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A Backyard Farm 18

Reinventing farming in the city

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Tesha Christensen

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

Coleen Gregor (left) and Joan James (right) with one of their signature garden beds. The co-owners of “A Backyard Farm” are dedicated to growing healthy food in the city. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

What do Green Zebra, Black Russian, and Amish paste tomatoes have in common? They are all a type of heirloom tomato offered to customers by Joan James and Coleen Gregor, co-owners of “A Backyard Farm.”
Spouses Joan and Coleen started their urban farming business 11 years ago, determined to share the experience of farming fresh, high quality organic vegetables with other city dwellers. Their home in Mac-Groveland is filled to bursting with seedlings, especially in March when as many as 4,000 tiny plants are under grow lights in the basement – ready for an early start each planting season.
That jump start is one of the guiding principles behind the success of “A Backyard Farm”. Imagine a full-on, food production system in your back yard that is productive from mid-May through the end of October. How is this possible with the relatively small yards most home owners have in the city?
“A Backyard Farm” works from the square foot gardening method, where a different vegetable or herb is planted in every square foot of a 4 x 8 foot bed. That means that 32 different plantings are being rotated throughout the growing season, with early, mid, and late summer harvests.
In their partnership, Joan is responsible for sales and marketing. She does a site evaluation for each prospective client, determining if the site receives at least seven hours of direct sun daily. She said, “You can still grow a garden with less sun than that, but the plants won’t produce abundantly like we want them to.”
Once a client signs up for the season, they receive a plant list with 75+ different plant varieties to choose from. They also choose whether they want a raised bed that sits on the ground, or one that is elevated on sawhorses for easier access.
Joan explained, “We use cedar to construct all our beds, so they last at least 15 years. We also install everything the customer could possibly need: rabbit fencing, deer fencing, drip irrigation, a trellis on one end of the bed for climbing crops, and specialized soil mixture. All of this is theirs to keep as part of the first year’s cost.”
Coleen is, by her partner’s description, a vegetable savant. She was born and raised on a farm in southern Minnesota, back when farm families grew and preserved the majority of their own food. She still believes in living that way, even in the middle of the city.
Another guiding principle of “A Backyard Farm” is that people should know and trust where their food comes from. Joan said, “There was just another salmonella outbreak on the west coast. Food safety, in my opinion, is not going to get better any time soon. I haven’t bought a bag of lettuce from a grocery store in more than four years. We freeze about 75% of what we grow, and can the rest. We have a standing freezer, and eat out of it all winter long.”
Joan, Coleen, and their staff of up to 10 farmers coax a formidable harvest out of each backyard garden for their clients. They currently care for backyard gardens across the Twin Cities metro area, regularly working 8-12 hour days to keep up with the planting, mentoring, and maintenance.
Some clients want to learn to garden better. Coleen is available to help them as a garden mentor, meeting once or twice a month. In that situation, the health of the garden is up to the client but Coleen is there to offer guidance. Joan explained, “Using our intensive method, each plant has to be “trained” to stay inside its square. It’s a little like having a puppy.”
If a client signs up for weekly maintenance (and no mentoring), the health of the garden rests on the farm team. On the regular maintenance schedule, all customers have to do is look for the weekly harvest neatly packed on ice in a cooler outside their door.
Joan said, “There are environmental benefits to the client on several levels. We start all our own plants with organic, non-hybridized seed from Seed Saver’s, Johnny’s or Baker Creek. We source our compost and worm castings locally. The client’s carbon footprint is reduced by not having to drive to buy fresh, organic vegetables.”
In a year without a global pandemic, “A Backyard Farm” would be offering classes to many different school and community groups. Joan said, “Our business had grown to the point where about 50% of our income came from teaching, but of course that’s all on hold right now. Another big change this year is that clients are more careful about making big purchases. Maybe a new client will invest in one garden bed, when they really wish they were ordering two.”
Still, it has been a good season. Joan said, “I have an heirloom tomato on my dining room table right now that must weigh four pounds. It’s one of my favorite heirloom varieties, called Brandywine. It’s a real beast – kind of misshapen, pink on the inside, just delicious.” For more information, email gardens@abackyardfarm.com.

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WEB_ReUse_Plywood Rescue 10

New life for used plywood

Posted on 18 August 2020 by Tesha Christensen

ReUSE Minnesota focuses on plain boards that will get reused in building projects and more

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

ReUSE Minnesota Board President Jenny Kedward said, “We are leading the effort to collect, store, and distribute plywood used in the Uprising for reuse. We respect all artwork and murals. We are working with several organizations to preserve those pieces, and to get unmarked boards back out into the community where they can be used again.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

In the wake of the Uprising, St. Paul was flooded with a reusable commodity that residents weren’t used to seeing everywhere: plywood. Within four days of George Floyd’s murder, plywood covered hundreds of businesses and organizations in Hamline Midway, Grand Avenue and Highland Park. If one business owner chose to cover windows and doors, it seemed like everybody on the block followed suit.
ReUSE Minnesota Board President Jenny Kedward is a recycling educator by trade, a professional trash talker who has been taking the message of recycling to schools, businesses, and neighborhood groups for 14 years. The Frogtown resident said, “ReUSE Minnesota stands with our communities advocating for systems change and pursuing justice for George Floyd.”
ReUSE Minnesota is a member-based network that promotes Minnesota’s reuse, rental, and repair sector. As the only organization of its kind in the state, ReUSE Minnesota highlights the benefits of reuse both for people and the environment.
Kedward reflected, “The main thing on everybody’s mind is, ‘What can I do now?’ As a reuse organization, we are committed to keeping as much of the used plywood out of the waste stream as we can. We don’t want this stuff going into incinerators. Toward that goal, our board started a new initiative called Twin Cities Plywood Rescue.”
So far, ReUSE Minnesota has collected 642 pieces of plywood and strand board. Their volunteers have made 46 pick-ups from local businesses and organizations at no charge.

