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Night market debuts June 14 in Saint Paul's Little Mekong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Theresa Swaney
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

ARTIFY transforms Midway lot into public art site

One year ago, the former Midway Chevrolet car dealership at 1333 University Avenue was yet another vacant lot along the Central Corridor—a remnant from a previous era when car dealerships dominated the Midway area of Saint Paul. Today, the lot stands as a colorful, artistic sign of things to come.

Over the past year, artist/organizer Oskar Ly has been working on a large-scale public art project at the site dubbed “ARTIFY—Bringing the Arts to Hamline Station.” Her project aims to create a renewed sense of place around the site ahead of a 108-unit affordable housing development, which Project for Pride in Living plans to break ground on this spring.

Ly brought community members and more than two-dozen local artists together to create 20 public art installments and 11 performances at the lot—all based on the theme “Home is…” She says the goal is to signify the transformation of an abandoned business to a place people would soon call home.

ARTIFY capped-off its yearlong project with a final celebration, “Midway is Home,” last Saturday. Artists reflected on their work, while spectators toured the grounds to view the various installments. Poetry for Thought, a local effort to inspire community dialogue through spoken word performances, organized area poets to present original works and spark discussion of what “home” means.

Janell Repp, a Saint Paul native, has lived all over the world, most recently in India. For her, home is often changing, she says. She once purchased a car at the Midway Chevrolet dealership. “I sat in this office and signed the papers,” she said. “It’s funny how time changes…you make your home where you are… and you keep moving through time.”

The most visible installation to passerby is a large mural painted at the Saint Paul Open Streets event last summer. It depicts a row of colorful houses over the façade of the old dealership with the words “Home is Hamline Midway” printed across the top. Another piece involves 108 house-shaped wood cutouts decorated by area youth with their own ideas of what “home” is.

Mischa Keagan and Witt Siasoco held several workshops at the Hamline Midway and Rondo libraries where people traced places they considered home on large green canvases that are now on display at the site. “All along people talked about their family, their kids, their homes, and their dogs…it was a really nice way to get to know people in the community,” Keagan said.

Most of the art installments will remain on display till demolition begins this spring. Ly says she has at least one more project planned. She hopes to hang large photos on the fence surrounding the construction site this summer. “I want to create a façade that helps create an environment that’s more community-oriented than if it was just a construction site,” she said.

The future PPL development will feature a public plaza to display art, thanks in part to the ARTIFY project, according to Ly.

ARTIFY is supported by Irrigate Arts, an artist-led creative placemaking initiative that seeks to foster a new sense of place through public art along the Central Corridor. Irrigate is made possible through a partnership between the City of Saint Paul, Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and Springboard for the Arts.

Sources: Oskar Ly, Janell Repp, Mischa Keagan
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

Rock Star Supply Co. in chapter development with 826 National

Rock Star Supply Co.’s busy location, in the Creative Enterprise Zone at the corner of Raymond and University in Saint Paul, is about to get busier. The educational nonprofit—its dedicated volunteers tutor elementary- and secondary-school children on writing, algebra, and other subjects—is working with San Francisco-based tutoring company 826 National to bring one of that organization’s signature “stores” to the Twin Cities.

Rock Star is currently a lively tutoring workshop that offers “a range of programs, all free of charge…[that] focus on project-based learning, homework help, [and] extra-curricular reading, along with spectacular writing prompts and smaller writing workshops,” according to its website. This summer, Rock Star’s headquarters, as part of 826’s new franchise-style expansion initiative, will be rebranded as the “Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute.”

What? The name does make sense. Here’s why. In its 10-plus years, 826 National has developed a clever, family-friendly approach to branding. Each tutoring center (it currently has eight, mostly in major Northern cities) doubles as a store with an unmistakable “angle.” For instance, Boston’s “Bigfoot Research Institute” sells cryptozoology books and paraphernalia.

Chicago’s “Boring Store” doubles as a “Spy Supply Store.” (The “boring” part is meant to throw passers-by off the trail.) Seattle’s “Space Travel Supply Company” sells rocket equipment, space suits, and other accessories to “freelance space travelers.” Each store plows its merchandise earnings back into its tutoring operations. So how did the Twin Cities become home to the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute?

