A Summer of Sustainability at Roosevelt

A Summer of Sustainability at Roosevelt

The following blog post was written by Nurfadila Khairunnisa, Keriann Cooper, Olya Noyes, and Tunger Hong on their 2019 internship project at Roosevelt Urban Farm (RUF ).

This summer, the Roosevelt Urban farm (RUF) team is taking on big projects for the students and community members at Roosevelt High School. Roosevelt is located in South Minneapolis, just a couple blocks north of Lake Nokomis. During the school year, Roosevelt offers an Urban Farming class that works on and takes care of the aquaponics system and the outdoor garden in collaboration with Spark-Y. This is all part of Roosevelt principal, Principal Bradley’s initiative to make his school “made by the students.” Two of Spark Y’s interns in the RUF team this summer, Olya and Keriann, are also students in the Urban Farming class during the school year!

As our biggest project, our team will build a hoop house on school grounds for students to be able to grow plants all year long. A hoop house acts very similarly to a greenhouse but with better ventilation. It is made by hoops made of PVC which are placed in a row and covered by greenhouse plastic. They should be placed in a location with good soil and in an area open to sunlight. Some benefits of having a hoop house include helping extend growth season by up to four months, holding in heat, being easy to relocate and move around, holding in moisture which is good for the soil, and much more.

So far, we have not started on the hoop house since we’ve only gathered all of our material last week. We hope to get started on it this week and to have it done as soon as we can.

Another one of our projects is to reorganize the aquaponics classroom that students use during the school year. We are getting help from an interior designer named Ilana, who is a friend of our team lead, Matt. In the first picture, you can see how the room currently looks like after moving around some of the big tables and cleaning up the area. It isn’t how we want it to look like just yet but looks a lot better than how it looked when we first stepped into the room!

The classroom following interior design changes.

The classroom following interior design changes.

Here are some things that our interns at Roosevelt have to say:

Tunger: "I am most excited about doing some changes to the aquaponics room and building the hoop house. Our project at Roosevelt is important to me because helping out the community is always a good thing and gives a feeling of accomplishment once finishing the project."

Keriann: "Working on Roosevelt's food systems has empowered me to start my own sustainable garden. I have a good feeling that our aquaponics system and new hoop house will also excite future Roosevelt students to engage in sustainability."

Open Position: Sustainable Systems Manager and Educator

Open Position: Sustainable Systems Manager and Educator

Power statement: 
The one who gets it done. The tinkerer and communicator. Exhibiting the fortitude to troubleshoot without hand-holding, you are the gatekeeper of success for Spark-Y’s sustainable systems and the bridge between the Operations and Education branches of the organization.

Job Description:
This position works closely with both the Operations Director and the Education Director and is responsible for leading youth in building and managing sustainable systems for Spark-Y, as well as connecting those systems to hands-on classroom education. Systems safety, training, and care across our network of partnerships while engaging youth is a must. Spark-Y employs a broad range of sustainable and entrepreneurial systems including aquaponics, outdoor farming, greenhouses, vermicompost and mycology which provide meaningful educational opportunities in culinary science, chemistry, physics, and biology. These systems are constructed  and maintained using basic construction techniques, timber framing, plumbing, electrical work, and organic farming best practices. The position will also include developing and facilitating project-based youth programming, delivering materials, coordinating system design and construction, and management of results-oriented projects. 

Essential Job Functions:

Sustainable System Support & Build Facilitation - 40%

  • Manage the sustainable systems at one or more school and community locations, ensuring the space is not only clean and safe for regular student involvement but also yielding produce

  • Review “Systems Excellence Report” weekly to aid other Spark-Y staff in troubleshooting their assigned systems and ensure a baseline of system success is maintained

  • Visit high-need programs as needed in person to remedy larger issues

  • Participate in planning and execution of program “system builds,” sometimes as the primary lead

  • Lead a summer internship project with high school and college interns

School Program & Workshop Facilitation  - 40%

  • Plan and facilitate regular youth programming, training and empowering youth to successfully manage sustainable systems and connecting project-based learning to state standards in STEM

  • Coordinate regularly with school staff and other Spark-Y educators to plan and implement programming

  • Assist in facilitating workshops for community partners and school field trips at the Urban Ag Lab 

General Operations Support -15%

  • Aid in ongoing build-out and initiatives of Spark-Y’s Urban Agriculture Lab in NE Minneapolis, also assisting with tool inventory and general space cleanliness

  • Work with “DIY Bio Lab” team each Wednesday to make progress on school program related initiatives. Prototype, refine, and then implement in schools

Meetings / Admin - 5% 

  • Staff meeting participation, timesheets, and reporting

Reliable mode of transportation
Experience working with high school aged youth
Driver’s license

Desired knowledge areas:

  • Aquaponics 

  • Gardening / permaculture

  • Urban / indoor farming

  • Food systems

  • Culinary basics

  • Project-based learning

  • Construction / mechanical troubleshooting 

  • Composting / vermicomposting

  • Mycology / bioremediation

  • Arduino / coding basics

  • Behavior management

  • Biology and life sciences

Desired Experience/Education:

  • Bachelor degree

  • 2+ years experience in a related field

$28,000+ (DOQ)

To apply, send resume and cover letter to jobs@spark-y.org

At Spark-Y we value passion, community, balance, integrity and growth.
Our leadership and staff build collaborative relationships with our partners and team members to empower ourselves and others. We’re a forward-thinking organization fueled by resourceful innovators that take the initiative to better serve our mission. We encourage applicants of all backgrounds to apply, including women and applicants of color. | EEOC Employer.