 

“ReUSE Minnesota is a network of people led by a volunteer board of directors. We facilitate connections in the reuse, rental, and repair sector. Our members are from both for-profit and non-profit organizations of any size that are part of this sector. We welcome government partners whose works focuses on waste reduction and reuse – and we welcome individuals who are passionate about reuse.”
~ Board President Jenny Kedward

Kedward wants to keep spreading the word that Twin Cities Plywood Rescue is alive and well. She said, ”We’re in the phase now of getting those materials back out into the community to be used in new ways.”
St. Paul’s Mano a Mano (which means Hand to Hand in Spanish) received 40 boards to use in shipping recycled medical materials to underserved people in the mountains of Bolivia. Pillsbury United Communities used 30 boards to protect the floor of their newly expanded food shelf in South Minneapolis.
Non-profits or individuals may request boards for free, if it’s a hardship to pay. If possible, ReUSE Minnesota requests $3 for a full sheet of strand board and $4 for a full sheet of plywood. A full sheet measures 4’ X 8’.  The fee offsets disposal costs for reclaimed boards that aren’t usable.
A full sheet of strand board normally costs about $15; a full sheet of plywood costs about $25.

Board with murals treated
differently
Kedward said, “When people hear about Plywood Rescue, their first concern is for the murals. We’ve separated out the boards we’ve collected that have graffiti on them. We’re offering those boards to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) organizations and neighborhood museums first. Then we will reach out to larger institutions like the Minnesota History Center. We understand the emotions associated with artwork and controversies in working with larger institutions.”
ReUSE Minnesota is interested in plain boards for community redistribution. To donate strand board or plywood, visit their website at www.reusemn.org. (minimum size 2’ X 4’).
The vision of their organization is to build a strong Minnesota reuse economy that leads the nation in well-paying reuse jobs and sales, and is driven by citizens and institutions who support a circular economy aimed at reducing waste.

 

PLYWOOD FOR GOOD

Another local initiative focuses on plywood with artwork.

According to Plywood for Good organizers: The plywood covering Minneapolis and St. Paul businesses following the killing of George Floyd is a grassroots art project. It captures the cries emanating from the people of our cities and nation to combat police brutality and systemic racism. We want to connect with the artists and businesses owners and learn their stories. Our goal is to help preserve and protect the art of this movement, to make sure art doesn’t get tossed out when taken down.”

Get in touch by emailing
plywoodforgood@gmail.com

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YMCA Child Care 030Sm

Midway YMCA: community response hub

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Senior checks, healthy meals, implicit bias trainings and more offered for free; childcare and fitness options available

Children enrolled in school-aged childcare at the Midway YMCA enjoy swimming for an hour every day, a huge plus when beaches and pools are closed across the city this summer. (Photos by Margie O’Loughlin)

By Margie O’Loughlin
When the pandemic first hit in March, it was clear there was going to be a huge need for child care for essential workers. Midway YMCA executive director David Dominick said, “We thought we were a natural to fill that void. There are several CEOs from hospitals and insurance companies on the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities board. We knew we could count on getting the best advice for how to structure our childcare program with COVID-19 safety measures. We also worked closely with the Minnesota Department of Health, and the governor’s office.”
The YMCA fitness facilities at 1761 University Ave. W. closed before the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency Executive Order went into effect. They quickly evolved into being a community response hub, and were among the first to offer childcare for children of essential workers ages newborn through grade six.
In the beginning, the definition of essential workers was limited to front-line health care workers, firefighters, police officers, and journalists. It would soon expand to include working parents responsible for keeping the city’s infrastructure going: grocery store clerks, sanitation workers, mail carriers, and more.
The Midway YMCA has been able to offer childcare Monday-Friday from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. for a nominal fee. There is still room for more children to enroll.
According to Dominick, “Our childcare staff is masked. We meet the kids at the curb in the mornings and bring them out again in the late afternoon to minimize social interactions with parents or caregivers. We try to practice social distancing while giving the kids age-appropriate experiences, so they can have fun together safely.”

