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Commons at Penn: Workforce housing and food co-op to open in North Minneapolis

The Green Line corridor isn’t the only area of MSP experiencing a boom in community-driven development. Two miles northwest of the Green Line’s Target Field terminus, at the heavily trafficked Penn Avenue/Golden Valley Road intersection in North Minneapolis’ Willard-Hay neighborhood, an ambitious mixed-use project is taking shape: The Commons at Penn Avenue.  
A four-story, block-long structure, Commons at Penn will house 45 units of workforce housing, a host of community amenities and the 4,000 square foot Wirth Cooperative Grocery Store — MSP’s newest grocery co-op. Watson-Forsberg and LHB Corporation are co-developing the project.
Building Blocks, a North Minneapolis nonprofit founded and overseen by native son (and former NBA star) Devean George, designed and financed Commons at Penn. Wirth Co-op is financed independently, thanks in part to a $500,000 federal grant, and will lease space in Commons at Penn’s ground floor.
If the current schedule holds, Commons at Penn and Wirth Co-op should open in spring 2016 — well in advance of the planned Penn Avenue BRT (C Line)’s debut later this decade.
“We’re shooting for an Earth Day opening for the co-op,” says Miah Ulysse, Wirth’s general manager.
The development will join nearby Broadway Flats in providing affordable housing and locally run retail along North Minneapolis’ densely populated Penn Avenue corridor.
According to Building Blocks, Commons at Penn’s residential component will feature a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units with touches common in downtown lofts: hardwood floors and nine-foot ceilings. Amenities include community rooms, an onsite fitness center and three laundry rooms.
Commons at Penn’s first floor will include a Northpoint Health & Wellness office. Though the Northpoint office won’t be a full-service clinic — the focus is on “community outreach with space for events and health education classes,” according to Building Blocks — the design does include two “flexible-use exam rooms.” Building Blocks will office in an adjacent suite.
Wirth Co-op’s arrival is another boost for the area, often considered a food desert: The closest full-service grocery store is the Cub Foods at Broadway and I-94, well over a mile to the east. Corner convenience stores and gas stations stock essentials and plenty of snack foods, but rarely fresh fruits, veggies or non-processed foods. According to TCYIMBY, about 40 percent of Wirth’s fresh food will be certified organic or natural; that proportion could increase as the co-op establishes itself in the neighborhood.
“Locally sourced items will be a huge focus for us, in addition to organic and natural,” says Ulysse.
As of mid-October, the most recent reporting date, Wirth Co-op had about 460 committed members out of a 500-member goal. Membership is $100 (one-time) per household, payable in $25 installments, and $15 for those qualifying for public assistance.

Frogtown Farm: A community vision comes to fruition

For more than seven years, Frogtown Farm has been a community vision slowly manifesting into an authentic project: A 12.7-acre parcel of public land that will include 5.5 acres developed as an urban farm. On Saturday, October 3, at 10:30 a.m., the Frogtown Farm officially opens.
“Our grand opening signifies a herculean effort by community members,” says Eartha Borer Bell, executive director, Frogtown Farm, St. Paul. “I’ve been involved with the project for a year now as paid, full time staff, and it’s constantly humbling how much time and effort, heart and soul, for over almost a decade, the community has put into the project. Our opening is a mark of what can be done when people get together, have a vision and see it through.”

