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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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LEAP High aims students to leap high in their goals

Posted on 16 March 2015 by robwas66

Sixty percent of their students have never attended school before


Rose Santos, principal of the Limited English Achievement Program High School. (Photo by Jan Willms)



You’re a teenager in a new country where you don’t know the culture, the customs or the language. You may have left a place that was ravaged by war, and you have not had the chance to go to school before. Everything is new and different, and a bit scary.

The Limited English Achievement Program (LEAP) High School provides that safe place where you can learn and grow and become accustomed to your new home while earning your diploma.

The school, currently housed in the Wilson Building at 631 Albert St. N., has been at this location since 2003. It began in 1994 on the 4th floor of the 494 Sibley Ave, building. It initially shared its present location with the Wilson Middle School, but during the summer of 2004, LEAP took over the entire building.

“We draw students from all around the globe,” said Rose Santos, who has been the school’s principal since 2004. “Our students usually come to us with not very much English,” Santos said. “Many come from war-torn places, and 60 per cent of them have not attended school before.”

The school’s mission is to be a national leader in preparing immigrant students to become global citizens and critical thinkers. Santos said 100 per cent of the students are refugees or immigrants.

LEAP is designed to provide an engaging school experience, bridge cultural and language barriers, meet individual learning needs and build English language fluency, so that all students graduate prepared for a positive role in society.
Over 400 students in grades 9-12 currently attend LEAP.

“Our average class size is 19,” Santos said. “The largest class has 27 students.”
She said that 85 per cent of the students who graduate go on to post-secondary education.

“I think our students are motivated to be the best that they can be,” Santos declared. “They know they need to learn English to be successful.”

LEAP follows the St. Paul Public Schools regulations for requirements and for issuing credits for graduation.

“We have extremely fabulous teachers who get to know the kids very well,” Santos continued. “A lot of my teachers are dual-licensed in ESL and another academic subject.”

Santos herself is licensed to teach elementary, ESL K-12 and special ed, as well as having her principal’s license.

All the classes are taught in English.  Santos said there are also bi-lingual staff members or teaching assistants who come in to help with the students.

“The students learn English and other information at the same time,” Santos explained. “For example, they might learn writing and take a computer course at the same time, or study reading and learn social studies or science. They do two things at once.”

The students may be dealing with emotional issues as well. “Some have lost their whole families,” Santos noted. “Some are young adults, working at night and going to school during the day, getting only a few hours of sleep. Our school social worker is busy trying to find services for our students.”

She said that for her, the biggest challenge of the program is when some students reach age 21 and age out before they have gotten their diploma. “That’s very heartbreaking for me, when they are so close to graduating,” she said.

The most positive aspect of the school for her is seeing students complete their studies and attain their diploma, then return as volunteers while they are attending college.

“What’s even more rewarding is that every time a new group comes, we learn more,” Santos said. “We have had groups of Hmong, Somali, Spanish-speaking and Karen. Every few years, there is somebody new and we learn about a new culture.”

She said that LEAP provides a path of survival for many students.

“We try to have a warm, welcoming environment that is acceptable of the cultures they bring,” Santos stated. “We want our students to feel at home, socially and emotionally.”

A lot of relationship-building happens among students, teachers and staff, according to Santos.

“We’re a small school, and we know our students well,” she said. She explained that even though some of the students come from countries that are enemies of each other, when they arrive at LEAP that racial tension is not present.

She said that LEAP students realize there are many stereotypes about new immigrants, and they worked on a project that discounted the negative thoughts and instead emphasized the positive aspects of their cultures and of them as individuals.

The students made a video in which they acted out various strengths that they, as immigrants and refugees, bring to their new home. And on their arms and faces and legs, they wrote these strengths: determination, peace, love and helpfulness, among others.

Santos stressed how important education is to the students and their parents.
“Here, we take it for granted that we can get an education,” she said. “In some of the countries our students come from, only the rich can attend school. When they come here and get this gift of education, they truly appreciate it.”

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Another attempt to develop Dickerman

Posted on 16 March 2015 by robwas66

The challenge is to make a not-too-expensive park that doesn’t seem to be businesses’ front yards


The current plan for Dickerman Park hopes to develop two public plazas that are placed to distinguish them from the local businesses on the north. Walkways through the park would pass by public art and historical elements to celebrate its railroad and industrial history.


If it is rebuilt in 2016-2017, Dickerman Park would include public plazas, a water feature, art and places for visitors to sit or walk. A request for $3 million in city Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) dollars goes to the CIB Committee’s Community Facilities Task Force this month. If that funding is approved city officials would combine it with $2 million in 8-80 Vitality Fund money approved last year by the city.