Children enrolled in school-aged childcare at the Midway YMCA enjoy swimming for an hour every day, a huge plus when beaches and pools are closed across the city this summer. (Photos by Margie O’Loughlin)

Much more than a pool, gym
When he started as YMCA executive director 17 years ago, Dominick could never have imagined how many hats he would be wearing. He said, “Not long ago, I realized I’d been working 16 days straight without a break. It’s been very challenging, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. If there’s a chance to support our members and our neighbors, I want to be there. We are way more than a swimming pool and a gym.”
While some Midway YMCA staff are busy caring for children of essential workers, others are reaching out to older members. The stay-at-home order brought social isolation for many, especially those who live alone.
Joan Schimml, the YMCA’s senior communications and marketing director, said, “More than 130,000 wellness checks have been made to 44,000 Forever Well program participants across the metro area. We want members of all ages to feel supported. We have come to see each YMCA as a community response hub, providing multiple critical services.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the Midway YMCA has been offering fresh, healthy meals to families in need at no charge. The corporate kitchens of United Health Group are being used to prepare 300 dinners each day, as well as 120 bag lunches for the Midway YMCA. They also make meals for many other YMCA locations across the metro. The local non-profit Loaves & Fishes is in charge of all deliveries.
Dominick said, “After the unrest last month, we really beefed up our essential needs supplies: toilet paper, diapers, baby wipes, feminine hygiene products and canned goods. Many of the YMCAs from throughout the metro area, and even other parts of the state, have brought donations here because our need is great in the Midway. Bix Produce is also donating 250 boxes of fresh produce to us every week.”
He continued, “Many of the people who come here for meals and other supplies have never been in a position to ask for this kind of help before. Everyone appreciates not having to supply proof of residency or other kinds of documentation. There have been 60,000 meals distributed here since the pandemic started. We will continue distributing food and other supplies through Labor Day.”
In addition to providing childcare for essential workers, wellness checks for older members, and free food for anyone who needs it, the Midway YMCA has recently re-opened on a limited basis as a fitness facility. According to Dominick, the Midway YMCA is operating at about 30% capacity right now. He said, “Many of our members chose to keep their memberships active when we had to close. We’ll be issuing statements for the IRS at the end of 2020, making it possible to claim the money spent on memberships during the closure as a charitable donation.”

Racial equity and systems change
Lastly, the YMCA has just received a $5,000,000 grant from United Health Group to expand the work of their Equity Innovation Center of Excellence. Located in downtown Minneapolis, their educational experiences provide information and insights to advance racial inclusivity and system change.
Registration is currently open for three free online training sessions being offered in the next month on implicit bias, authentic community engagement, and transforming workplace culture. There are other educational experiences available for a fee as well as customized trainings for organizations.
For more information about the upcoming online sessions, contact equity@ymcamn.org or register at www.ymcamn.org.
Schimml concluded, “At the YMCA, we believe that, in partnership with our communities, we must eliminate racial disparities and injustice. Toward that end, we offer programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body FOR ALL. For nearly 165 years, we’ve been listening and responding to our communities. We’re committed to pressing on with that – now more than ever.”

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Lights On 01

Community partnership provides repair vouchers instead of tickets

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Program offers healing interactions with police

Keep those car lights in working order! Previously, a broken head light, tail light, or brake light could spark a downward economic spiral that, for some, brought on multiple tickets, confrontations with law enforcement, and even vehicle impoundment. Lights On has the potential to disrupt that downward spiral, and transform hostility into helpfulness. To date, almost 2,000 Lights On vouchers have been issued in Minnesota. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
It’s been nearly four years since African American motorist Philando Castile was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer. In the 14 years since he started driving, Castile was pulled over by law enforcement 46 times for alleged violations. On the night of his death, Castile was stopped because he resembled a suspect in an armed robbery that had taken place four days earlier, and because he had a broken tail light.
On the day Castile’s shooter was acquitted of all charges, Don Samuels was in a board meeting. Samuels is the CEO of a South Minneapolis-based nonprofit called MicroGrants. Since 2006, MicroGrants has partnered with local organizations to promote self-sufficiency for lower income people.
According to Samuels, “As a board, our plate was already completely full – but we felt we had to do something extra. We reached out to our more than 50 partner agencies and said, ‘If any of your clients has a head light, tail light, or brake light that needs fixing, we’ll help them get it fixed.’ Someone suggested the idea of police officers handing out repair vouchers instead of tickets.”
MicroGrants has a long-standing relationship with Bobby and Steve’s Auto World, who operate eight auto shops across the metro area. They agreed to do the car repairs at cost, with reimbursement provided by MicroGrants.
Samuels said, “Bobby and Steve’s Columbia Heights location was the first to participate. I did the math and figured we could cover the whole metro area for $100,000. This program is funded by donations, not tax dollars.”
He added, “I called 20 police precincts in our metro area, and 19 of them said, ‘Yes.’ We printed out our own vouchers, two vouchers side by side on a sheet of regular computer paper.”
The program grew over time, but it was clear that a funding boost was needed to move it beyond what MicroGrants could support. In 2018, the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation donated $100,000 to fully implement the program and hire a Lights On staff person. Between March-December 2019, the program went from operating in 20 Minnesota cities/counties to 65.
Fast forward to February of this year. Samuels said, “We’re currently working with police departments in 93 cities/counties, and also expanding into tribal lands/reservations. We ask out-state participating police precincts to find service providers because they know their own communities. Service providers are required to sign an agreement that they won’t up-sell parts and labor.”