“We went through an extensive ideation process to arrive at Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute,” says Jeremy Wang, chair of Rock Star’s Executive Board. “We’re playing off the idea that, to most of the country, we’re a ‘fly-over’ state, hence the Mid-Continent. And while we have a lot of coastline, none of it is oceanic.” Wang’s thrilled at the prospect of opening a “sub shop” that doesn’t sell anything edible.

The expansion also comes with challenges. “Our biggest hurdle is to be financially stable enough to build out the storefront and sustain our current programming,” says Wang, noting that the organization has traditionally relied on donations from individuals and foundations. Razoo and upcoming Kickstarter campaigns are providing a crucial shot in the arm.

What can kids, parents, and shoppers expect from Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, née Rock Star Supply Co.? “I think nearly everyone involved at Rock Star Supply Co. has been inspired by the 826 model,” says Wang. “So we don't really see our programming changing a whole lot as we transition.”

That said, Wang does expect Rock Star to add more writing workshops as the transition date approaches. And there’s the issue of merging educational programming and retail activities. “Unlike other 826 sites, we started without a storefront,” says Wang. “They mostly started their programming at the storefront, then worked their way into schools.”

For now, the folks at Rock Star are working to retain their core mission without neglecting the coming transition. For Wang and the rest of the board, this means seeking help wherever they can find it. “We are always looking for tutors in any subject, especially algebra,” he says, “as we have a whole group of students that comes in for Algebra 2 on Tuesdays.” Rock star math tutors: Take note.

Source: Jeremy Wang
Writer: Brian Martucci

An effort to recognize prominent black Minnesotans at significant locations in St. Paul

St. Paul’s Heritage Preservation Commission is looking at the possibility of putting up several “Old Rondo” street signs in the city’s neighborhood of the same name.  

Frank White, a lifelong St. Paul resident and a history buff, put forward the proposal as a way to symbolically recognize the neighborhood’s history, particularly as it relates to some high-achieving black Minnesotans, according to the Pioneer Press.

White has worked to set in motion several other initiatives in this same vein. For starters, he wants to get more name recognition for Toni Stone Field, a baseball stadium in the Dunning Athletic Complex. This includes mounting a related plaque and sign at the stadium, according to a story from the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

He’s working on similar projects to get more name recognition for Toni Stone, one of the first female players in Negro league baseball, athlete Jimmy Lee, for which the Jimmy Lee Recreation Center is named, and Dred Scott, a slave who famously argued for freedom in a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.  

The Heritage Preservation Commission adopted a resolution on February 14 supporting the effort to add and correct the "Old Rondo Avenue" signage, "as it will be a more accurate reflection of Rondo Avenue and allow for greater interpretation of the impacts of the construction of Interstate 94 to this neighborhood," information from the body reads.  

Next, White's proposal will go before the City Council, though the timeline for that is yet to be determined, according to Amy Spong, a St. Paul official who works with the commission.

City Council member Melvin Carter III says, “It went further than what we’ve acknowledged publicly so far to honor the community that exists here in St. Paul. It’s a good thoughtful approach to making sure that we honor our past while building our future together.

“I think Frank has done some important work,” he adds. “It’s always important to understand what history holds.”

It’s about getting a better handle on the future, says Carter, “so young folks who’ve grown up in this community can be aware of the rich set of accomplishments of others and can factor that in as they calculate the prospects for their future.”

Reflecting on White’s hard work, he says, “I appreciate everything he’s done,” adding, “I wish more people were as thoughtful and would look around and come up with ideas to make the city a better place.”

Sources: Amy Spong, City of Saint Paul; Melvin Carter, III, St. Paul City Council
Writer: Anna Pratt


Butter Bakery settles into new space

Just over a week ago, the Butter Bakery Café relocated blocks away from 36th and Grand Avenue in Southwest Minneapolis, to 37th and Nicollet Avenue.

The bakery is planning a grand opening for Oct. 23 in collaboration with the Nicollet Square building, for which it’s a partner, according to owner Dan Swenson-Klatt.

Butter is housed within the three-story Nicollet Square, which provides supportive housing for young people who are at risk for homelessness, along with a chiropractor and the nonprofit organization, Twin Cities RISE!, which deals with job training.

As a part of that partnership, the bakery has taken on a couple of apprentices who live in the building, and it plans to bring on two more young people in the near future, he says.

“I’ve always thought of this as more than a little coffee shop,” he says. “This gives me more of that feel, that it’s part of something bigger.”   