Frogtown Farm is the vision of longtime Frogtown residents Seitu Jones, Soyini Guyton, Patricia Ohmans and Anthony Schmitz. “They saw a great opportunity to increase access to greenspace in the Frogtown neighborhood,” Bell says. After the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation built its main campus on the land, then put the buildings up for sale in 2008, the property was vacant. The visionaries approached the Trust for Public Land to help them raise funds to purchase the site.
In 2012, the Trust, a national nonprofit organization that conserves land for parks, gardens and other natural places, struck a deal to buy the land for $2.2 million from the  Wilder Foundation. In 2013, Frogtown Farm invited the community to help design the site. “We developed a number of community engagement initiatives around what the park and farm would look like,” Bell says. “Over a six-to-eight month process, hundreds of community members became involved. Their input resulted in the design.”
Later that year, the City of St. Paul began discussions with Frogtown Farm about owning the property, in order to keep it accessible to the public. At the end of 2013, the land was later transferred to the City of St. Paul. In addition to the farm, the site includes play areas and maintains a historic oak grove.
“Urban agriculture is really booming in the Twin Cities,” Bell says. “While Frogtown isn’t necessarily a food desert, our community does experience barriers to accessing fresh local food. The farm will help remedy that situation.” The farm will also bring the neighborhood’s various populations together, to grow, prepare and share the food grown on the farm, she adds.
“There are plenty of anecdotes, and there’s lots of information, on how Frogtown is a diverse neighborhood,” Bell explains. “But we keep hearing that there isn’t a lot of interaction between those diverse populations. We do know that people like growing and cultivating a garden or farm, and cooking and preserving food.”
“So our five-year plan includes construction of a building that would serve as an incubator for fledgling food businesses in the community, an education center with cooking classes, and a community center,” Bell adds. “We hope that will provide great opportunities for people of all ages to share food traditions from their diverse cultures.”
The grand opening on October 3 will include a land blessing ceremony (10:30 a.m.), program (11 a.m.), and “Taste of Frogtown” event with tours and activities (noon to 2 p.m.).

Urban Organics expands at Schmidt Brewery site

St. Paul aquaponics firm Urban Organics just finalized the purchase of an 80,000-square-foot building on the redeveloped Schmidt Brewery site, according to Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal. The site will likely house an aquaponic (“aquaculture”) system that produces lettuce and other greens year-round without soil or fertilizer.
Though decision-makers are mum on the details, Urban Organics also appears to be deepening its already robust partnership with Pentair, an MSP-based corporate giant that builds innovative water filtration and recycling systems. (The company is responsible for Target Field’s thrifty irrigation infrastructure, among other highly visible projects.) Pentair designed and built the aquaponics system in Urban Organics’ Hamm’s facility.
According to the Business Journal, the Schmidt Building’s actual buyer is a newly formed entity called Urban Organics Pentair Group. Urban Organics Pentair Group shares an address with a Pentair satellite office, suggesting that the larger firm is playing an active role in Urban Organics’ new project.
It’s unclear whether the Schmidt purchase presages a series of collaborations between Urban Organics and Pentair. In previous conversations with The Line, Urban Organics co-founder Fred Haberman has expressed optimism that aquaponics systems as large as 500,000 square feet — several times the size of the planned Schmidt facility — would be technologically feasible and profitable within a decade.
Regardless of its implications for Urban Organics’ future, the Schmidt transaction adds a second historic brewery location to Urban Organics’ expanding corporate footprint, following the company’s flagship facility at the old Hamm’s Brewery. It’s also a huge win for MSP’s booming urban agriculture scene, and proof that small-scale, sustainable food production systems can play a role in fixing what Haberman calls “the [United States’] broken food system.”
Business is “innovating at the wrong end of our food system,” says Haberman, pointing to heavily processed snack foods with little resemblance to naturally occurring, nutritious ingredients. “The real need is for innovation to create more sustainable modes of production.”
Urban Organics’ food production system is definitely sustainable. According to Haberman, aquaponics uses just 98 percent less water than traditional irrigation. Since much of the United States’ fresh produce is grown in the water-starved Southwest, Urban Organics’ water-sipping, locally operated technology is a huge advantage.
And since Urban Organics uses fish to clear waste from its tanks, the growing process doesn’t produce industrial quantities of harmful runoff — another advantage over non-organic, soil-based agriculture.
“By itself, aquaponics won’t solve the problems facing modern agriculture,” says Haberman. But Urban Organics’ ambitious vision for a more sustainable agricultural future is nonetheless worth celebrating — and the new Schmidt space marks a major milestone on the company’s journey.