“Having dependable
transportation is essential
to moving people out
of poverty.”
~ Don Samuels

Giving help, not lectures
Lights On takes a pro-active approach to getting minor car repairs done. Previously, if a car light was out and the owner couldn’t afford to fix it (or didn’t know it was broken), a cycle of fines and penalties had the potential to upend a life – all starting with a broken $5 bulb.
Now if a motorist is pulled over for a non-functioning car light, they will be issued a repair voucher for up to $250 to cover a new bulb, mounting, and wiring. Repairs above $250 are the car owner’s responsibility – but the average repair cost, according to Samuels, is about $50.
The police officer will advise the driver where to go for the repair. Vouchers are issued to all drivers, regardless of race or income. Exceptions to a voucher being issued are when equipment violations result in a crash, or when a driver had an outstanding warrant.
Samuels said, “The money is very helpful, but it’s the interaction with the officer that is healing. We want this to be a gift. This effort is aimed at improving police-community relations, and making streets safer for everybody by having more cars in good repair. Officers are being instructed to give a voucher, not a lecture.”
Steven Anderson is a senior commander with the St. Paul Police Department. He said, “I haven’t heard any negative feedback with regard to this program. By most accounts, drivers receiving vouchers are getting the necessary repairs done.”
“Obviously, with the current Covid-19 national response, traffic-related contacts are greatly diminished. When we were operating normally, the program was a great tool. It allowed our officers to build bridges within the communities we serve.”
Samuels concluded, “I feel really proud that Lights On came out of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and will likely become a national program in a couple of years. It makes Philando Castile’s death not be entirely in vain. With our partners, we’ve been able to take a situation where there has been a lot of mutual discomfort, even tragedy, and turn it into something positive.”
For more information, go to wwwlightsonus.org or call 612-220-8174.

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Home Energy Squad CEE 21

Home Energy Squad helps homeowners save energy, cut costs

Posted on 20 March 2020 by Tesha Christensen

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Last year, the Home Energy Squad made 750 visits to homes in St. Paul – helping homeowners reduce their energy bills by using gas and electricity more wisely.
Center for Energy and the Environment (CEE) Senior Marketing Account Manager Ashley Robertson said, “We deliver the Home Energy Squad services. CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy created the program, and anyone who is a customer of theirs is able to participate. We’ll send two energy consultants to your home to evaluate energy saving opportunities, and we’ll install energy saving materials as needed on the spot.”
These materials can include door weather stripping, a water heater blanket, a programmable thermostat, LED light bulbs, high-efficiency water fixtures, and insulating water heater pipe wrap.
Air leaks are a major source of heat loss in older St. Paul homes. During a Home Energy Squad visit, a technician will perform a blower door test to measure the severity of home air leaks. They will also complete an inspection of attic insulation and all exterior walls using an infrared camera.
Jarad Miles is an Energy Auditor and Field Supervisor with CEE. He said, “If a home needs air sealing or insulation, we can provide a quotes on-site and connect the client with qualified contractors. All of this can really increase the comfort of an older home in winter.
“We also test heating systems (furnace and boiler) for combustion safety. These heating systems should be checked every year by an HVAC professional for optimal performance. A malfunctioning gas heating or cooking system can leak carbon monoxide gas into the air.”
Usually the cost for a Home Energy Squad visit is $100. A home visit takes two and one-half to three hours. For a limited time, CEE is offering readers of the Monitor a reduced price of $50; mention this article when scheduling.
If a homeowner is income eligible (50% of the state median income or 110% of the federal poverty guidelines), there is no charge for a Home Energy Squad visit. A scheduler can help determine is a low-income waiver is appropriate.
For scheduling assistance, email hesscheduling@mncee.org or call 651.328.6220.
CEE provides financing for a range of home improvement loans with competitive rates, including financing for solar panel installations. Robertson said, “We also run programs for small businesses interested in optimizing their energy efficiency. Our energy advisors can help clients choose energy upgrades for their homes. We really want this to be a start-to-finish process.”
The St. Paul location of CEE houses the fleet of 25 Home Energy Squad vans and services, and is located in the Midway at 1754 University Ave. W.

“As a non-profit,
we believe that energy
efficiency is a practical way to increase environmental sustainability.”
~ Ashley Robertson

Better for your home
Home Energy Squad is provided by CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy. The program is delivered by CEE. What are the benefits?

• Energy-saving products installed by skilled technicians for a cleaner environment

• A healthier, safer, more comfortable home

• Information and solutions personalized for each home or business

• Reduced energy bills

 

DID YOU KNOW…
✓ For every degree you drop your programmable thermostat when you’re at work or sleeping, you’ll see a 1% savings in your gas bill per year (source: US Department of Energy). CEE suggests a setback of eight degrees.

✓ There are tax credits and rebates for energy upgrades such as adding insulation, high-efficiency furnaces, and more.

✓ A bathroom fan is an inexpensive alternative to an air exchanger. A healthy home requires good air flow between inside and out.

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Reusing electronic waste = free and affordable computers

Reusing electronic waste = free and affordable computers

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Tesha Christensen

PCs for People diverts electronics from waste stream, promotes digital inclusion

PCs for People Tech specialist Chang Yang tests more than 100 donated computers
every day. If a computer can’t be repaired, its usable components are refitted and
its unusable ones are recycled. Last year, PCs for People provided affordable computers and related technology to 804 customers in the 55104 zip code. At its most recent
community event in this part of St. Paul, 50 computers were distributed to families
at no cost. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin) >> Read more on page 5.

