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Mister Michael Recycles 08

Bike shop in Midway is on a mission

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin


Mister Michael Recycles 08Shop owners Michael and Benita Warns have a lot in common. They own a business together: Mister Michael Recycles Bicycles at 520 Prior Ave. N. They’re “tandem people,” who enjoy riding their bicycle built for two. They’re both engineers, they abhor waste, and they really like giving away recycled bikes.

By their own estimates, they’ve given away more than 4,000 bicycles in the course of their ministry, which is what they call their work. In 1998, a young boy in their Midway neighborhood saw Mike and Benita were always tinkering with bikes. He dragged one over to their garage and asked, “Can you fix this?” The bike wasn’t much, but that young neighbor, who is grown now and a vital part of the shop team, figured it’d get him around. It did that and more. The broken bike started a 17 year friendship between the three biking enthusiasts, and launched a business idea.

“Our main focus is on giving away bikes,” Benita said. “Among our diverse recipients are low income kids, college students, new immigrants, neighbors, residents of half-way houses, and homeless people. Our bikes are available to anyone – we don’t have an intake process or ask any questions.”

The shop operates on a break-even basis and succeeds because the raw materials are free, and volunteers donate many hours of repair time and skill.

There is a small selection of repaired/refurbished bikes for sale, as well as an assortment of new and used bike parts.

Customers can bring their own bikes in for repair at the rate of $15/hour. Ninety percent of the income earned goes right back into upkeep and operation of the store. The remaining 10% is given away to charity. The volunteers designate a different charity each quarter; recipients from 2014 included the ALS Foundation, Feline Rescue, Anne Bancroft Foundation and Sisters Camelot.

Mister Michael Recycles 12Michael and Benita make the rounds of various community recycling centers and pick up bikes that are considered junk. “Those that are beyond repair, we tear apart,” Michael said,  “but we salvage as many parts as possible and use them to repair other bikes. We’ve been able to keep a whole lot of metal from going into local landfills.”

They’ve been at their current location for seven years. “We operated out of our garage at first,” Benita said. “Over the course of ten years, we had to keep renting more garages and it didn’t make sense to have bikes stored in so many different places. We needed a more formal arrangement. When we heard that 520 Prior Ave. was for rent with a retail front and six garages out back, we figured it was just about perfect.”

The store is open for business on Tuesday and Thursday from 7-9pm and Sunday from 12-4pm. Those are also times when volunteers are invited in to help repair bikes for give-away. Bring your bike repair skills, whatever they might be, and learn to answer the question yourself, “Can you fix this?”

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Ryan LaBoy music director

ComMUSICation focuses on life skills through music

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin


Ryan LaBoy music directorPerseverance. Discipline. Teamwork. Collaboration. Empathy. All these skills that can help a person succeed in life are being taught to the young people participating in ComMUSICation in Saint Paul.

Founded by Sara Zanussi, ComMUSICation is based on the El Sistema system developed in Venezuela by Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu that uses excellence of the music ensemble to develop a transferrable set of life skills that fosters good teachers, leaders, citizens, and musicians.

Zanussi, a St. Paul native, did a Sistema fellowship in Boston at the New England Conservatory in 2012 and 2013.

“It was a year-long program that trained musicians who are passionate about transforming their communities, using music,” Zanussi explained.  She returned to St. Paul and learned there are no secular youth choirs in the city, and she particularly focused on the Promise Neighborhood, a program designed to give all St. Paul children the resources and support to be successful from “cradle to career.”  That area falls within the borders of Pierce Butler, Rice, Selby and Lexington.

ComMUSICation 2Zanussi said the Promise Neighborhood connection led her to St. Paul City School at 635 Virginia St., and she got Saint Paul Public Schools, the St. Paul Conservatory of Music and Sprocket Youth Development Network involved.

“I really wanted to do something that was using existing resources,” Zanussi said, “and the community collaboration was really important to me. As a result, 60% of our budget is in-kind.”