Urban Forage seeking to start Midwest's first urban winery

Urban Forage Winery & Cider House is looking to join the abundance of local beverage startups in the Twin Cities. With the recent arrival of cider brewers and micro-distilleries, Urban Forage’s Jeff Zeitler is asking “Why not an urban winery?”
The answer is complicated due to national, state and city regulations. But Zeitler is forging ahead with renovations to the future home of the Midwest’s first urban winery, in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Zeitler has been making wine, cider and mead with fruit and other ingredients foraged in the Twin Cities for two decades. Whether shaking mulberry trees in Como Park or plucking donated apples from a neighbor’s tree, his process leads to a product with the unmistakable terroir of the Twin Cities. His latest dandelion lilac wine was a big hit at his block’s National Night Out party, he says.
To scale the operation up to a commercial level (he wants to produce almost 6,000 gallons of product a year), he hopes to supplement what he can forage with produce past its shelf life—but still good for making wine—from local grocery stores and warehouses. He also plans to use surplus fruit from area orchards and farms. He’s going to have to clear some regulatory hurdles first, though.
To protect and promote Minnesota’s fledgling rural wine industry, the State Legislature passed the Farm Wineries Act in 2012. The statute gives farm wineries special status under Minnesota liquor laws, with a number of special allowances such as Sunday sales, self-distribution and the ability to operate a full restaurant.
The law also specifies farm wineries must be located on agricultural land—a sticking point for Zeitler’s “urban winery,” which would be located at 3016 East Lake Street in Minneapolis. He would be able to operate under a previous winery law still on the books, but wouldn’t have the many advantages allowed to farm wineries.
Zeitler spent the last year lobbying the State Legislature to even the playing field between farm and urban wineries. “Right now rural wineries have a lot of advantages…and I was trying to get urban wineries put on the same level, but there were a lot of people opposed,” he says.
If Zeitler were to mix a certain percentage of barley malt in with cider while brewing, as other cider makers in the area do, he could operate with a brewer’s license and enjoy the benefits offered to brewers under recent state and city legislative changes that have lead to the brew boom in the Twin Cities. But he’s unwilling to do so, which leaves him with a winery designation in the eyes of the federal government.
After hiring a lawyer to help interpret state statutes, Zeitler is now confident state law will allow him to sell onsite and operate the winery equivalent of a taproom. Current city regulations, however, would not.
So as things currently stand, Urban Forage Winery can produce onsite, distribute via a distributor and sell online. For now, Zeitler says, that’s enough. He will take the fight to the Minneapolis City Council.
Regardless, Zeitler plans to begin production in spring of 2015. “If nothing else, we will do production in the basement,” he says. “If we never get self-distribution or sales onsite, well, who knows how long we’ll make it? But we’re going to give it a shot.”

Urban Organics: Twin Cities first indoor organic aquaponics farm

With the ceremonial snip of ribbon made from kale, the old Hamm’s Brewery building in East Saint Paul kicked off its new life last week as the Twin Cities first large-scale indoor organic aquaponics farm.

By combining fish and vegetables, the Saint Paul-based Urban Organics hopes to supply a steady stream of hyper-local organic fresh produce to Twin Cities’ consumers year-round.

Urban Organics utilizes an innovative closed-loop water filtration system designed by Minnesota-based Pentair. Fish raised in large tanks provide nutrients to feed the plants. In turn, the plants’ root systems clean the water before it’s recycled back into the fish tanks.

Urban Organics co-founder Fred Haberman says the system allows the operation to produce crops 40 percent faster using only 2 percent of the water traditional forms of farming require to grow the same volume of veggies. Once all six floors of the building are up and running, Urban Organics expects to produce 720,000 pounds of greens and 150,000 pounds of fish annually.