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Last summer, PCs for People expanded to a 31,000-square-foot warehouse in the Como neighborhood. National communications and marketing director Tina Stennes said, “We were bursting at the seams. Our original location at 1481 Marshall Ave. is still our home-base for retail, but it was also our recycling and refurbishing space for 20 years.
“We’ve been able to increase both the scope and scale of our operations since we expanded. Our combined workforce in the two locations is now close to 50. One fifth of the employees at the warehouse are adults with disabilities.”
Stennes said, “Everybody that works here has a real passion for our mission, which is to provide income-eligible adults with equitable access to technology. In my previous job (in workforce development), I saw that lack of access to technology was a huge barrier to people trying to get ahead.”
PCs for People accepts donated computers – and other forms of digital technology – from individual and corporate donors. Items do not need to be in working order. Corporations are considerable donors because the average lifespan of digital technology in the corporate world is three years. There are a lot of digital electronics entering the waste stream.
The new warehouse is stuffed with used laptops, desktops, old typewriters, outdated cell phones, ancient car phones, hard drives, miles of USB cords, and every component imaginable, but there’s room for more. Email recycle@pcsforpeople.org to schedule a free pick-up of your used digital technology.
Privacy protection is a huge issue when it comes to refurbishing computers. Stennes explained, “We hold the highest industry certification for data security. The donor should do a data transfer prior to coming in, but we’ll do the rest. The computer is literally wiped clean of all personal information; the donor is given a transfer of ownership. We guarantee that the parts will be refurbished or responsibly recycled.”

Free computer events
PCs for People hosts about 10 community events each month, where they bring refurbished computers out into the community for distribution at no cost. Participating families are pre-selected using income eligibility based on the free and reduced lunch program guidelines. Most of these events take place in schools, and everything needed to operate the computers is included.
Stennes said, “In 2018, 60% of the customers we served through our community events or through our store had never owned a computer before. Often students know how to operate a computer, but their parents don’t. We follow up with new owners, providing tech support and digital literacy support. Every computer comes with a no-questions-asked one year warranty.”

Saytun Ahmed is a customer service representative at the Marshall Avenue store. She spent a day on the line in the new warehouse, getting a feel for the recycling process. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Affordable computers for sale
When a prospective customer enters the Marshall Ave. store, they are greeted by a customer service representative. Each customer provides income verification paperwork; acceptable forms are listed on the website www.pcsforpeople.org. Income eligible customers can purchase a desk top starting at $30 or a laptop starting at $50, which is approximately 1/10 of the used market value. Each refurbished computer comes with all new RAM, hard drive, Microsoft Word 10, and the same warranty as computers distributed through community programs.
Another point of removing digital barriers is having affordable access to the internet. Income eligible customers can choose to buy low cost internet (as low as $15/month). This service is prepaid, has high speed 4G, and runs off of a mobile hot spot.
“We want customers to have an experience in our store that is as professional as any other retail outlet, and we want them to leave with a computer that fully meets their needs,” said Stennes. “Customers often come back and tell us what they’ve used their computer for. Or, they’ll send an email saying, ‘This is the first email I’ve ever sent. Thank you!’”

PCs for People national communications and marketing director Tina Stennes said, “Last year, we provided affordable computers and related technology to 804 customers in the 55104 zip code. At our most recent community event in this part of St. Paul, 50 computers were distributed to families at no cost.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

PCs for People started in St. Paul, has expanded to Denver and Cleveland, and plans to open soon in Baltimore and Kansas City. If you are interested in their mission of digital inclusion and waste stream reduction in St. Paul, email volunteer@pcsforpeople.org to learn about volunteer experiences for groups. No tech experience is needed.

 

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Zero Waste Saint Paul is on a mission: to advocate, connect, and educate for a better environment

Zero Waste Saint Paul is on a mission: to advocate, connect, and educate for a better environment