The Future of Biolubricants

The Future of Biolubricants

This Post was written by Jared Miller and Hani Abukar,
Spark-Y’s summer interns working on the Lube-Tech project.

A big question in sustainable living today is exploring and creating renewable forms of energy so as to maintain our world and make a better environment for future generations. Taking a central role in that subject is the use of fossil fuels in creating energy and in various other fields, in this case the creation of lubricants for the smooth running of engines of various sizes.

Earlier this year, Spark-Y began a collaboration with Lube-Tech, a large manufacturer of oils and lubricants (amongst other business units) to explore the future of biolubricants. What is a biolubricant, you may ask? Well, a biolubricant is essentially a lubricant made from plant based oils such as sunflower or canola oil as opposed to the typical petroleum. It is also known as a bio-based lubricant and is used to a small degree in companies such as Lube-Tech.

Lube-Tech approached Spark-Y with the mission of sounding out the current biolubricants market: what else is there, how viable are these options, who supplies them, and what biolubricants are currently being researched for potential future uses? We are excited to work on this project for Lube-Tech, as the path to a sustainable society necessitates that not only individuals, but groups and corporations take steps towards using renewable resources in their production, and we are very excited that Lube-Tech has tasked us with the mission of taking these first few steps for them.

In addition to the effect that this project will have on helping Lube-Tech to understand and potentially expand into the field of biolubricants, We feel that this project will become a cornerstone of experience for our futures, both as stewards of a sustainable world and as young entrepreneurs entering the workforce, as the aspects of the project involving market research and creating a consulting-style report will prove to be valuable skills for our future career paths. Though we are just starting out on our project, we both feel that this experience has already begun to shape our views on business, sustainability, and entrepreneurship.

Fostering a Culture of Inquiry, Changing the World

Fostering a Culture of Inquiry, Changing the World

The following blog post was written by Carley Rice, Lead Sustainability Educator, on our Spark-Y program partnership with Community School of Excellence

The students at Community School of Excellence are lots of things, but if they are one thing, they are truly excellent. This group of fifth grade students shocks and inspires me with their innate curiosity and deep rooted LOVE for learning. Leading them on a small portion of their education journey this year has been a true honor. As I part ways with my students for the summer I reflect on the lessons they have taught me, about education, about children, and about the future of a planet in peril.

We started off the year asking lots of questions: What is sustainability? How can we live more sustainably? How can we treat our planet better? How can we treat each other better?

I think that starting off the year with open inquiry and dialogue set us up for success. Too often young people are afraid to ask questions. Maybe adults in their life discredit their opinions. Maybe they’ve been shut down by others. Maybe they don’t feel that their thoughts are valuable.

This has to change.

Creating a culture of inquiry is one of my top priorities as an educator. How can we expect children to learn and grow if they don’t ask questions?

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This year our fifth graders at CSE used power tools to build garden beds and aquaponics systems, cared for fish, grew plants, experimented with pH, and even solved engineering challenges. Throughout all of these activities they were encouraged and pushed to think critically, be creative, and ask questions. Many of these activities were new for our students and pushed them out of their comfort zones. It’s not everyday that you see a 10-year-old child successfully use a chop saw. These activities wouldn’t be possible without a group of open-minded, eager, curious young learners. Working with students like these makes my job as an educator pretty easy. CSE is a school that takes its time with students to ensure everyone feels included, heard, and important. Not all students in our city are so lucky. At Spark-Y we make it our mission and our priority to reach those students who are under-served and at-risk.

The question that is constantly on my mind as an educator is this: Why does the traditional education system fail so many young people? How can we reach these students?

I think these are questions that you could spend a lifetime considering and trying to solve. Right now, I think the answer has to do with empowerment. Too many students don’t believe in their own power. They’ve never been told that they CAN, in fact, do anything. They haven’t been given the opportunities, skill sets, and guidance to reach their potential. Their thoughts, opinions, and ideas have been ignored. Their voices have been silenced. If we can target this issue maybe we can begin to reach all students, not just the top 5-10%. I think this begins with communication. Students need to feel heard. But, before they can feel comfortable opening up and sharing they need to feel respected, safe, and trusted.

Every week at CSE students were presented with a challenge that is currently facing our world. Topics such as waste, water consumption, pollution, inequity, food deserts, and climate change were introduced and discussed. Some may think that these topics are “too big,” or “too daunting” for young minds. I disagree. I think that by trusting our youth with these ideas and challenges we are showing them that we respect them, that we need their help, and that we fully believe in their abilities. It is their generation that will turn our climate crisis around. Why wait till they are adults to present these ideas? This approach lets students know that we trust them, and that it’s okay to share their opinions. Young people just want to feel like adults actually see them, hear them, and understand them.


Our work at CSE this year was a great example of this. These 10 and 11 year old students not only were able to grasp big, complicated concepts, but they were able to articulate their thoughts and even brainstorm potential solutions. It’s amazing what children are capable of when they are in an empowering environment that cultivates curiosity, critical thinking, and inquiry.

A few weeks ago I had a student ask me why earthworms come out of the ground after a rainstorm. I told him that that’s such a great question, and then asked him to find the answer for me and report back next week. As soon as I walked into the classroom the following week he came up to me with a piece of notebook paper and presented his findings. It’s simple, small moments like this that reassure me that our approach is working. Children are innately curious. It’s up to us to keep that fire ignited and do our best to never let it burn out.

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