The endeavor does more than grow fresh organic vegetables that go from harvest to kitchen table in hours. Urban Organics also addresses a confluence of challenges associated with rapid population growth, as it simultaneously confronts modern concerns with the global water supply, disparate food systems, sustainable energy, and urban renewal. That confluence, Haberman says, is “outrageously exciting!”

Haberman is passionate about the economic development component of Urban Organics—one of the major motivators behind the site choice, for which the City of Saint Paul chipped in $150,000 toward the purchase price.

“This was a brewery that employed a ton of Eastsiders for a very long time,” said Saint Paul City Council President Kathy Lantry at the opening event. “When it became vacant [in 1997], it was a huge blow to the neighborhood.”

Haberman and co-founder Dave Haider both draw inspiration, and the occasional consultation, from Will Allen, a former professional basketball player who was given a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” for his work spurring urban renewal through sustainable agriculture in inner-city Milwaukee, Wis.

“Will Allen really took aquaponics and used it to transform a food desert…into a food oasis,” Haberman said at the event.

It’s not the first time Haberman and Haider have pursued a mutual passion in a big a way. The duo also worked together putting on the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships in Minneapolis.

Their new endeavor is not without its challenges.

“No one’s made money at this that we know of,” Haberman said. “We know the demand for local organic produce that is fresh year round is very high. Where the challenge is for us, is being able to create enough production and grow capacity in a very expedited, efficient way so we can get the cash flow positive.”

The farm is currently growing two kinds of kale, Swiss chard, parsley, basil, and cilantro, as well as raising tilapia. Through an exclusive partnership, all of the farm’s production is currently on shelves at select Lunds and Byerly’s stores around the Twin Cities.

Haberman says they plan to continue experimenting with different leafy greens and will likely try raising striped bass as other floors of the building become operational later this year.

Kyle Mianulli

Night market debuts June 14 in St. Paul's Little Mekong

The vibrant blend of sights, smells, sounds, and people milling together at Southeast Asian night markets can be a vivid sensory and cultural experience. This summer, the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) is bringing a slice of that life to the Twin Cities.

Throughout the summer, AEDA will hold five outdoor night markets in the Little Mekong business and cultural district of Saint Paul, between the Mai Village and Little Szechuan restaurants on the 300 block of University Avenue. The first market will be held June 14, the same day the Green Line’s light-rail service begins.

The Little Mekong district is home to a high concentration of Asian residents and businesses. Of the almost 80 establishments on the five-block stretch of University between Mackubin and Marion streets, about 75 percent are Asian-owned according to a 2013 AEDA study documenting the impact of Central Corridor Light Rail Transit on the area.

Many of these small businesses were hit hard by light-rail construction over the last several years, according Theresa Swaney, AEDA’s communications coordinator. AEDA hopes to bring needed visibility, and customers, to businesses still reeling from the disruption. Swaney also hopes the night markets will help breathe new life into the area as a nighttime destination. “It’s sort of shifting the idea of what’s acceptable, and possible, at night,” she says.

Like farmers markets, the Little Mekong night markets will host local farmers selling fresh produce, but also up to 30 different vendors selling specialty food, art, and crafts. “It’s sort of this mix between a festival and a farmers market,” says Swaney. “It’s going to be a little more entertaining and a little more exciting than just getting your vegetables.” Artist organizer Oskar Ly is planning live performances, art, and activities as part of the market.

Organizers are currently looking for businesses and vendors located from throughout the Twin Cities to participate. Unlike many markets, applicants don’t have to be established. “We’re pushing toward new vendors,” Swaney says. “We want these people to have an opportunity to sell their stuff, and if they do well, maybe draw them into opening a brick-and-mortar business in the district or along University.”

AEDA also hopes the night markets will help lay ground for a new public plaza and community gathering space at the site. A rundown building used mostly for storage currently sits in the middle of the plot. The organization recently held a series of workshops and community meetings to gather input on redeveloping the site.