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

Erin Pavlica, co-founder of Zero Waste St. Paul and longtime Midway resident. During a recent Intro to Zero Waste training, she said, “We’re not expecting anybody to be perfect. Come as you are, and do what you can. ZWSP is a way to connect with others who have the same concerns. It can be lonely if you’re trying to challenge the status-quo all by yourself.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Zero Waste Saint Paul (ZWSP) co-founder Erin Pavlica has a passion for low waste living. To hear her talk, that passion drives almost every aspect of her busy life.
The longtime Midway resident is an active member of the Hamline Midway Coalition’s Environment Committee, one of the driving forces behind the Facebook Barter/Sell page in Midway and Frogtown, and a principal player in the recent successful effort to ban black plastic and Styrofoam take-out containers in St. Paul (effective January 2021).
Pavlica offered a class through St. Paul Community Education on Nov. 19, called Zero Waste Recycling 101. She fielded questions about composting and recycling, and offered encouragement, as well as information. A few students were overwhelmed by the effort they thought was needed to adopt a zero waste lifestyle.
One myth about reducing waste is that householders need to buy a bunch of fancy stuff to get started, and Pavlica was quick to burst that bubble. She said, ”Almost everything I use as a zero waster comes from our kitchen, like mason jars. A lot of what we buy for our family of six comes from the bulk section of grocery stores and co-ops. I also carry my own silverware everywhere I go, even to parties. I might look kind of kooky, but I don’t care. Most of the events I go to would probably have compostable products, but those take energy to make too. I’d just as soon skip them. We have to be thinking about upstream pollution, as well as downstream.”
More than 40% of what goes into the trash is food scraps and other organic waste. Recycling food waste converts it to compost, which puts nutrients back into the soil in about 90 days. Ramsey County collection sites enable people to drop off food scraps that would otherwise be thrown in the trash – these are then processed into compost and used for gardening and landscaping.
Pavlica said, “A lot of people don’t think about food recycling, but it’s huge. If residents don’t use the drop-off organic waste sites or compost on their own, their food waste is trucked to the municipal incinerator and burned. Food waste is wet, heavy, and inefficient as a fuel source. The average American family of four wastes about $1,500 every year on food that’s just thrown away, so it’s a money issue, too.”
Pavlica had a long list of suggestions for people wanting to clean up their recycling as well. Since switching to no-sort (or single stream) recycling, the quantity of recycling in St. Paul has gone up – but the quality has gone down. They suggest downloading the new, more user-friendly app from Eureka Recycling to get the definitive answer on what is and is not recyclable.
Pavlica said, “Don’t ‘wish-cycle.’ Just find out what’s true.”

Top 10 suggestions for better recycling:
1 Anything smaller than your fist is not going to get recycled, and will likely just mess up the equipment at Eureka Recycling. For example, save reasonably clean tin foil once it is no longer usable. Keep smashing it into a firm ball until it is the size of your fist; then put the ball in your recycling bin for pick-up.
2 If you must use plastic water bottles, make sure they are empty before recycling. If a plastic bottle isn’t empty, it’s too heavy to be sorted at the MRF (Materials Recovery Facility). They use an air puffer to sort and direct plastics to the right place.
3 If you have a plastic bottle with a cap, screw the cap onto the bottle before tossing it in your recycling bin. The cap alone is too small to be recycled.
4 Recyclables should stay in their original shape (except cardboard boxes, which should be broken down.) For example, don’t crush aluminum cans to save space.
5 Do not recycle metal aerosol cans – they can explode. Put them in the trash.
6 Non-food related glass is not recyclable, because it is tempered and melts at a different temperature. Putting it in the recycling is wish-cycling.
7 Many plastic films can be brought to big box stores (CUB, Target, Home Depot) that have collection bins.
8 Dispose of unwanted, expired, and unused medications for free at public drop boxes in Ramsey County. The nearest location is the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center at 425 Grove St. The CVS at Snelling and University avenues also accepts controlled substances, aerosols, inhalers, illicit drugs, and chemotherapy waste. Do not flush any medications down the drain. Note: CVS destroys the medications; they are unable to redistribute them.
9 When it comes to plastics, only numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 can be recycled.
10 Holidays are the most wasteful time of the year. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s last year, USPS, FedEx, and UPS together delivered around 2 billion packages in the U.S. Where is all that cardboard and plastic going—and what is it doing to the environment along the way? Buy local, reduce packaging, and skip the wrapping paper.

What can St. Paul residents bring to their Ramsey County drop-off site?

• Vegetables, fruits, meats (including fats, oils and grease), poultry, fish, bones, grains, dairy, coffee grounds and filters, and tea bags.

• Non-recyclable paper including greasy pizza boxes, paper towels, tissues, non-foil wrapping paper, and paper bags.

• Compostable cups, plates, utensils, and bags. Check for the compostable logo from the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) on the item or packaging to make sure it is compostable. Remember, composting is a process that requires air. If compostable products are put in the garbage, not the compost bin, they are no better than trash.

Upcoming events:

The ZWSP is offering a six-week Zero Waste Challenge Feb. 2-March 15 at the East St. Paul Mississippi Market. Cost is $45 for members/ $50 for non-members.

For a one-day primer, register for Saint Paul Composting 101 on Jan. 11 from 3-5 p.m. at Fly Freak Studio, 755 Prior Avenue North. Cost is $12. Or sign up for Intro to Zero Waste on Jan. 18 from 1-3 p.m. at Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply, 1771 Selby Ave. Cost is $20.

For more information about upcoming events and classes, visit www.zerowastesaintpaul.com or check out their active Facebook community, Zero Waste Saint Paul Connections Group.

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Bluebell 422

Lawns to Legumes program will create new pollinator corridors

Posted on 12 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Homeowners may be eligible for funding to help boost Rusty Patched Bumblebee population

Staff from the partner organization Blue Thumb led a Lawns to Legumes workshop at North Regional Library earlier this month. The new state-funded Lawns to Legumes program will help residents convert at least part of their lawn to flowering plants that provide pollinator habitat. Minnesota is home to about 450 native species of bees, many of whose populations are declining. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)http://monitorsaintpaul.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Web_Lawns-to-Legumes-02.jpg