More than two dozen people attended a February community meeting at Newell Park to review ideas for Dickerman. Proposals for the park were developed by a city-community advisory committee and consultants. The committee began meeting last fall and chose ideas from four park layouts.


For decades, anyone passing by would have assumed that Dickerman Park was the front yard of numerous businesses, such as the Griggs Midway Building, the Midway YMCA, and Marsden Maintenance.

One challenge park planners had to meet is making the land appear to be a park, rather than the front yards of businesses, charter schools and the Midway YMCA at 1761 University Ave.

The park would incorporate information about the Midway’s history, including its railroad and industrial history, in design of park elements and displays. It would have public art and some features that could be used for children’s play. But it won’t have a playground.

Those at the open house had some of the same reactions as the Dickerman Park Community Design Advisory Committee. While there is much support for the park proposals, and ideas such as native plantings, community gardens and the inclusion of art and information about neighborhood history, there are concerns about some park features. Some neighbors like the idea of a fountain or water feature while others question its practicality. There are also issues with how seating is provided, with some preference for fixed seating that cannot be moved rather than a mix of fixed and moveable seating.

Dickerman Park is one of the city’s most unusual and, until recently, neglected parks. The 2.4 acre property extends along University Ave., from Fairview Ave. to Aldine St. The land was given to the city by the Dickerman family in 1909-1910, with the goal of developing a linear park or green boulevard along University Avenue. But over the years parking lots, driveways, sidewalks and play equipment were placed on the park property.

The park is located along the Green Line light rail and near the Fairview rail station, so that was a focus, said Ellen Stewart, a landscape architect with the St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation.

Feat3_15Dickerman3This is Dickerman Park’s fifth try for city funding. Park planning has gone on for almost two decades, much to the unhappiness of area residents and business owners who want to see something done with the space. A $12 million plan developed in 2005 was shelved due to high costs.

Stewart said it’s important to provide green space along the Green Line, at Dickerman and other sites. In the last month a site plan review was held for improvements planned at nearby Iris Park, which is one block west and south of Dickerman Park. Work on Iris Park is scheduled to get underway this year.

Feat3_15Dickerman4Some Dickerman Park work will take place this spring and summer, Stewart said. Parking lots and other encroachments onto city property will be removed and replaced with grass. Full construction won’t start until fall 2016. By then more design development work will be completed.

One major concern is how to make the park appear to be the public space it is, and not the front yards and parking lots of buildings to the north. One big change will be the removal of the pavement in front of the Griggs Midway Building at the northeast corner of University and Fairview. When the park is developed, two plazas will be placed in a way that doesn’t make them appear to be part of the adjacent buildings.

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Hamline United Methodist Church

Posted on 16 March 2015 by robwas66

An historic church looking toward the future


Hamline Church at 1514 Englewood Ave. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)



Hamline United Methodist Church (HUMC),1514 Englewood Ave., is an  impressive stone building that has towered above the neighborhood since it was built in 1929. According to Senior Pastor Mariah Furness Tollgaard, “The imposing architecture of the church is both our greatest asset and our greatest challenge.”

HUMC is a congregation with historic roots (the building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places), but they are committed to moving forward as a community in new, meaningful ways.

HUMC was recently in the news as a stake holder in the decision-making over Hamline University’s proposed campus expansion. In question, among other things, is the destruction of several homes in the neighborhood – some of which are owned by the University.

In September, HUMC offered up their space as a “neutral meeting ground” in which stakeholders could work toward resolution. “Our interest is in preserving integrity in our community, and demonstrating commitment to everyone working together in a civil process,” Tollgaard said.

This type of open-mindedness is apparent in the way the church is ministering lately.

“Our passion,” said Tollgaard, “is in claiming the sacred in everyday life, and with that in mind, the possibilities for ministry are endless.” The congregation gathers at 10am on Sundays for what Tolgaard called a “blended service.” Traditional meets contemporary here, and one is as likely to hear Brahams as they are to hear U2 or the Wailin’ Jennys.


Senior Pastor Mariah Furness Tollgaard. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Throughout the church calendar are opportunities to engage in study, service and fellowship. To name a few, there are vegetables to tend in the summer garden, providing food for the Hamline Midway Elders. Volunteers contribute time to the Block Nurse Program, which keeps seniors living independently in their homes. Thirsty Scholars is a monthly fellowship group for men with children under 18, which meets in local brew pubs. There are prayer groups, Bible studies and book groups as well as a women’s outdoor recreation club and a crafter’s night for all ages.