“We started planning the program in the summer of 2013 and started hiring staff that fall,” she continued. “We did our pilot program in January 2014 and continued until the beginning of May, and we had 100% of parents at our final performance.”

ComMUSICation follows the school year and also continues for two weeks in the summer.

“Something that makes our program unique is that we are not just about providing a program for the students but also something that connects families together,” Zanussi stated. “It provides an opportunity for parents to connect with their child in a positive way through seeing their child perform, as well as providing community performances that anyone can go to. We’ve done a ton of partnerships with the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Opera and Minnesota Orchestra. We’ve built bikes with Cycles for Change and done a ton of things that involve the greater community. We introduce these kids to a lot of cool opportunities that I didn’t have as a kid.”

ComMUSICation 1The program is divided into two choral groups, Crescendo Choir and ComMUSICation Choir.  Between the two, they will be meeting five days a week next year.

“Both groups will meet together on the fifth day, drumming and doing activities together,” Zanussi said. She said new members will likely go into the Crescendo Choir, where they will learn about building a team as well as how to sit through a vigorous rehearsal of two and a half hours, five days a week.

Zanussi said a lot of kids come to the program thinking “I want to sing. I’m going to be a star.”

“They think it’s an American Idol trainee program,” she joked. “Instead we’re focused on the chorus ensemble.”

There are no auditions, and anyone can participate in ComMUSICation. Zanussi said 38 children from grades 3-6 have been served this past year and a half, with a current active group of 25. They represent five different schools: Ben Mays, Jackson, Maxfield and St. Paul City Schools’ primary and middle schools.

“Next year our five-day-a-week group will allow us to become a St. Paul Public School bus stop, and so it will be much more open to any kid in the neighborhood,” Zanussi said.

“We’re really excited about that, and this summer we’re also doing a two-week day camp with the Boys and Girls Club at Mt. Airy, with a theme of how animals evolve and grow. Mt. Airy draws kids from all over the city.”

Zanussi said funding for the program comes from many sources, with 60% in-kind. This includes such things as afterschool busing and a practice space provided by St. Paul City School. There are also government and corporate grants, free will donations at concerts and a $10 registration fee from students if they can afford it.

“Anyone can join,” Zanussi reiterated, “but currently 100% of our students are on free and reduced lunch. If a student from a more privileged background came, we would do a sliding scale type of thing.”

She said the students arrive for practice between 3:15-3:45pm, depending on the end time of their school.  “During that time they can do homework and teamwork activities,” she said. Recently, for example, the students wrote letters to students in Baltimore.

ComMUSICation 3“We have college interns who come in and help weekly, and they have been fantastic,” Zanussi added.

“We also do music literacy games, pen pal activities and get a snack,” she said. Students write back and forth to community members as part of a pen pal project, and each one has been exchanging letters with a member of the Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Opera.

“They got to build individual relationships with pretty big organizations, and then they gave a concert for them, so they performed for someone in the audience that they knew,” Zanussi said.

She said that between 4- 5:45pm, the children practice choir and percussion, learn how to read music and learn the songs they will perform. They perform one to two concerts a month, as well as doing four big concerts a year.

Zanussi said the program has presented a couple of challenges. She said that for her, personally, not being from the neighborhood she is working in meant that it took time for her to gain credibility with the parents. The other challenge has been transportation.

“Transportation has been our biggest barrier so far,” she noted. “It’s worked out because St. Paul City School provided vans, but it’s difficult when we have performances outside of program time. That is a very important part of what we do, because it’s a risk-taking opportunity for the kids and a chance for their families to celebrate their achievement with them–but finding transportation for outside of programming has been very challenging.”

The most rewarding part of the program?

“Hearing them sing. In less than a little over a year, they sound great, doing three-part harmony and singing in five languages.”

“In the first year, we have seen up to 50% fewer behavior incidents at school, which is huge. Kids who used to say they had stage fright are now singing solos.”

“To quote the founder of El Sistema, ‘To create music is to create beauty.’ To see these kids create beauty together regardless of socio-economic background, race, different schools, different genders and different cultures, is really powerful.”

