Roosevelt Urban Farm: A Garden-to-Cafeteria Success Story

Roosevelt Urban Farm: A Garden-to-Cafeteria Success Story

The following reflection was written by Rhiannon Dalrymple, Spark-Y Program Director, on the Roosevelt Urban Farm (RUF Squad) High School Program.

I don’t have to scrutinize the data we have from those kids to know it was a success for them. I watched them grow, and I felt them shift
— Rhiannon Dalrymple

Looking back at the 2016-17 school year, I am so proud of what our small and feisty team has achieved. Across our 13 partner schools we have served more than 1,400 students in 18 custom-designed daily, weekly, and monthly programs throughout the year.. Nine other schools had one-off experiences with our team, either through educational tours of the Urban Ag Lab, at STEM days, or through build-and-workshop events. We installed what is probably the nation’s biggest classroom aquaponics systems at Edison high school, we piloted novel core and elective program offerings, and saw January 13th deemed Spark-Y & Northeast Middle School Sustainability Day in the city of Minneapolis by Mayor Betsy Hodges. It was a wild ride.

At this time of year we take stock of the adventure that was the past 9 months, and we quantify the impact of our work. Right now we are crunching through the data, analyzing responses to surveys and assessing our measurable success. But more than that, we are taking time during the quiet between the school year and the internship program to reflect on our personal experiences, our interactions with our youth, the challenges we faced and - of course - the fun that we have had. So much of the impact of our programming is seen in the slow and subtle changes that accumulate in our students through the year, those almost intangible shifts in attitude and behavior day-to-day which are hard to nail down and record. This year I had the joy of delivering the Roosevelt Urban Farm (RUF) program at Roosevelt High School. I don’t have to scrutinize the data we have from those kids to know it was a success for them. I watched them grow, and I felt them shift.

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RUF Squad

Roosevelt Urban Farm Squad

This year the RUF squad grew and harvested an abundance of organic produce, 60lbs of which they sold directly to the cafeteria (other unmeasured amounts were prepared in the class to fuel the hungry farm squad or taken home  to their families to share the bounty). Roosevelt is a Minneapolis Public School garden-to-cafeteria success story. RUF students engage directly with cafeteria leaders and cooks, meeting about what should be grown, touring where the produce is prepared into the school lunches, and hand-delivering safely-harvested produce for weighing and preparation. The students earn between $1 and $2 a pound for their produce - which is below market price for locally grown and organic vegetables - but the experience of seeing their friends eat the food they harvested the day before is a powerful one. Excellent bragging rights! When their first check came through we had a financial meeting as a group to decide how best to use that hard-earned $58. Options included having a pizza party (initially a popular choice), investing in new seeds, setting up an experiment with crayfish in the sump tank of the aquaponics system, or buying a new school of tilapia fish. They voted on reinvesting their earnings into the farm, and we bought a school of fish that they themselves would never see grow enough to sell or to eat.

Indoor Aquaponics System

As the school year ended it was clear to me how far they had really come. For a class project in the fall, a few of the kids designed and led a school-wide recycling initiative in which students earned service learning credit for collecting and sorting recyclable waste from all classrooms. It continued weekly right up until the very last day of school, independent of my involvement. By the end of our year together it became clear how much they handled on their own - added water to the aquaponics system, fed the fish, pollinated the greenhouse crops, seeded, weeded and watered the garden themselves. Now that I’m taking care of it all myself until the internship begins, I can see how little I was actually doing by the end

….Well, I’m not doing it all myself - a RUF Squad fairy has been dropping by the farm during their summer holidays to water the greenhouse at nights! (I’m not sure which of you it is, but thank you!!)

The end of a school year can be such a bittersweet time. We are welcoming summer harvests, are looking excitedly to the next school year, and are in the final throws of preparing our jam-packed internship program. However, we are also celebrating and wrapping up programs which we have been living, breathing, and loving for the better part of a year, and are saying goodbye to many hundreds of fantastic youth. Me, I’m sad to say goodbye to a small group I have come to know, love and respect. Or, at least, goodbye for now… we know that we will see a number of these powerful young people in our internship, programs and job openings in the future!