In April, the church will break ground for a community oven, and by May or June HUMC hopes to be inviting neighbors to join in the fun of baking breads and pizzas outdoors.

The current membership at HUMC is around 400, down from twice that in the 1950’s. “Our goal,” said Tollgaard, “is not to be a huge church, but rather a community of people woven together.”

Four years ago, HUMC merged with Church of the Good Shepherd in a move that attracted many young families.

HUMC is a reconciling church, welcoming all persons as full members into church life regardless of sexual orientation. Tollgaard feels strongly about revitalizing the church, helping people meet their spiritual needs and welcoming them into a community of faith.

Tollgaard is the youngest senior pastor ever called to HUMC; she will also be the first to take maternity leave when she and her husband have their second child in March.

After undergraduate work at the U of M, Tollgaard received her MDiv from Harvard’s Divinity School and served at a Methodist church in northern California.  She considers herself something of an anomaly, coming from a family where almost everybody studied law. Both her parents, her husband and one brother are attorneys. She said, “I guess I just found another way to do the work of justice.”

Growing up in Owatonna, Tolgaard was the only member of her family to attend church– though her parent’s names appeared on the membership roles of the local Methodist church. She received what she clearly remembered as a call to ministry when she was only 13. “I became aware that God was calling my name while on a mission trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota,” she said. “There was a conversation with elders late one night about God and spirit and the land, and from then on, I knew what I wanted do with my life. I didn’t come out as a wanna-be minister for years, it was so not cool as a teenager. But there was no question in my mind, and I kept the secret to myself.”

According to Tollgaard, “This is a changing time for churches around the world. People everywhere are searching for more meaning and purpose, but not necessarily within the old ways of doing things.

At HUMC, there is a sense of the old meeting the new with grace. Tollgaard said, “People ought to come and check us out. We’re probably not the church you think we are…”

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Summer Camp Explorations

Posted on 16 March 2015 by robwas66

Popular local options include St. Paul Academy, Friends School of Minnesota, and Como Park



Adventure awaits your kids this summer. Construct a castle out of cardboard. Be a junior sleuth. Learn what it’s like to be a nurse or figure out how to do 3D printing. Monkey around with primate pals. Canoe, paint and innovate. Step back in time.

That’s just the start of the camp options available in the Twin Cities area. Browse below for more information on some of the camps offered locally.


Blackhawks offer several exciting half- and full-day soccer camps for players ages 5-18 that encompass a wide variety of activities and skills. Specialty camps focus on specific skills such as ball control, shooting, and goalkeeping. Cost: $75-175. 651-894-3527. http://blackhawksoccer.org

Feat3_15ComoCampCAMP COMO
Spend some time Monkeying Around with your primate pals; discover your creative side with Adventures in Art; take an African Adventure right at Como; or try on the hat of a zookeeper or gardener in Behind-the-Scenes! Como’s camps include “behind-the-scenes” experiences and meeting Como’s plant and animal ambassadors up-close! Five-day, half-day sessions. Extended care available. In partnership with the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM), Como also offers summer camp opportunities for youth, ages 8-18, with autism. Cost: $117-150. 651-487-8272. http://www.tinyurl.com/p3u4lqv

From junior sleuths to budding lawyers to young artists, there are seven weeks of adventures and summer fun planned for grades 2-12 at the Friends School of Minnesota. Weekdays, half- and full-day. Cost: $100 to $280. 651-621-8941. http://www.fsmn.org

Girls and boys ages 6 to 17 can design and build their creative ideas, mixing art, science and technology during partial-day, weekday camps. There are more than 88 classes available over 10 weeks. New this summer: an overnight camp for teens. St. Paul and Minneapolis locations. Cost: $185, scholarships available. 612-824-4394. http://www.leonardosbasement.org

Make Rube Goldberg machines. Take a writing workshop entitled: “A Week at Hogwarts.” Learn about 3D printing and movie-making. Debate, play chess, take competitive math, debate, or learn how to be a better leader. Twelve options at SPA cover a wide range of academic, arts, and enrichment activities for grades 2-12. The Minnesota Institute for Talented Youth offers the ExplorSchool for students in grades 4-6. Cost: $169-425. 651-698-2451. http://www.spa.edu/ about_spa/summer_programs_2015


Construct giant castles, get lost in colossal mazes, build suits of armor and more during these five-day, full-day sessions for ages 8-14. Eight weeks offered at 5 different parks. Cost: $299. 612-532-6764. http://julianmcfaul.com

Half-day, three- and five-day French language day camps for beginners and experienced students from age three through high school offering hands-on and artistic expression in an immersion setting. Cost: $175. 612-332-0436. http://www.afmsp.org