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
When the legislative session ended last year, Minnesota was granted something it has never had before: its own state bee.
The Rusty Patched Bumblebee was once among the most widespread of all wild bees seen in the Midwest, but its population nosedived in the early 2000s – it is now listed as an endangered species.
Minnesota is home to a significant number of the remaining Rusty Patched Bumblebees, and many are found in and around the Twin Cities. Bee experts believe homeowners can help this population of wild bees rebuild its numbers, one garden at a time.
At the close of last year’s legislative session, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) received $900,000 in state funding to develop a three-year pilot program focused on planting residential lawns with pollinator friendly plants. Other states are taking notice of the way Minnesota is funding this community-led program to protect and rebuild its diversity of pollinators.
The funding appropriation is through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. BWSR worked with local conservation partners throughout the summer to develop program criteria. Funding has been distributed to those partners (primary partners include Metro Blooms and Blue Thumb). Community workshops have begun state-wide, with garden projects slated to be planted in the spring and summer of 2020.
Funding will be targeted in areas benefiting the Rusty Patched Bumblebee and other at-risk species; Minneapolis and St. Paul are in the highest priority area, as are sections of Southeast Minnesota.

Traditional lawns don’t help pollinators much
Dan Shaw is a Senior Ecologist/Vegetation Specialist with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. He said, “Bee and other pollinator populations are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide use, introduced parasites, and climate change. With Lawns to Legumes, we’re encouraging residents to transform their yards and gardens into places that support a diversity of wildlife.“
He continued, “Traditional lawns and non-native foundation plantings provide little benefit for pollinators. The idea is to restore natural habitat for wild bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and a wide range of insect species – all of whom play a critical role in pollinating our food crops and native plants.”
Minnesota residents who have an area that can be used for outdoor planting can apply for a combination of technical assistance (workshops and coaching) and cost-share funding. Shaw anticipates that Lawns to Legumes will provide assistance to about 1,500 people in total.
Renters are also encouraged to participate in increasing pollinator habitat: either by getting permission from property owners to garden, or by planting pollinator friendly plants in pots.
The state’s efforts to provide critical habitat for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee will also support Minnesota’s other pollinators and wildlife. Participating residents will be asked to provide before and after photos of their yards, and receipts for related expenses if they qualitfy for cost-share funding.

Apply in December
In December 2019, Blue Thumb will begin accepting applications from residents for the first round of individual support as part of the Lawns to Legumes program. Check the Blue Thumb or BWSR websites for updates and applications. Applicants can receive up to $350 of funding through a reimbursement process. Funding decisions will be made and all notifications emailed in February 2020 for spring garden installations.
• 2nd application round will open in March 2020, for summer and fall installations.
• 3rd application round for 2021 plantings may open depending on available funding.
Shaw explained, “In this partnership, BWSR is collaborating with a large group of conservation organizations around the state, as well as municipalities. As a small agency, we don’t have a lot of staff so we’ll be relying on our partners. We’ve been busy training our trainers. They include skilled volunteers in the conservation field like Master Naturalists, Master Water Stewards, Master Gardeners and others who are already well-grounded in environmental education. They’ll be participating in as many as 40 workshops for landowners across the state over the next three years.”
Another important contributor to the Lawns to Legumes program is the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Students there are developing graphics and messaging for a social media campaign to raise awareness about residential pollinator plantings.

Be part of a movement
Shaw said, “Sometimes I see this more as a movement than a program. Every garden project we fund will have signage, so people can see that homeowners are making a difference.
“There hasn’t been much funding for homeowners to create pollinator habitat before. This is a fantastic opportunity for our conservation partners to collaborate, and to educate the public at the same time.”

Plant these Top 10
The goal of the Lawns to Legumes program is to create areas of habitat in both urban and rural residential yards that will provide food and shelter for bees and other pollinators. Even small plantings can make a big difference, especially if there are enough of them to provide a matrix or corridor. These are the top 10 plants recommended by Lawns to Legumes to sustain pollinators in Minnesota:
Virginia Bluebell (shown above)
Blazingstar
Golden Rod
Beebalm
Beardtongue
Milkweed
Aster
Wild White Indigo
Red Columbine
Blue Giant Hyssop

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Practicing what they preach

Practicing what they preach

Posted on 12 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

CRWD building showcases native plantings, pocket park, rain gardens, tree trenches, permeable pavement, and more
By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

Midway resident Anna McLafferty said, “We can’t survive without healthy water. CRWD is helping to reduce the negative impact of people on the environment. We live in the neighborhood and our kids love the pocket park, especially the pond.”(Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) held its Grand Opening Celebration on Friday, Oct. 11. The new headquarters are located at 595 Aldine St. Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony, guests enjoyed local food from Los Ocampo, live music by the Americano Trio, art-making, kids’ activities, and building tours. CRWD broke ground on its new building in May 2018.
The transformed site includes a pocket park with a water feature, native plantings, and an interactive educational exhibit on the corner of Thomas Avenue and Aldine Street. Also visible are rain gardens, tree trenches, and permeable pavement. These features do the good work of collecting and cleaning rainwater by allowing it to soak into the ground, rather than creating storm water runoff.
Administrator Mark Doneux, said, “Our mission is to protect, manage and improve the water resources of Capitol Region Watershed District. The work of CRWD has grown immensely over the past 20 years. We are excited to be able to demonstrate best practices for managing storm water runoff here at our new office.”
Building tours showcased a rainwater capture system including a 3,000-gallon cistern, local art, reclaimed wood from nearby Willow Reserve, solar panels and many other sustainability features. The Backyard Phenology Project’s Climate Chaser was on site with their mobile lab to record and share stories of people’s observations about the changing climate.