For more information about Roosevelt High School visit their website, here.

First 17 in 2017: The Highlights

First 17 in 2017: The Highlights

The Spark-Y team has really hit the ground running in 2017!

We’re only three months into this new year and we’ve already accomplished a lot. Here are 17 highlights for the start of 2017:

1) We added a new member to our team. Michelle Chmura joined our Spark-Y family, accepting the position as Action Educator for Crossroads Elementary.

2) Minneapolis Mayor visited our Shark Tank day at Northeast Middle School and declared January 13th NEMS/Spark-Y Sustainability Day in the city of Minneapolis!  Read about more about this exciting day here.

3) We had a FANTASTIC build day at Northeast Middle School in January - when all 150 7th graders participated in constructing the system they designed. (Yeah, kids with power tools!)

4) We kicked off a professional mentorship program with our amazing sponsor, Lube-Tech.

5) Summer internship applications are open, and we are already interviewing candidates! Learn more about our annual summer internship here.

6) Students at the Integrated Arts Academy made a pitch to funders from their school districts, proposing their designs for a bigger aquaponics system.

7) Our Operations Team started koi breeding at the Urban Ag Lab, an exciting potential for revenue raising to bolster support for school programming.

8) Our Mushroom lab has had an overhaul: we are growing at the Urban Ag Lab and teaching workshops. Watch our facebook page for upcoming events!

9) The DIY Bio Lab is expanding into new topics, supplying our educators with new classroom kits and science learning. You can learn more about DIY Bio on the Urban Ag Lab page, here.

10) Our Board of Directors is launching an Innovation Committee, aimed at pushing Spark-Y into frontiers of cutting-edge projects.

11) Edison High School launched an impressive aquaponics system. The largest school aquaponics system in the state, maybe even the WORLD!

12) Spark-Y Founder, Mary Helen Franze, was a key speaker at the Eide Bailly Resourcefulness Event.

13) Our Lab Director, Destiny Zeibol, and Program Director, Rhiannon Dalrymple, led an arduino workshop for professional teacher development at Crossroads Elementary. Teachers were inspired and educated on the use of arduinos in classrooms.

14) Roosevelt Urban Farm Squad have overhauled the waste system at their school, and are leading a student-driven recycling awareness and collection program! 

15) Our classes at Bright Water Montessori have put together two vermicomposting bins which are aimed at helping the school use their food waste as a resource.

16 ) Spring is just around the corner so our students are busy working on garden plans, raising seedlings, and the Spark-Y spring plant sale! Be sure to friend us on Facebook for plant sale announcements.

17) We are planning an incredible FUNdraiser - the Spark-Y Urban Adventure Race! August 5th will be an action-packed, fun-filled day in Uptown, Minneapolis.  Proceeds will go right back into making 2017 the best year yet.  Learn more here.

Here's to a great kick-off in 2017!

Annual Internship 2017

Annual Internship 2017

Get ready Twin Cities! Youth from around the country are gearing up for our 7th annual summer internship and this year’s group of youth are going to fuel our most ambitious sustainable bootcamp to-date.

Here’s what you need to know:

Interns selected through our application process will spend six weeks contributing to our nonprofit organization through hands-on projects that create real-world economic outcomes for our community partners.  Youth chosen will experience working in tight teams, learning about sustainability and entrepreneurship through dedicated projects. Youth and teams are chosen based on experience, desired area of focus, and education background.  To create an atmosphere of teamwork and diverse contribution, interns of different ages and aptitudes work in groups to build and support one-another throughout the summer.


This year’s internship runs from July 5 - August 11.

Interns base out of our Minneapolis office and Urban Agriculture Lab: 4432 Chicago Ave. S
Minneapolis, MN 55407.

The internship is 3 days a week (Tue-Thur; 10am-5pm) roughly 20hrs / week.  Interns range from 14-24 years in age, high school, college students and graduates welcome to apply.