Unleashed summer campers entering grades 3-10 spend a full week immersed in animal learning and fun. Camp sessions are held in St. Paul and Golden Valley (as well as three other locations). Cost: $295. 763-489-2220. http://www.animalhumanesociety.org/camps

A variety of art disciplines and mediums with themes like Claymation, theater, art car, or food as art offered for ages 4-18. Five-day, half- and full-day sessions available. Cost: $135-260. 612-729-5151. http://www.articulture.org

Solve mysteries of the past in this three-day History Detective Camp for ages 11-13. Or, young ladies ages 9-12 can step back in time in a unique Finishing School for Young Ladies day camp. Cost: $200-$220. 612-341-7555. http://www.mnhs.org/summercamps

Camp and canoe while learning leadership and teamwork skills in a seven-day resident camp for youths age 13-18 who live within the city limits of Minneapolis or St. Paul. Held on the St. Croix River in Rush City and organized by YouthCARE. Cost: free. 612-338-1233. http://www.youthcaremn.org

Explore international circus arts at Circus Juventas. Five-day, full-day sessions offered for ages 6-18. Or make your own camp with Circus Sampler Days. Cost: $395 or $85/day. 651-699-8229. http://www.circusjuventas.org

Experience cultural and language immersion; 15 languages to choose from. Resident camp for ages 7-18 and half-day programs offered. Cost: $870-$4,570. 1-800-222-4750. http://www.concordialanguagevillages.org

Learn kitchen skills and safety along with basic techniques to get cooking, with an international flavor. Three-day, half-day sessions for ages 8-13 in Edina, Stillwater and St. Paul. Cost: $195. 651-228-1333. http://www.cooksofcrocushill.com

Explore prairies, wetlands and woodland trails during full- and half-day, four-day camps offered for students entering 1-8 grades. Shorter sessions available for ages 3-6. Cost: $42-255. 651-455-4531 http://www.dodgenaturecenter.org

Be an adventurer like Davy Crockett. Explore like Huck Finn. Experience the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Be a soldier for a day. Or, try out what life as an archeologist is like. Camps range from one day to one week. $60-$250. 612-341-7555. http://www.mnhs.org/summercamps

Travel back in time and learn about life in the 1800s. Three- and five-day, half-day camps. Two-hour day sessions for ages 6-13 only $19. Cost: $99. 651-646-8629. http://www.rchs.com

High school students ages 15-18 can explore the craft, prepare for college, and connect with other young writers in the Twin Cities, while working closely with Hamline Creative Writing faculty and published authors. Register by April 15. Cost: $400. 651-523-2476.

Learn about history while creating models of period armor, examining real medieval artifacts and more. Five-day, full-day sessions for ages 7-14. New this year: Attend a Medieval, Roman or Viking-themed camp. Three sessions offered. Cost: $325. 612-719-1954. http://www.oakeshott.org

A variety of athletic, academic and enrichment programs are offered, including woodworking, Lego robotics, puddle-stompers, geocaching, movie making, sailing, painting, rocket science, guitar, and more. Half- and full-day, one- to three-week weekday sessions. Camp Minnehaha, a full day camp for pre-k to grade 8, includes daily devotions, games, indoor and outdoor activities, daily swimming lessons and a weekly off-campus activity. Cost: $175-750. 612-728-7745, ext. 1. http://www.minnehahaacademy.net

Bring your imagination to life by creating characters and inventing new worlds. Five-day, full-day camp for ages 6-11. Cost: $250-300. 612-215-2520. http://www.mnbookarts.org

Play music, get creative, bake bread and construct books while exploring the rich culture along the Minneapolis riverfront district. Campers aged 9-11 will explore a new experience each day at four arts centers, including Mill City Museum, the Guthrie Theater, Minnesota Center for Book Arts and MacPhail Center for Music. $225-$250. 612-341-7555. http://www.mnhs.org/summercamps

Half-day or full-day weeklong camps are offered in a variety of themes (from teapots and dog bowls to spaceships and garden gnomes) for ages 6 and up.  Cost: $170-$305. 612-339-8007. http://www.northernclaycenter.org/education/summer-clay-camps

Summer programs for youth ages 3 to 16 combine science, art, drama, and literature in ways that encourage kids to actively discover and examine concepts for themselves. Programs also offered at the Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center, the state’s oldest outdoor environmental education facility. Cost: $60-345. 651-221-4511, 651-433-2427. http://www.smm.org/classes

Explore careers in health with hands-on sessions for grades 9-12. Full-day five-day session in Minneapolis or four-day session in St. Paul. Middle School camp offered in Dakota County. Cost: $415-460. http://www.healthforceminnesota.org

Explore the variety of Y Summer Programs at over 60 metro-area locations. Programs include flexible three-, four-, and five-day options. There’s something fun for everyone from preschool through grade nine. Cost: $80-350. http://www.ymcatwincities.org/child_care_preschool/summer_programs/

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list of every camp in the Twin Cities. If you would like to be included in next year’s guide, please send us detailed information on the camp.