However, the bakery is still getting settled into the space. It’s a bit like moving into a new home, “where you live out of boxes for awhile,” he says.

So far, the change has been good. He’s hearing from regulars that “It’s so big and so bright,” in comparison to the old space, but “It still looks like Butter.”  

Before, the bakery was too cramped, both in terms of seating and space for running the bakery and grill at the same time.

Now, people can opt for the more informal café area of the bakery or they can go for the dining space. “No one has to feel like they’re being pushed out,” he says.

The space, which started off as an empty shell, was designed specifically for Butter, with room for growth.

One custom touch that he hopes personalizes the space includes two murals that line the restroom walls.

The murals picture the countryside surrounding the creamery where the bakery gets its butter and the scene outside of Butter’s door. “It’s a way of connecting with the Butter community,” Swenson-Klatt says, adding, “We were always meant to be a neighborhood spot.”  

In the future, he hopes some sort of garden might spring up on the empty lot behind the building.

Source: Dan Swenson-Klatt, owner, Butter Bakery Café
Writer: Anna Pratt    

Gateway Food Initiative receives $10,000 matching grant

Earlier this month, the Gateway Food Coop received a $10,000 matching grant from the Food Coop Initiative (FCI), a national nonprofit organization that promotes the cooperative economy.

Gateway was one of 10 coops across the country to get the seed funding, according to Gateway information.

The coop, which began organizing last year, wants to bring a sustainable, natural foods coop to St. Paul’s diverse East Side.   

Elizabeth Butterfield, who co-chairs the coop’s steering committee, explains the way the grant works: “For every dollar we spend of the Seed Grant money, we are expected to spend a dollar of our own money.” The money will go toward community outreach and member-owner recruitment efforts, including hiring a part-time community organizer.

Additionally, FCI will provide expertise to the coop, “noting if there are techniques that can be repeated in other similar areas throughout the country,” she says.

This kind of relationship building is important for meeting its goals, according to Butterfield. For example, shortly after finding out about the FCI award, "We were approached by Mississippi Market to compete for a $14,000 gift,” which will be given out in October, she says. “Their members will vote to award the money to three out of five nonprofits that are competing for the funds.”

Separately, Phalen Ovenworks is hosting a wood-fired pizza party to benefit the coop on October 6.

The place also raises money for the coop through bread sales on Sunday nights.  

So far, the coop has 84 members, a number it hopes to grow through events this fall. But at this point, it’s too early to say where on the East Side the coop might be go. The coop has yet to do a thorough market study, Butterfield says.  
 
 
Source: Elizabeth Butterfield, organizer, Gateway Food Coop
Writer: Anna Pratt


 


'(re)locate: A Place to Call Home' exhibit documents diverse local community

Many neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities have become increasingly diverse in recent years, yet the back-stories of different groups’ arrival so often are unknown.

The current show at the Third Place Gallery in Minneapolis, which is the studio and exhibit space of photographer Wing Young Houie, focuses on representatives of various immigrant communities, including some political refugees, whose stories vary greatly.  

Called (re)locate: A Place to Call Home, the show brings together images from Houie and another local photographer, Selma Fernandez. It'll be on view through Aug. 16.

The 22 images from both photographers are intermingled on the walls, as opposed to being separated, visually, Houie says. It includes a mix of color and black-and-white shots.

Adults and children are shown in their natural habits, such as home, school and work, in and around the Twin Cities.

One young boy is pictured up close wearing a bright red superhero outfit. Alongside that is a black-and-white print of a young boy holding a sign that states, “I want to be a doctor.”

In another picture, a couple wearing traditional dress stands out amid a festive-looking crowd at the 2002 Hmong new year celebration in St. Paul in 2002.  

In some ways, each of the subjects is in costume, he says.

Together, the poignant images pose questions such as “What is home? Do you ever leave home? What does relocate mean?” The answers are especially complicated for immigrants, Houie says.

It’s a familiar topic for Houie, who is the only child in his Chinese family to be born in U.S. Often he gets asked where he’s from, even though he’s a native Minnesotan.

Throughout his work, he tries to “normalize iconography,” showing everyday examples of the reality, which is a lot more colorful than is shown in the mainstream media, he says.

 
Source: Wing Young Houie
Writer: Anna Pratt

University Avenue corridor to be called 'Little Africa'

Too often, people pass by the businesses on Snelling Avenue, near University in St. Paul, without stopping.