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Mai Vang Class

St. Paul Urban Tennis moves into Midway Como neighborhood

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin


St Paul Urban Tennis 2St. Paul Urban Tennis (SPUT) is about more than tennis.

“SPUT is a great program on so many levels,” remarked Pamela McCurdy, whose two children have been involved in SPUT since they were in kindergarten.

Not only does it get kids out exercising in a safe place, but they’re learning a lifelong sport, she pointed out.

Even more than that are the life skills SPUT teaches. “They work on things like integrity, perseverance, fair play and responsibility, to name a few,” said McCurdy. “I love what my kids learn.”

As St. Paul’s only tennis program, SPUT moved into the Midway Como neighborhood in April. The community is invited to an open house on Sun., May 17 from 12- 2pm at Griggs Recreation Center at 1188 Hubbard Ave. (approximately midway between University Ave. and Como Park, and a block west of Lexington).

“We’re excited to be here in the community,” stated SPUT Executive Director Becky Cantellano.

After 25 years of storing equipment one place, having an office at another, and holding meetings all over town, the Griggs Center is SPUT’s first real home.

“We feel fortunate to     be a part of SPUT”

McCurdy has been impressed by the tennis coaches SPUT employs because of the skills they teach and the hard work they pull out of the kids. “They’re so positive and really get to know the kids,” she said. “We feel so fortunate to be a part of SPUT.”

Her eldest daughter, Emmy, who is 14, has learned mental toughness, including how to be calm and centered during a match. Last August, her 12 Advanced Team won the USTA championship for the whole region. Her 12-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, advanced with her team to the finals at the University of Minnesota and made it to the Top 5 in the regions.

St Paul Urban TennisMcCurdy also appreciates how the kids learn how to lose gracefully. Sometimes in life we lose, she pointed out, and it’s important to learn how to not let that get you down.
“The game of tennis was invented and based upon the ability to show sportsmanship even under pressure,” pointed out  Mary Stoner, who has been a SPUT coach for three years.

“The amazing aspect of tennis as a sport is that it mirrors so many things that can occur in your life,” Stoner added.

In addition to learning how to handle pressure, tennis teaches communication, problem-solving and resiliency. “The entire sport is an exercise in problem solving not just in its lines and racquets and balls, but within yourself to have the ability to channel all of that and not let it distract you,” Stoner said.

“Resiliency is an important skill in tennis because you can come back from far behind if you keep working at it.”

SPUT spirit
SPUT calls its life skills and character development element “SPUT S-P-I-R-I-T”’—which stands for Service, Perseverance, Integrity, Responsibility, Imagination and Teamwork.

By demonstrating SPIRIT, kids can earn SPUT bucks to apply towards shoes, rackets and other clothing that has been donated to the group.

Besides the on-court experience, SPUT also offers the younger kids a reading program. SPUT is looking for people to volunteer at least 1 day a week as readers at its various sites.

Mai Vang ClassTaking tennis to the people

SPUT began 25 years ago with 125 players at three park sites. Last year, they reached 4,000 kids at 30 sites.

“We work to make it easy to be involved,” pointed out Cantellano.

“We take the tennis to where the people are,” said long-time board member Gregg Wong, who first learned about SPUT while working as a sports reporter for the Pioneer Press.

About 80 percent of the kids in the program either walk or ride their bikes to the court sites, which are spread out at 30 locations in St. Paul. If there are no tennis courts, SPUT sets up portable nets in parking lots and dead end streets.

Adult lessons offered too

SPUT will offers adult lessons starting May 30. They are conducted evenings on the courts at Central High School, Phalen Park and Edgcumbe Recreation Center, and during the day at the College of St. Catherine. Adult fees are $55 to $65 for once-a-week sessions for five weeks.

“I think there are many adults that would like to play tennis but are afraid because it seems so difficult,” said Stoner. “The goal of the adult program is to get them playing as soon as possible so they can enjoy the sport. It isn’t about technique for them but doing something active and learning something.”