Source: Theresa Swaney
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

Urban Organics redefines former Hamm's Brewery space

Urban Organics, an urban fish and produce farm, is leading the way in redeveloping a portion of the historic Hamm’s Brewery site in St. Paul, which has been vacant since 1997.  

The farm will be modeled on Growing Power, a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee, according to David Haider, who co-owns Urban Organics with his wife, Kristen.

“Urban agriculture and aquaponics can change the way food gets to people,” Haider says.

The plans center on aquaponics, which “is the symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a re-circulating system,” according to the Growing Power aquaponics website.

Urban Organics will use a vertical farming system that produces fresh, organic food year-round, including tilapia, spinach, lettuce, herbs, and microgreens.

“It’s a way we feel we can give back,” says Haider, who grew up near the old brewery. He has another personal connection to the place: His great-grandfather worked there for 40 years.

Urban Organics will fill several of the five-and two-story buildings on the premises; they will be revamped in several phases. The first phase, which will probably take three months, will run between $500,000 and $750,000, he says.

To handle the weight of the tanks and other equipment and materials, Urban Organics needed “overbuilt buildings” like those on the site, and the brewery has an aquifer as well. “It’s a great water source,” Haider says.

The food produced will go to local restaurants, markets, co-ops, schools, food shelves, and more. Urban Organics also plans to offer various educational programs on the process.  

“We’re trying to come up with a proven model, to get them into every city,” he says. “We’re all pioneers in this, trying to figure out the best method.”  

He hopes to get fish in the tanks by June.

“I think it’ll be a great thing for the neighborhood,” he says. “Hopefully other businesses will follow suit.”

Source: David Haider, Urban Organics
Writer: Anna Pratt

Summit Hill community members trying to establish a $5,000-plus community garden in the neighborhood

A group of community members in St. Paul’s Summit Hill neighborhood are working to bring an idea for a community garden to fruition.

It’s something that the Summit Hill Association (SHA) has been talking about for several years and it’s finally starting to come together, according to Kate Pearce, who chairs the neighborhood group’s environment committee.

“As most community gardens are aiming to do, we want to use more green space for the cultivation of food and to do some community-building at the same time,” she says. “It’s just a more sustainable way of growing food and getting it local.”  

Community gardens are also good for security, with more people out and about who know their neighbors, she says. “It’s something the neighborhood wants and needs.”  

SHA, which has scouted out various locations for the garden, is currently eyeing a site at Linwood Park, between the recreation center and tennis courts, where there’s open lawn space.

Already, SHA has looked into the feasibility of the city-owned site. The biggest challenge will be to create the infrastructure to pipe water into the garden, which will probably cost $5,000, according to Pearce.  

The soil may also need to be tested, while the garden's size and the number of plots are also yet to be determined.

At a Feb. 28 public meeting that the environment committee is hosting, “We’ll get to know how many people are interested in helping to get it going,” she says.

Then, they’ll be able to come up with a rough timeline and a plan for fundraising and applying for grants for the project. At this point, Pearce is unsure what its total cost might be.  

Although the timeline is still unknown, Pearce predicts that the garden could be ready in the spring of 2013.

“We’re assuming there’ll be a high demand,” she says. “We have to figure out how to make it equal-opportunity [so] that it’s fair to everyone.”   

Source: Kate Pearce, environment committee, Summit Hill Association
Writer: Anna Pratt

Local Food Resource Hub in the works for East Side of Minneapolis

Soon, Minneapolis's East Side will get something called a Local Food Resource Hub.

The hub, which is still in planning stages, is a part of a program that was piloted in the city last year. Through neighborhood-embedded hubs, it connects hundreds of gardeners to discounted seeds and seedlings, tool sharing, workshops, and more.

Stephanie Hankerson, who is a program volunteer, explains, “A hub implies a physical location that people descend to but it’s more of a network of gardeners supporting each other." She adds that the hubs have only temporary locations.

