be, shop, and explore,” Mianulli said.

He added, “Right now, Snelling Ave. is a pretty dismal place to be a pedestrian. More cars pass by the businesses and shops on Snelling Ave. than any street in the city. The problem, especially for the section in Hamline Midway, is that it is not a welcoming streetscape for people to stop, get out of their vehicle and spend time here.”

He believes that over time, this project will help to change that perception, which will translate into more foot traffic, customers, investment and overall revitalization of the area.

“Snelling Ave. was once considered Minnesota’s Main St.,” pointed out Mianulli. “I would like nothing more than to see it return to that glory, and I think this project is an important first step in getting there.”

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