Cardio Tennis is a popular class because it doesn’t require any tennis skills. “This year I’ve noticed that I have people signing up for classes just so they can meet other players,” said Stoner. “We also wanted to offer classes to get some parents whose kids are in the program playing tennis so they can play with their kids.”

Tennis for those who might not be able to afford it

When one of SPUT’s founders, Sandy Martin, began working to recruit Wong to serve on the board of directors in 2003, it was an easy sell. “I knew how much good they were doing for kids, especially kids who didn’t have much means,” said Wong, who has been board chair for eight years and is currently secretary.

He loves seeing how much fun kids have playing tennis, kids who otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to afford to play.

Fees for the seven-week summer program beginning June 15 are $70 for youths 5 to 8 years old and $95 for those between the ages of 9-18. Four-day camps are offered between June 15 and July 17 are $40.

But SPUT does not turn away any kid because of an inability to pay. Last year, SPUT gave out nearly $150,000 worth of scholarships. Discounts are offered for families with more than one child in the program.

In addition to its summer camps, SPUT works with schools, the Boys and Girls Club and other organizations throughout the school year, offering tennis classes and other programs.

“The biggest misconception is that it requires a lot of money to play.  That, of course, is true for every sport when you get to a certain level,” observed Stoner. “At the beginning stages tennis only requires a racquet, some balls and a court or wall to play against.”

U 12 advancedHalf of coaches are former SPUT players

Through the leadership group, SPUT trains its older kids on how to be coaches and leaders. Topics include financial literacy, wealth development and entrepreneurship. Over half of SPUT’s 80 coaches are former SPUT participants.

“The younger ones always need good role models and our leadership kids really do that,” noted Stoner.

“It’s just great to see the kids develop as coaches and leaders,” agreed Cantellano, navigating through their own self discovery.

Wong has seen many kids from the Eastside who had never played tennis before go through the summer camps and go on to be coaches themselves. Many of them are first and second generation Hmong and Karen immigrants who said later that this program kept them off the streets. They’ve gone on to be the first in their families to attend college.

“To see these outcomes makes everything we do worthwhile,” said Wong.

Free family night June 12

“The best part of SPUT is that we offer the opportunity to kids to try the game and see what fun it is,” stated Stoner. “We provide rackets and even shoes. There’s no excuse. Everyone can get out there and get active,” encouraged Cantellano.

To kick off SPUT’s 25th summer, there will be free family nights/open houses on Fri., June 12, from 4:30-6:30 at all 30 park sites. Visit www.urbantennis.org for a list of sites and to register for all SPUT programs. Or, call the SPUT office at 612-222-2879.

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Annual Heiruspecs Scholarship Concert coming up May 29

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin


The hip hop band Heiruspecs will play their annual scholarship concert to benefit Central High School students on Fri., May 29. Bedlam Theatre is hosting this year’s event at 213 E. 4th St., across from the Union Depot. Doors will open at 7pm and the concert, which promises to be jumpin’, will start at 8pm.

Heiruspecs band members, past and present, are all alums of St. Paul Central, and this event is their biggest giving-back moment of the year, according to bass player Sean Twinkie Jiggles McPherson.

The band has been donating $1,000 scholarships to three graduating Central High School seniors every spring since 2010. The winners are chosen from a stack of promising applicants, who are challenged to describe how they will use the money to further their passion for the arts. The band members believe it’s tougher being a young person these days, and they want to recognize artistic talent, value and merit with their scholarships.

The scholarship concert is known as the band’s most collaborative event. They like to invite special guests who reflect the diversity of talent on the Twin Cities’ music scene, opening themselves up to different styles and instruments. One of this year’s guests will be trumpet player Solomon Parham: a stellar musician and teacher extraordinaire at the Walker Music Academy in St. Paul. In the early days of Heiruspecs, horns had a place of prominence, so look forward to bringing that sound back home.