Another hub is also in the works in St. Paul.

Gardening Matters, a local nonprofit agency that provides support for community gardens, is administering the program in partnership with the city and various community organizations and businesses.  

Hankerson explains, “The idea is to lower the barriers to get food-growing happening in backyards and community gardens and even support for commercial enterprises.”

It’s based on a model that’s been successful in Detroit, according to Hankerson.

Hubs offer memberships to gardeners based on a sliding scale fee, and scholarships are available.

Last year, each hub had about 200 members, which is a number that she expects to increase this year.

The individual volunteer-driven hubs each have a different flavor. “It reflects the neighborhood and community it’s coming from,” says Hankerson. 

“My hope is that the hub would be a support system for folks to grow their own food,” she says, adding, “At the same time, it’ll make our neighborhoods more sustainable and self-sufficient.”

On March 3, the hubs are hosting a program-wide fundraiser, with a winter sowing demonstration, composting tips, and information about low-cost city trees and community gardens, according to program materials.

A couple other kickoff events for the East Side hub are also in the works for February. For more information, check the Gardening Matters website

Source: Stephanie Hankerson, East Side Local Food Resource Hub
Writer: Anna Pratt 

Stone's Throw Urban Farm plans to expand in coming year

Stone’s Throw Urban Farm, which is working to redefine local sustainable food, will expand its territory next year.

The farm was formed this fall through the merger of Uptown Farmers and Concrete Beet Farmers in Minneapolis and Pig’s Eye Urban Farm in St. Paul.  

The merger made sense because the farms shared similar beliefs and farming practices, according to Stone’s Throw farmer Alex Liebman.

“We want to sustain those business practices and we hope we do a better job because we’re more focused with our energy and time,” he says.  

Right now the farm is trying to acquire enough land to make the business financially viable--to the extent that it can pay its workers a living wage, he says.

Besides the practical financial benefits, “We all sort of were becoming good friends and sharing resources,” he says. “It’s a win-win for all of us.”

In 2012, the farm plans to convert up to 10 vacant lots in St. Paul into farmland, along with a handful of other properties in Minneapolis.

“It’s an ongoing process to try to get vacant lots and find out if the landowners are receptive to the idea of beautifying it and growing vegetables.”   

Securing land for the long term is another objective they’ll be tackling going forward.   

Liebman is optimistic about some zoning changes being discussed that will “allow us to become a legitimate land use in the city,” he says.

The changes will help farms get established in the Twin Cities. As it is, farms operate in a gray area, he says. With the new zoning rules, which still need to be approved, “There’s more legal clarity about what we can and can’t do.”  
Although the urban farm scene is “small and intimate,” there’s a lot of excitement about the practice, with a number of nonprofit initiatives, school programs, and community gardens doing good work.

“Any time you’re converting forsaken lots into beautiful productive spaces it’s a good thing for the community,” Liebman says, adding, “And you’re producing food that stays in the Twin Cities.”

Source: Alex Liebman, Stone’s Throw Urban Farm
Writer: Anna Pratt

Venture North Bike Walk and Coffee celebrates its North Side opening

Venture North Bike Walk and Coffee, which had its grand opening on Oct. 8, is the first bike shop of any sort to make its home in North Minneapolis.

Its added emphases on walking and coffee make it a unique hub, with everything from bike paraphernalia to classes on healthy living, according to city information.

Additionally, Venture North's first day of business coincided with the unveiling of new bike lanes on the nearby Emerson and Fremont avenues.

The city is a partner in the shop; it provided startup money for the place through a federal grant, while, further down the line, as much as $350,000 could help sustain the shop, according to MPR.

The city also selected Redeemer Center for Life, a nonprofit community developer that’s based on the North Side, to manage the shop.

“The goal of the initiative is to improve access for affordable physical activity opportunities among north Minneapolis residents,” a prepared statement from the city reads.