As one way to change that, the African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) group is leading an effort to brand the district that spans Snelling Avenue between University and Minnehaha avenues as “Little Africa.”

Soon, the Central Corridor light rail transit line will run through the area, but in the meantime, the construction has decreased foot traffic in the district and beyond.

Bruce Corrie, who is a business professor at Concordia University in Saint Paul, explains that the branding campaign comes out of the broader, nonprofit-driven World Cultural Heritage District. This emerged as a way to help businesses stay afloat during the light rail construction on University.

The idea is to make the area a destination for ethnic tourism. Here, “there’s a growing presence of African Americans,” he says, adding that it includes about 20 immigrant businesses.

Further, “African immigrant groups are very dynamic and entrepreneurial,” he says. “We want to capture that.”

It follows other similar branding efforts along different segments of University, including “Little Mekong” (see The Line story here) and the African American Cultural Corridor.

The districts would also relate to similar areas in Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park.  As it is, “There’s not a strong cultural infrastructure in Minnesota,” he says, adding that it’s an opportunity. “We’re trying to tap into the global market.”

While encouraging more people to come to the district, another goal is to “develop the cultural capacity,” he says.

Eventually signage will come to indicate the district visually.

“One challenge is to get the attention of policymakers,” to help bring more resources to the area, he says.

Recently the district rolled out a voucher program, offering $5 coupons to district shoppers. Also, the Snelling Café will host a free book exchange through its new Little Free Library, which it’s celebrating with a July 27 luncheon.  

Source: Dr. Bruce Corrie, Professor of Business in the College of Business and Organizational Leadership, Concordia University
Writer: Anna Pratt

Cycles for Change expands with $30,000 grant

Last month, Cycles for Change, a nonprofit bike shop, celebrated its expansion along University Avenue in St. Paul.

The shop, which has been around since 2001, strives to increase bike access for low-income and underserved populations in the surrounding neighborhoods, according to its website.

It has grown a lot over the past few years, and it needed more space to accommodate that, according to development and outreach director Jason Tanzman.

To carry that out, recently the shop, which was formerly known as the Sibley Bike Depot, received a $30,000 grant from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative

As a part of the project, the shop added 600 square feet to its existing 3,000 square feet, he says.

Through the project, the administrative area and workshop (where customers can work on their bikes), got more space, he says. The retail section moved to the storefront area while the walls got a fresh coat of paint and the floors were refinished.   

The shop has also been able to get improved signage for better street-level visibility, which is especially important considering the challenges of Central Corridor light rail transit line construction, he says.

Prior to the expansion, the bike shop was a bit out of the way in the building, he says.

Besides the phsyical changes, the place was able to increase its retail hours.   

All in all, the changes “enhance our ability to be a community organization and promote biking as a way to get around in combination with public transit," he says. 

Despite the momentum around biking right now, it can still be cost-prohibitive, especially for minorities and low-income people. “We need a level of intentionality about it so it’s not an upper-middle-class white thing, and that we’re able to expand the circle of who has access,” he says.   


Source: Jason Tanzman, development and outreach director, Cycles for Change
Writer: Anna Pratt

With $3,000 in startup funds, Our Village Gardens helps transform a former brownfield site

This spring, Frogtown Gardens got to work on a new community garden at a former brownfield site in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood.

It took $3,000 to set up the 30-plot community garden, called Our Village Gardens, according to Patricia Ohmans, who is a spokesperson for Frogtown Gardens.  

Frogtown Gardens is a nonprofit organization that’s in the process of establishing a demonstration farm park and sanctuary in the neighborhood.

Financial support for the water, materials, compost, and mulch at Our Village Gardens came from Terry and Margie Commerford, who own the land, she explains. The couple runs the River of Goods home decor shop and Terrybear Urns and Memorials out of a new development on the site.

A combination of neighborhood volunteers and employees of the Commerfords’ businesses cultivate the plots, she says.   

The gardeners are a diverse group, including Hmong, Somalis, Latinos, Vietnamese, African Americans, European Americans and others. “There's lots of energy and cross-pollination among them,” Ohmans says.

“We still need to do a lot of beautification around the communal spaces of the garden,” including the butterfly garden, rose border, and raspberries, “but the garden is already a great success and a truly diverse stomping ground.”  