For the first scholarship concert, Mayor Chris Coleman introduced the band members from the stage. Their relationship with the mayor has stayed strong over the years. Last month Heiruspecs played for Coleman’s State of the City address in the Ordway’s new performance hall downtown. Coleman acknowledged Heiruspecs not only for the lasting quality of their “good hip hop music,” but also for their solid St. Paul pride.

The current band line-up is Sean Twinkie Jiggles McPherson on bass, Chris Felix Wilbourn on raps, de Von R. Gray on keyboard, Muad’dib on raps and beatbox, Peter Leggett on drums and Josh Peterson on guitar. McPherson and Wilbourn are the two remaining founding members, graduates of Central’s class of ’97.

Other members have come and gone but the band’s connection to the Midway neighborhood has never wavered.

The first place Heiruspecs played at was Cahoot’s Coffee Bar, just down the street from Central High School. Their rehearsal space was, and still is, near the corner of University and Snelling avenues. Several of the current band members live nearby.

“When we were younger,” McPherson said, “a lot of hip hop groups from St. Paul would pretend they were from Minneapolis—but we were always proud of where we came from. Growing up in Midway, we could see that our neighborhood was one big mosaic of many different people living together, without having to be the same.”

So what about that name? Heiruspecs (pronounced high-roo-specs) is an intentional misspelling of a Latin word it closely resembles. McPherson was an earnest Latin student at Central High school in 1995, and heard the Latin word “haruspecs” in class and just liked the way it sounded. He shouted it out to Wilbourn in studio recording class that afternoon (where the original band members met). The rapper liked it too, wrote it down on his hat as he heard it—and the name just stuck.

The scholarship concert is an all ages event; you can’t be too young or too old to enjoy it. Tickets are $12 in advance or at the door (if there are any left).

Heiruspecs was featured in a recent edition of the TPT music showcase Lowertown Line. The legacy they hope for, according to McPherson, “is to be Minnesota’s ultimate hip hop band.”

It seems they have earned some high respect…

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HU to He walk

Hamline Elementary and Hamline U celebrate 125-year collaboration

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin


HU to He walkCollege begins in kindergarten.

Craig Anderson, principal at Hamline Elementary, 1599 Englewood, explained that this phrase is the school’s motto. And with its connection to Hamline University, the school definitely lives up to it.

“Last year we celebrated 125 years of collaboration between Hamline University and this school,” Anderson said. “And the beauty of it is that it started with a handshake. We stand on the shoulders of many, many fantastic people. Both schools commit to be wonderful neighbors and work with each other.”

The Hamline to Hamline Collaboration entails strong connections between the college students and the elementary students that take place throughout the school year. It also includes a scholarship which started four years ago that is awarded to an individual who has at some time attended Hamline Elementary and becomes a student at Hamline University.

“Somewhere between 2005 and 2007 Rita Johnson, a professor at Hamline, won an award from the University. Part of the award was a $5,000 prize, and she donated that prize as seed money to start the scholarship fund,” Anderson said. “The scholarship could not be in place until it was endowed, and the endowment level used to be $20,000,” he continued, “and a $20,000 endowed scholarship would generate $1,000 per year for a student. So we needed to raise $20,000.”

With the $5,000 start from Johnson’s award, Hamline Elementary spent the next few years doing fundraisers and having silent auctions to reach $20,000.

The scholarship is open to any student who has attended Hamline Elementary. Anderson said the same person has received it for the last three years, as a freshman, sophomore and junior at Hamline.

“Obviously, we want it to be more. A thousand dollars is not a lot, but it does go a little way in helping the student,” Anderson said.

He noted that three years ago an idea was developed to have a Hike for the Health of the Hamline to Hamline Collaboration.

“It combines healthy living and walking with the idea that we need a little bit of money, too,” he said. “So we ask for pledges on our walk, and the kids raise money to go towards the scholarship. It’s not as much about the kids raising money as it is the community, so the teachers on this side of the street throw into the hat and the professors on the other side of the street do the same, and we encourage all the Hamline University students who work on the collaboration to donate to the scholarship fund.”