Venture North will also be hosting biking, walking and running clubs, along with a jobs program for youth.

The local Dogwood Coffee Co. helped put in place the coffee and espresso bar, according to city information.

Although the shop will cater to people of all ages and athletic abilities, the store’s manager, Jacob Flinsch-Garrison says in a prepared statement that “we will be especially oriented toward serving the needs of those who are getting into bicycling or walking for the first time, or who have not done so for a while."

“Venture North is committed to making each of our store’s visitors feel welcome. Our motto is ‘gratitude, not attitude,’” he says.

Source: City of Minneapolis
Writer: Anna Pratt

St. Paul is first city internationally to go green with its swimming pools

When the city of St. Paul got a chance to pilot a green initiative in its swimming pools a couple years ago, it jumped at it.

Since then, the city has become an international leader in the technology that uses moss to reduce chlorine and save water and money.

Recently, the project was also one of three to nab a Governor’s Award for Pollution Prevention, the Pioneer Press reports.

It started when a local company, Creative Water Solutions, approached the city about trying the moss technology at the Highland Park Aquatic Center, at no charge.

Brad Meyer, a spokesperson for the Parks and Recreation department, explains via email that at the time, “The technology worked in smaller settings, but hadn’t been tried yet in large settings like a municipal pool,” he says.

The city’s pools get a lot of use, so water quality is a constant concern, according to Meyer.

To stay on top of it, more chemicals were being used, which is costlier and has environmental repercussions, he says.

In 2009, the city experimented with sphagnum moss at the Highland Park Aquatic Center. It fully rolled out the technology at the pool in 2010. At that time it also expanded it at the Great River Water Park. Como Pool will use the technology when it reopens in 2012, according to Meyer.  

Now, besides the regular chemical treatment that the water gets as it goes through various pipes in the mechanical room, it also gets filtered by the moss, which “re-conditions" it.

As a result of the technology, chemical use at the pools has been cut in half. Also, the moss doesn’t leave any residue, making cleanup at the end of the season easier, he says.

The renewable resource also benefits swimmers in that it “allows users to not experience the burning/itchy eyes and green hair that often come with normal municipal pools,” he says.   

Further, since the city adopted the technology, Creative Water Solutions has brought it to more than 50 municipal pools, according to Meyer.

Source: Brad Meyer, spokesperson, St. Paul Parks
Writer: Anna Pratt

East Side community members contemplate setting up natural food coop

At a public meeting on Sept. 20, some residents of St. Paul’s East Side will float an idea for a natural foods coop.

Beth Butterfield, one of the meeting's organizers, says that she's wanted to see a coop close to home ever since she moved to the area seven years ago.

About the East Side, which is the city's largest and most diverse neighborhood, she says, “I love it. I have friends here and I want to stay. But there are things that it could have to be more attractive," such as a natural foods coop.

Earlier this summer, she started talking it over with others who share her enthusiasm. Looking at other successful examples, such as the Mississippi Market on Selby and Dale avenues in St. Paul and The Wedge in Minneapolis, they wondered, “What would it take to open one?”  

Butterfield hopes the meeting will help to provide a sense for the level of support for such a “completely grassroots undertaking,” she says.

She says the timing makes sense because more and more people are interested in local organic foods and where they come from. A local coop would also help keep dollars in the community, which is especially needed on the East Side, she says. 

A coop could include a cafe and meeting space and feature items from local youth farmers.

However, to become a reality, the coop needs a committed group of volunteers. “A coop is about member-ownership. It’s not owned by one person,” which, she says, is what makes it a challenge to organize.

From the planning to the running of such a place, “It’s not just about food. It’s about bringing people together,” she says, adding, “That really is our grander goal in this.”