Frogtown Gardens also sponsors Amir's Garden, a permaculture demonstration garden on a vacant, privately owned lot, along with the Pop-Up Tree Park, which is a temporary tree nursery on a city-owned lot in the neighborhood.

Amir's Garden's excess produce will go to the local food shelf, according to Ohmans.

“We are also closely tracking the production of that garden, to get a sense of how much food can actually be grown on a household lot,” she adds.


Source: Patricia Ohmans, Frogtown Farms
Writer: Anna Pratt

Following a $6 million capital campaign, the Minnesota African American Museum opens its doors

The Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center, which has been in the works for a handful of years, had its grand opening in Minneapolis’s Stevens Square neighborhood on June 2.

The museum, which is housed in the historic Coe Mansion, is about “celebrating and presenting African American history for all populations,” its website states. 

Roxanne Givens, one of the museum's founders, credits the local community for coming up with the idea. Many people "felt not having a record of the many contributions African Americans made to Minnesota history and beyond, was a major impediment to community engagement, self-esteem and achievement,” the website states.

The concept was there, and a place was needed to “fulfill our mission of a sustainable History and Cultural museum of Local, National and International importance.”

In answer to that, one day Givens and another founder, Harry Davis, wound up near the 1880s Queen Anne-style mansion by chance. It struck them both as the perfect venue for the museum they'd been talking about, according to its website.

To make it a reality, Givens spearheaded a $6 million capital campaign for building renovations. This included improvements that would accommodate exhibits in the space, while also allowing for accessibility. At the same time, the building's historic designation meant that its defining characteristics had to be left intact, the website explains.

Currently, exhibits in the space cover black baseball, the state's African-American pioneers, and African folktales.

The children’s space, which takes up an entire floor, includes an interactive learning and play space, reading lounge, library, high-tech touch-screen exhibits, and artifacts.  

Yet to come is an adjoining cultural and educational center that will have state-of-the-art technology, learning labs, a genealogy center, community gallery, oral history center and more, it states.

City Council member Robert Lilligren, who represents Ward 6, which includes the museum, says he's been supportive of the project since the get-go. Further, the Stevens Square community has "welcomed it with open arms as a cultural asset," he says. "They think it's a very positive addition to the neighborhood."

On a broader level, it enhances "a whole string of cultural assets along Third Avenue," which also includes several other museums.

Also, from a historical perspective, "The center swath of South Minneapolis was the first part of the city to integrate racially," so it's appropriate that the museum go there, he says.


Source: Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center; Robert Lilligren, Minneapolis City Council
Writer: Anna Pratt

A communal garden by a coalition of neighborhood groups in the works for the diverse Phillips area

The 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition in Minneapolis’s Phillips neighborhood will have its first official workday in its “communal” garden on May 19.

Phillips resident Sammie Ardito Rivera, who is the outreach and education coordinator at Dream of Wild Health, a 10-acre native farm in Hugo, belongs to the volunteer-driven coalition.   

The coalition is a joint effort of a number of community organizations including the following: Ventura Village Neighborhood Association, Indigenous Peoples Taskforce, Women’s Environmental Institute, Waite House, Indian Health Board, and Native American Community Clinic, along with Dream of Wild Health.  

It’s an opportunity for these organizations to do a demonstration farm that will help community members, especially American Indians, learn how to grow food, she says. That education is needed in the native community, which has high rates of heart disease and diabetes, Rivera adds.   

People will work in the “communal” garden collectively. “It’s not a community garden in the plot sense,” she says. “It’s more of a teaching opportunity for people who aren’t ready to grow their own food but want access.”

Nearby, a couple of other "communal" gardens are also in the works (see The Line's story here).

Planning for the 24th Street garden began last year, involving some minimal plantings last growing season. “This summer we hope to expand and have a more solid presence there,” she says.

The undeveloped piece of land, which the Indian Health Board owns, will be farmed temporarily. The Indian organization may have plans for the lot further down the line, she explains.

At the same time, the gardeners are also hoping to expand the farm in the future into a nearby lot that the city owns.

Right now, the farm is still fleshing out the details, she says, adding that for now, it’s on the lookout for rain barrels.

Source: Sammie Ardito Rivera, member of the 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition
Writer: Anna Pratt

Little Mekong brand helps draw people to the Central Corridor

In recognition of the unique Asian businesses and other cultural institutions along University Avenue in St. Paul from Galtier to Mackubin streets, the area is being branded as Little Mekong.

