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Life Sciences : Development News

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Pollinate Minnesota adds to buzz about pollinators

For three years Erin Rupp worked with local bee advocacy group and honey producer Beez Kneez as its director of education, incubating ideas about how to expand the public’s understanding of the vital role pollinators play in our food system. This spring, her ideas came to fruition. Rupp recently launched Pollinate Minnesota, a nonprofit organization designed to engage the public, including policymakers, in “a world with strong, healthy pollinators and people, where farms are functional parts of ecosystems and schools are functional environments for all learners,” according to the website.
Pollinate Minnesota will use honeybees to teach about pollinators’ role in creating a healthy, sustainable food system, focusing on interactive experiences for individuals and groups that include visiting bees in their hives. “I really love teaching about pollinators by putting people in beekeeping suits,” Rupp enthuses. “Bees are great tool to connect to a lot of different subjects. They’re social insects. And we know they sting — that’s pretty engaging, right, that they can hurt us? — and yet we’re doing most of the stinging by damaging their habitat.”
Rupp says beekeepers are losing 30 to 50 percent of their hives annually, mainly due to starvation. Because of the decimation of native habitats, bees need to fly greater distances to find pollen and nectar. Systemic pesticides — including neonicotinoids, which persist in the environment, and when used as seed treatments move into the pollen and nectar of adult plants — kill bees. And plant cultivars, while showy and colorful, often have had the nectar and pollen bees need bred out of the plant.
“The decline of bees tells the story of how our food system is broken in a way that both second graders and state legislators can understand,” Rupp says. To those ends, Rupp is actively seeking partners for the upcoming season; places where she can expand the possibilities of teaching with bees, such as in parks close to schools or on school grounds. She’s also at the State Capitol working on “forward-looking legislation that’s good for pollinators and people,” she says, including Governor Dayton’s “Buffer Bill.”
Rupp also wants to work on pesticide legislation, and to collaborate with the Minnesota Department of Transportation of increasing native plantings along roadsides. Meanwhile, she encourages people to plant flower gardens and pots with flowers bees need. “Just ask the seed catalogs or plant nurseries you’re buying from whether their products are free of systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids,” she says.
On Monday, March 30, Pollinate Minnesota will celebrate its launch with an event that includes a 2015 legislative session overview of Minnesota state pollinator policy work.  The event runs from 6:30-8:00pm on 3.30.2015 at the Gandhi Mahal Community Room, 3009 27th Avenue South, Minneapolis.


Heirloom Project introduces native plants to South Minneapolis garages

The heirlooms appearing in the back alleys of a South Minneapolis neighborhood are not diamond rings or other family treasures. But the drawings artist Rachel Breen is installing on garage doors and walls, in many ways, represent something even more valuable—native heirloom plants and seeds at risk of extinction due to modern commercial farming practices.
With a $10,000 grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the permission of homeowners in the Kingfield neighborhood of Minneapolis, Breen has been installing her Heirloom Project—ephemeral drawings of native heirloom plants—on six of her neighbor’s garage doors and walls.
The process she uses embodies the fragility of biodiversity in the modern ecosystem and the delicate place many vital heirloom plants currently occupy within it. Using an unthreaded needle and sewing machine, she “draws” plants like milkweed onto large sheets of plastic. She then paints over the stencils with an air brush, leaving a whispy dotted image of the plant in different stages, from its fruit bearing or flowering manifestation to when the blooms die and the seeds can be spread.
Breen was inspired by the practice of seed saving, where average citizens can play a role in preserving vital heirloom plants for the future. “Seed saving is this really revolutionary act that we all could be doing and it’s important for so many reasons,” Breen says.
Pesticide use in modern commercial farming has caused significant loss of habitat for pollinator insects like bees and butterflies. The loss of habitat for these insects, due in part to pesticide use, has led to drastically decreasing populations in recent years. But there are other reasons preserving diversity in flora is an essential practice, Breen says.
For instance, the great Irish potato famine in the 17th century was caused by a single strain of potato blight. Because the entire country was essentially growing one type of potato, the blight spread quickly and almost wiped out the entire country’s supply of potatoes—the main source of food at the time.
“You actually have strength when there’s more diversity,” she explains. “We’ve lost a lot of biodiversity by only growing certain plants because seed companies are only selling certain kinds of genetically modified seeds,” Breen explains.
There’s a metaphorical message in Breen’s Heirloom Project as well: How do we conceive of things passed down through generations from family and community that aren’t necessarily physical objects?
Whether it’s music, language, or customs and traditions, she asks, “How do we think about what it is we’ve inherited from the past and what do we want to pass on?” “Considering that we’ve inherited many wonderful things from our culture and our community that are not objects, what is it that we would also then like to pass on to the future?”
Breen is also moving ahead with plans to establish a seed library at a local park where neighbors will be able to exchange and preserve rare but important seeds of native heirloom plants.

Field guide explores Green Line's natural history

Hidden in the urban jungle of concrete and steel is a whole natural world waiting to be rediscovered and explored, says local artist and botanist Sarah Nassif. The new Green Line light-rail stations, she adds, are a great place to start.

Nassif’s new project, The Other Green Line, supported by Irrigate Arts, asks participants to start thinking of Green Line stations as not only jumping off points to previously unexplored businesses and restaurants, but also as trailheads leading to underappreciated natural beauty and history.