Did you know…
CRWD, established in 1998, covers 40 square miles and includes portions of Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, Maplewood, Roseville and Saint Paul. CRWD is governed by a five-member Board of Managers that works to protect, manage and improve the water resources of the watershed district.

Emily Baskerville (right) and Suzy Lindberg (left) explored the outdoor, interactive water feature. Both are connected to CRWD through their work at Houston Engineering, and were pleased to see how the new headquarters reflects CRWD’s commitment to the arts and community. Lindberg said, “CRWD makes me proud of our St. Paul water.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Janice Erickson (holding daughter Azalia) attended the grand opening with her family on Oct. 11. Her sons Rocky and Alexander are photographers participating in the “Our Sacred Water” exhibit, which received a Partner Grant from CRWD and was shown, in part, at the grand opening event. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

 

Phyllis Panzer (left) attended the event with her son-in-law, Jordan, and grandson, Cooper. She said, “I’m here to celebrate that business and industry care enough to partner in the management of local water resources.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

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Web_FMR at Hidden Falls 48

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Long buried toxic dump at Hidden Falls Park getting attention

Posted on 12 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

The Mississippi River looks tranquil as it flows through Hidden Falls Regional Park, where people come to fish, hike, and relax. Just a few yards north of where this was taken, a cyclone fence separates parkland from Area C – a dump containing unknown quantities of toxic chemicals that are leaking into the river and ground water. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

When the river rises, it rinses through the industrial waste which leaches into surrounding river and ground water

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Hidden Falls Regional Park is located along the Mississippi River bluffs just below Lock and Dam #1. Trails run through shady, wooded bottomlands; long stretches of sandy shoreline offer a reprieve from busy city life.
But a short hike north from the picnic shelters brings visitors to a tumble down cyclone fence that defines the northern park border. Called Area C, this is where the Ford Motor Company dumped unknown quantities of industrial waste onto the Mississippi River flood plain from 1945 to 1966 near its now closed St. Paul plant.
The location of Area C has been public information for years. The dumpsite looks benign, more neglected than threatening. It is covered with concrete, soil, and scrub vegetation. However, its contents are lesser known and almost impossible to quantify.
Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) executive director Whitney Clark said, “Areas A and B were known dumps on Ford Redevelopment Site on top of the bluff (the former Ford Motor Company.) Their contents were moved to Area C in the 1960s, back when environmental standards were non-existent. The components of Area C fit into two categories. The largest category, which forms the top layer, is non-toxic construction debris. Underneath all of that lies an unknown quantity of toxic industrial waste contained in metal drums.

River corridor director and site leader Colleen O’Connor Toberman (right) talked with visitors about Area C, a toxic dump site owned by the Ford Corporation just upriver from Hidden Falls Regional Park. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“We believe that the quantity of toxic waste (including industrial solvents and paint sludge) is enormous.”
Because public pressure is so important, FMR staff and volunteers informed Hidden Falls Park visitors about the potential threat of Area C on Sept. 28, Oct. 5, and Oct. 12. Staff and volunteers gathered on site at the park in morning and afternoon sessions, and engaged visitors interested in learning more. Visitors were able to sign up for FMR updates and future meeting notifications. People using the park are likely to be among its strongest advocates and, once the snow flies, are much harder to reach.
At the request of FMR and the Capitol Region Watershed District, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) will hold a public information meeting in February 2020 to explain current site monitoring, requests for additional study, and long-term clean-up options. Contact site leader Colleen O’Connor Toberman at ctoberman@fmr.org to be notified of public meeting details, and to receive FMR updates on Area C developments.
Toxic waste is leaking from Area C into the river and groundwater at levels considered unsafe for humans. FMR and their partners are pushing for additional testing through the MPCA to ensure proper risk evaluation.
Clark said, “Modern dumps are lined with clay soils and other geo-technical materials that prevent leakage. Area C is nothing like that. It’s just a whole bunch of metal barrels sitting on the Mississippi flood plain, covered by a huge volume of construction debris. When the river rises, it inundates Area C – literally rinsing through the industrial waste, and leaching into surrounding river water and ground water. Metal barrels corrode, and some of them have been there since 1945.”
FMR has partnered with the Capitol Region Watershed District and MPCA to put added pressure on the Ford Corporation.
Clark said, “They have agreed to do a full spectrum feasibility study; this means that they could decide to do absolutely nothing when it’s over, or they could decide to haul all the debris away. We don’t believe that the investigation done to date has been adequate to inform their feasibility study. They need more extensive data.”
He continued, “That’s what we’re telling our constituents. We are pushing for the best-informed feasibility study, so that this situation can be dealt with ethically – not just legally. The Ford Corporation is in the process of selling the redevelopment site to Ryan Companies, but the river parcel (which contains Area C) will continue to be the Ford Corporation’s responsibility.”
Toberman concluded, “There’s a big gap between public information, and what people actually know about. All of the data that’s out there has been published by Ford the Corporation and its consultants, in partnership with the MPCA. This is an area that park visitors and neighbors are very interested in, and we look forward to having a great turnout for the public information meeting early next year.”

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