It’s an initiative that the local Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) launched on Feb. 25.

The name references the Mekong River, which is a major river in Southeast Asia, according to Va-Megn Thoj, who heads the AEDA. “Most businesses in the area have a connection to the river,” he explains.

In his view, “By giving a name to a destination which has existed for a long time, we can draw more people into the area.” This is especially needed during Central Corridor light rail construction, he says.  

Already, as a result of construction obstacles, many of the businesses are seeing less foot traffic, he says.

With the Little Mekong branding, “We want to build on what we have,” which he describes as “an attractive destination for people to get introduced to Asian cultures and cuisine.” Although the district has been around informally for a long time, not too many people are familiar with it, he says.

Besides improving the streetscape and putting up district-related signage, Little Mekong will host a number of events, including family-friendly festivals.

AEDA is also working with businesses to create incentive programs to bring in more customers, including coupons and other deals, and to handle increased traffic. “We’re working with businesses to strengthen their operations and customer service,” he says.

The coming Central Corridor represents “a tremendous opportunity to create something of benefit to the neighborhoods and city and region," he adds.

Source: Va-Megn Thoj
Writer: Anna Pratt

Phillips neighborhood group strives to make 'communal' gardens

Neighbors Connecting for Action in Phillips (NCAP), a new community group for Minneapolis’s Phillips neighborhood, is organizing a couple of “communal” gardens in the area.

Unlike the typical community garden structure where people sign up for a certain garden plot, participants will pool their efforts in the project, according to Jude Ortiz, an NCAP representative. “We’re coming together as neighbors to grow plants for each other,” he says, adding, “It’ll be collaborative, based on what people can do.”   

One garden at 28th and Portland Avenue South will focus on perennial plants, including various native species.

NCAP has an agreement with the Sustainable Resources Center in Northeast Minneapolis to work the land, according to Ortiz. There were gardening efforts there in the past, but there's been nothing in recent years, he says.

A second garden at 26th Street and 13th Avenue South, which has a longer, more fruitful history, will grow produce.  

To get the gardens going, the group has been pulling together community members. It's planning  meetings at both places for April 15. Attendees will begin discussing the design of the gardens at these gatherings.

Because NCAP is working without much of a budget, they’re trying to get as many donations of supplies and plants as possible. Already, “There’s a lot of interest and creativity going into it,” Ortiz says.

NCAP sees the gardens as “important to restore the urban ecosystem” and to provide access to healthy, organic food. It’s also an educational opportunity, helping the community become more self-sufficient, he says.

Further, having this kind of green space “creates an oasis in the city for people and other species,” he says.

Source: Jude Ortiz, NCAP
Writer: Anna Pratt

Local group plans solar projects, training in Nigeria

Next week, a group of local energy experts will head to Nigeria for 10 days to lead solar training.

The Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES) in Minneapolis developed the “Light Up Africa” project through its two-year-old international committee. The group will make its first stop at an area hospital, where they’ll show workers how to install a 60-watt solar module lighting system, according to Fran Crotty, one of the committee’s co-chairs. 

Their exact itinerary couldn't be shared as of press time.

Committee members will also teach people to put together a solar cell-phone charger and build a soldering station and a solar panel, according to MRES information.

“Technology transfer is mainly what we do,” Crotty says.

Besides helping set up energy-efficient infrastructure, the trainings will “provide the opportunity for [Nigerians] to do a small cottage industry” if they want, she adds.

“We provide technical information that’s always linked to economic development,” she says.

For example, entrepreneurs could start a small business charging cell phones or using solar power for grinding, the MRES website states.

The group will help Nigerians figure out what to build by “listening to them and letting them shape what they want.”

“Solar projects would be helpful in many countries that have problems with unreliable electricity, unsafe lighting, deforestation and poverty,” the MRES website states.

MRES is working with a nongovernmental organization in Nigeria. A couple of committee members happen to be from Nigeria, including Harry Olupitan, who says on the MRES website that the project is a part of a lifelong dream. “My vision is to see every household in Nigeria and in all of Africa at large powered with electricity powered by solar energy,” he says.

Source: Fran Crotty, Minnesota Renewable Energy Society
Writer: Anna Pratt
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