“The more you look, the more you see, and it happens really fast,” Nassif says of taking time to notice the natural world along the Central Corridor.

The Other Green Line is a field guide for amateur urban naturalists. Nassif organized the book into eight, themed nature “forays” along the Green Line.

One follows the path of a wayward black bear that took itself on a walk through the Frogtown neighborhood in 2012. Another explores the Kasota Wetlands near the Raymond Station, which are a remnant of a 1,000-acre backwater once fed by the free-flowing Mississippi.

The forays take participants through several different biomes—less identifiable today than they were 100 years ago. Lowertown was once dense forest, for instance. The area around the Victoria Station used to be prairie.

Tower Hill in Prospect Park is one of many glacial hills that once dotted the Minneapolis landscape before most were mined for gravel. Tower Hill still stands because neighbors bought the site and turned it into a park to keep it from being mined.

Tower Hill, Nassif says, “speaks volumes [about] how much the landscape changes because we’re here, and how people coming together and being aware together about nature can have a powerful effect on what’s here for future generations.”

In addition to the eight self-guided forays in the book, Nassif is leading a series of three tours. The first began at Bedlam Theater last Saturday and explored the white sandstone cliffs along the Mississippi River once used as natural refrigeration for kegs of beer, as well as pirate safe keeps and hideouts. Tour goers also noticed stones mined from area quarries and used in the Endicott Building at 141 E. 4th Street.

“It’s just interesting to stand there and realize you’re standing on what used be an ocean, that’s why the sandstone exists—it used to be the bottom of a sea,” Nassif says.

Also in the field guide are lists of area businesses for excursion supplies, and suggestions for where to cozy up to a beer and a meal when you’re finished. “There are tons of new places to explore both in the landscape and in the humanscape,” Nassif says.

Nassif’s field guide contains blank pages to draw and record what you find. You can also share your findings, sketches and stories on The Other Green Line website, where there is a list of area businesses carrying the book and information on upcoming guided tours.


Creating a framework to encourage urban agriculture in Minneapolis

As part of a broader effort to encourage healthy eating and local food growing, the city of Minneapolis is crafting an Urban Agriculture Policy Plan, which it's asking for public feedback on via a couple of community meetings this month.  

The plan deals with land use, zoning codes, access to land, and design as it pertains to urban agriculture, according to city information.

It's an extension of Homegrown Minneapolis, another initiative that the city started in 2008 to "improve the growth, sales, distribution, and consumption of healthy, locally grown foods within the city," the program's webpage reads.

The plan outlines various recommendations for zoning changes that would allow for commercial food growing and full-fledged urban farming, explains city planner Amanda Arnold.  

For instance, it calls for urban farms in industrial areas and in certain commercial districts; allowing market gardens to be located on rooftops and the ground, and setting maximum lot areas so that market gardens fit into neighborhoods.   

Other recommendations emphasize urban agriculture in long-range planning and in conjunction with new development, as part of the landscaping.  

In general, she says, "The idea is to make it more feasible for growing in the city."

A number of other cities around the country, she says, are undergoing similar initiatives to address the growing trend toward urban agriculture. Seattle recently revised some aspects of its zoning code to allow for more local growing and Chicago is in the middle of doing the same thing. Meanwhile, urban farming has caught on in Milwaukee, Detroit, and Cleveland, according to Arnold.  

"Efforts around the country vary a lot," she says, adding that although the concept has been around for a long time, "I think the formalization and promotion of urban agriculture is a recent movement."   

The plan will go before the City Council in February.

Source: Amanda Arnold, Principal Planner, City of Minneapolis, Department of Community Planning and Economic Development
Writer: Anna Pratt

Minnesota Science Park aims to house 21st-century researchers on 32 urban acres

Just don't call it a corporate campus.

That might send prospective tenants of the Minnesota Science Park--a million square feet of research facilities on 32 acres near the University of Minnesota campus and the border between Minneapolis and St. Paul--running in the opposite direction.  

Inventors, research scientists and biotech entrepreneurs want spare, efficient, functional spaces to do their work, says architect John Cuningham, whose Minneapolis-based Cuningham Group Architecture will design the dozen or so buildings on what's now industrial land nestled up against the edge of the U of M's East Bank campus.

"They don't want ostentatious display," Cuningham says. "They actively dislike it." They want shared spaces where researchers in different areas can interact, but beyond that they tend to be hostile to what they regard as wasteful niceties.

It's "a very demanding project," he says, requiring Cuningham's designers to be "very economical with very advanced technology."

The project breaks the mold of most research parks located near university campuses, Cuningham says. Like the U of M itself, the Minnesota Science Park will be crammed into the urban core rather than sprawled across farmland on a rural, land-grant campus. The nonprofit team behind the project (no state dollars involved) announced it at the annual gathering of the national Association of University Research Parks held in Minneapolis last week.

Cuningham's firm had already been involved for a decade or so with urban design and planning in the Southeast Minneapolis Industrial (SEMI) Area at the western end of the Midway, a linear industrial district that stretches for miles through St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Once renowned as having the world's highest concentration of grain elevators, the area will instead be home to "21st-century American discoveries," Cuningham says, such as alternative fuels and nanotechnology.

"This is not manufacturing farm implements," Cuningham says.

Source: John Cuningham, Cuningham Group Architecture, P.A.
Writer: Chris Steller
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