This year the walk took place on May 5, and all of the sports teams at Hamline University decided to support the hike and healthy living. They set up events on the Klas Field, and the elementary students walked from the school to Hewitt and across the street to the Field. They walked the track, and as they were walking the Hamline athletes pulled out classes to do an activity, such as relay races, hula hoops or catch and toss.

As the kids finished one activity and went back to walking, they would do another activity as it opened up.

“The hike takes place over the convocation hour at Hamline, so students and instructors are not in class,” Anderson said.

HU to HE collaborationAnderson said that both the University and the elementary school have liaisons that work on the Hamline to Hamline Collaboration.  “They get a course release so they don’t have to teach a course, but then they do have to work with the committee to keep all things collaborative between the two campuses,” he explained.

Margot Howard, who is currently working on her master’s degree at Hamline, was formerly a University liaison.

“The collaboration between the elementary school and the university was definitely one of the first in the country,” she said. “Now it’s becoming more popular. And, it doesn’t just focus on the School of Education, but involves the whole school.”

She cited as an example the School of Anthropology. The anthropology class goes to the elementary school and teaches the younger students about an archaeological dig, and then they take them to a dig on campus.

“I knew as an undergraduate I wanted to work with kids, but not as a teacher,” Howard said. She said working with the Collaboration gave her that opportunity to connect with them.
“It energizes my soul to work with kids,” she noted.

Hamline Elementary currently has its technology instructor, Jodie Wilson, serving as its liaison.

“We have pairings of students at every grade level,” Anderson stated. “Our most famous pairing is 5th grade students paired with the law school. We have law students come to Hamline Elementary and teach us all about the law process, and then our students do a mock trial, taking on all the roles over at the courtroom on the Hamline campus. There’s a Ramsey County judge who comes to preside over the proceedings. It’s just a fantastic way to learn in a real setting and see what’s available post-secondary. These are real things you can learn how to do.”

Another pairing is kindergarten students with the Hamline female gymnasts. “The girls do a big demo for them so they get to see how all the equipment works, and they get to play with, and touch, some of the equipment,” Anderson related.  He said kindergartners also get to go over to the Bush Memorial Library and listen to a story read by the Hamline University librarian.
Another program involving collaboration between the two schools is the federal work-study America Reads and America Counts.  Anderson said 70-100 college students earn their work-study by being tutors at the elementary school, working with the kids and teachers.
He added that the university’s student council has as its largest activity a college access mentorship program called Hand in Hand, similar to Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

“An elementary student and a university student are paired, and the Hamline student comes over to spend 45 minutes a week with a kid who is in need socially. They also hold three big events a year.”

He said the Hamline elementary students play games and talk about college access with their college mentor buddies. “We currently have about 50 pairs,” he noted.
He said one other event involves the kindergarteners going on a tour of the Hamline University campus in the spring, getting to see dorms and have some ice cream. They get a certificate for having attended their first day of college.

“We really try to instill a desire for post-secondary education,” Anderson stated. “Not necessarily just at Hamline, because we know kids have other interests; we have a fifth grade class going to St. Paul College and visiting their shop department.”

“We really are a shared campus,” he added. “Hamline University uses us for learning about education and giving its students a place to serve, and we get from them learning opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist.  It really is pre-K through 16 in the Hamline Midway neighborhood.”

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Solutions to food waste are not complicated

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin

Groceries-in-TrashCanBy JAN WILLMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Garden Fresh Farms

Garden Fresh Farms

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin

Garden Fresh FarmsSomething fishy is happening on Pierce Butler Rd.

Reporting and photo by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daily Diner

Daily Diner abruptly closes

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin

Daily DinerBy JAN WILLMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reading Program

Yearly gift sets in motion great things

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Snelling Ave. reconstruction narrows parking lane

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

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin

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

Reporting and photo by TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

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

This time Snelling will be torn up.

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

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

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

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

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

City “not business-friendly”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson isn’t the only one upset.

Midway Books suffering

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

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

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

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

Businesses say they were not informed about assessments

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

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

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

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

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

“Lighting we don’t want”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Return to glory”

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

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

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

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

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

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