Source: Beth Butterfield, East Side natural foods coop organizer
Writer: Anna Pratt

$50,000 floating islands provide shelter for wildlife and clean Spring Lake

On Spring Lake in Minneapolis, seven floating islands that were fashioned from everyday recyclables are serving as wildlife habitat. At the same time, they’re helping to remediate the lake’s impaired waters.

The islands, which come from the St. Paul-based company Midwest Floating Islands, feature native plants for a “concentrated wetland effect," according to a prepared statement about the project.

They were launched on the lake last week.

It’s the most significant example of this kind of technology at work in Minnesota, according to Craig Wilson, who serves on the board for the Lowry Hill neighborhood group.

Wilson is also a landscape architect who is the principal of the local green business, Sustology. He was instrumental in getting the islands set up.

The $50,000 Spring Lake project resulted from a collaboration between the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association (LHNA) and the American Society of Landscape Architects Minnesota Chapter, along with numerous other partners.

This project was also featured on a national scale as a part of the Society’s “8/17/11” campaign to build awareness of its work.

The idea is to restore the historic bird and wildlife sanctuary, according to Wilson.

Birds and other animals hang out at the surface of the islands. Less visible are the microbes the islands attract beneath the surface, which are “responsible for breaking down water-borne pollutants,” according to a prepared statement about the project. 

Wilson says that the floating islands were originally part of the RiverFIRST proposal to transform a portion of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities.  

RiverFIRST, which is still in early phases from TLS/KVA landscape architects and designers, is “a multifaceted and multidimensional vision for a renewed and revitalized Upper Riverfront," the website reads.

But as a result of the state government shutdown earlier this summer, the floating islands had to be relocated. That’s when Wilson thought about the close-to-home Spring Lake, which many people don’t even know exists, he says.

The Lowry Hill neighborhood group had previously helped with species removal in the lake but hadn’t yet tackled its water quality issues. “We realized that if we upgraded the number of islands, we’d be able to clean up the lake,” he says.

It was then that the project became more than a demonstration, something that “could benefit the whole lake,” he says, adding, “It’s also a great educational opportunity.”

Source: Craig Wilson, principal, Sustology
Writer: Anna Pratt


The Garden of Feed´┐Żem gives to the community in more ways than one

The Garden of Feed'em, a community endeavor on St. Paul's East Side, has thrived in its first year. 

From the spring of 2010 to today, the garden, which sits on a two-acre piece of land near the Conway Recreation Center, has produced eggplants, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cilantro, and other vegetables and herbs, thanks in part to donations, according to Barb Winter, who is one of the community members leading the charge. 

In return, lots of vegetables have gone to local food shelves, churches, and rec center seniors, Winter says.

The garden has also become a community gathering place.

It came together after she and some other garden organizers, with the support of the District 1 Community Council, got the go-ahead from the St. Paul parks and rec department. The department had called for community garden proposals for the parcel.

Volunteers brought in compost and then tilled the land a couple of times, she says. Fortunately, they were able to get the equipment needed to draw water from an area fire hydrant.  

Soon after, the volunteers spread the word about the garden at various neighborhood meetings. It's attracted plenty of interest ever since, she says.

As proof of that, the garden has grown from a handful of 5-foot by 30-foot plots last year to the current five communal plots, along with a dozen rentable plots that run 10 feet by 30 feet.

One thing that makes the garden unique is that a diverse group grows food there, including representatives from a handful of local immigrant communities plus rec center youth. "I'm really glad to see all of the participation," Winter says, adding, "It's a nice melting pot."   

Everyone takes turns watering the garden, she says.

At monthly meetings, the gardeners discuss issues such as a Japanese beetle infestation and slow-to-ripen tomatoes, and they share tips and recipes.

In the coming months, Winter is hoping the Garden will be able to host a fall festival.

She says it's been a boon for the neighborhood. "It was a lot of work in the beginning to see the harvest and growth, and now everyone's caught on," she says. "It's a beautiful thing."

Source: Barb Winter, organizer, Garden of Feed'em  
Writer: Anna Pratt

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