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Urban Boat Builders inspires positive youth development through the building and use of wooden boats

Posted on 11 March 2015 by robwas66


Joseph demonstrated lashing technique to a guest. Lashing is where intersecting joints on a boat’s skeleton are tied together with string. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)


Now in their 20th year, the non-profit Urban Boat Builders (UBB) held a grand opening for their new boat works and office space last month. More than 250 people packed the afternoon celebration which featured speakers, good eats and a chance to look at canoes, kayaks and prams built by program apprentices.

The new space at 2288 University Ave. W. is four times the size of the old location at Pascal and University. “We looked at dozens of properties before choosing this one,” said executive director Marc Hosmer. A generous donor contributed $25,000 to get the build-out started, and UBB was able to raise another $25,000 thru Indiegogo (an on-line, global fundraising site). Kraus-Anderson Construction donated countless hours of labor and materials at reduced rates, resulting in a wonderful work-space complete with work benches, wood floors and roomy offices.


Guests inspected canoe construction up-close. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

For two decades, UBB has remained true to their vision of engaging youth in hands-on learning, while building positive relationships with caring adults. Their apprentice program currently accepts 18 young people (16-19 years old) into six month apprenticeships.

UBB is a well-established intervention program, with most apprentices referred from Totem Town (Ramsey County’s juvenile detention facility), social workers or probation officers. UBB receives more applications than the 36 openings it has each year.

“The two key elements in the selection process,” according to Hosmer, are “who will benefit the most and who seems the most committed.”

To be considered, applicants submit an online application and come to UBB for an unpaid, two-week trial period. If accepted into the program, they receive a stipend in exchange for their nine hours of work per week.

During the first two months, apprentices learn to work with hand tools and develop their wood working skills. Each apprentice completes an individual project, either a paddle or a tool box, before moving on to build a boat with staff, volunteers and fellow apprentices.

The apprentice program is made up of youth from a variety of backgrounds; nearly all of them have had difficulties growing up.

Feat3_15BoatBuilder3Maila, 20 years old, is one of many successful graduates of the apprentice program. She apprenticed in 2010, after dropping out of high school and entering a treatment program. She went on to attend Augsburg College where she pursued her interest in engineering, and has since returned to UBB as a permanent, part-time instructor.

UBB makes several different kinds of boats, but their signature model is a 17’, 40 lb. skin-on frame canoe. “These boats are top quality,” said Hosmer. “Our instructors have very high standards for construction.”

The canoes are covered with industrial-strength nylon, which is easier and healthier to work with than a fiberglass coating. UBB sells the boats they build, with all proceeds going back into the organization. Their website lists the boats for sale and their prices. They’ll also gladly customize one for you, with the option to sign on as a volunteer to help build your own boat.

In addition to the apprentice program, UBB engages in 12-15 school partnerships annually. These partnerships with local middle schools, high schools, and youth-serving agencies deliver academically enhanced boat-building instruction with emphasis on developing science, technology, engineering and math skills. Classes are typically small, with 6-8 participants.

Whether a school partnership or an apprentice group, each person involved in building a boat has the chance to participate in a launch once their boat is finished. All members of the past year’s apprentice program are invited to travel to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area for a five-day trip each August, offering many a first-time experience traveling by water in the wilderness.


Joseph, a current apprentice, explained to Open House guests how he built his canoe paddle. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

UBB is firmly anchored in the community, offering opportunities for growth not only for program participants but also for volunteers. Wednesday night is Open Shop Night from 6:30-9:30pm, when adults prepare lumber for the week ahead or work on shop improvements. Anyone is welcome to join.

A limited number of volunteer instructor positions are available from 2-6pm, Monday-Friday. This commitment involves working alongside program instructors and apprentices, and wood-working experience is required. Visit their website at www.urbanboatbuilders.org for more information.

The skills developed at UBB, such as working with spoke shaves, block planes and hand saws, may not turn up on many job descriptions—but to youth adrift they are invaluable.

The pride of craftsmanship and the satisfaction of working on a long-term project as part of a team will translate to anything these young boat builders undertake in the years to come.

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