Deadline for application is Friday, April 21.

Further details are listed at the bottom of the Annual Internship page here.

“Spark-Y has given us the confidence to know that we can do this.  For instance, I had never worked with power tools before, I knew nothing about timber framing, and I didn’t really ever go to big meetings or anything like that.  Now I’m doing all of it. And now I feel, if I wanted to do almost this exact same thing - I feel like I have confidence that I could work with it and do it again.” 
- Makenna, 2016 Spark-Y intern
Beltrami Pavilion Team Leader

Why Spark-Y:

Youth everywhere are taking notice of social and environmental injustices throughout the country. And more than ever, these young people want to make a positive difference while growing their access to healthy food, information, sustainable practices, and organizations that support the causes they believe in.

At Spark-Y, we created a summer internship to give voice to youth. Here, young people have the support of an entire nonprofit organization that knows the value of youth-grown ideas. Our 6-week internship pairs like-minded individuals together, catalyzing fresh ideas, inspired action, and remarkable outcomes.

Let’s highlight a few from previous years’ internship teams:

Learn. Grow. Gain job experience.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), via Pathways to Prosperity, the top 5 attributes employers seek are:

  1. Leadership
  2. Teamwork
  3. Written Communications
  4. Problem Solving
  5. Verbal Communications

These attributes align with Spark-Y’s 5 Keys of Professional Development, principals we not only mentor our youth with but also practice as interns, staff, and leaders.

Trademark Spark-Y: Youth Action Labs, "5 Keys of Professional Development."

We credit the success of our internship to youth using not just learning about professional development, but practicing it in the field and in their teams. By the end of the 6-week internship, youth have actionable outcomes that can be added to their resume and shared with future employers.  

Past interns at Spark-Y have gone on to lead teams during the next internship, gain employment, and gain admittance to schools and specialized programs.  Many of our interns have gone on to use their experiences for entrepreneurial pursuits, creating their own sustainable business models.

Get involved

If you are interested in applying for our internship, please review the details on our Annual Internship page.

Community members or individuals looking to engage our interns in partnerships can contact us at

We look forward to a summer of big ideas, youth-driven action, and results that build closer communities, healthier environments, and lasting change.

Shark Tank Gains Citywide Attention

Shark Tank Gains Citywide Attention

Spark-Y has always been about empowering youth and letting students take control of their education and their future, and students who participate in Shark Tank events in Spark-Y programs get to do just that. These activities are great learning experiences for all ages and have been used throughout the semester in all kinds of schools, including Northeast Middle School, Prairie View Elementary, and Edison High School in the EASY Pro program!

Shark Tanks are an interdisciplinary activity that showcase the student ideas for the design and utilization of the sustainable systems being installed through their Spark-Y program. Preparing their ideas, designs and pitches is often an intensive group project – a great opportunity to practice those all-important teamwork skills in a supported way. Shark Tanks, where students pitch their projects to a panel of experts or community members, also allow students to showcase their developing professional skills, including greetings and handshakes, oral and visual communication, and problem solving and critical thinking. Students get the opportunity to take real ownership, not only of these projects and their education, but also of the bigger developments on their school campus’.

The Shark Tank event at Northeast Middle School on Friday Jan 13th is one that will go down in Spark-Y history! 7th graders pitched their aquaponics system designs and utilization plans to an all-star panel of professionals from the school district, and city and state leadership. We were so humbled to have the following wonderful people support our students:
Mayor Betsy Hodges, Senior Policy Adviser to the Mayor Phillipe Cunningham, Council Member Kevin Reich, Senator Jim Carlson, Michael Thomas MPS Chief of Academics, Leadership & Learning, Macarre Traynham MPS Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Naomi Taylor MPS Co-Chair of Pedagogy of Equity, Ed Graff MPS Superintendent, Betsy Stretch MPS STEM Curriculum Integration Specialist , Eric Moore MPS Chief of Accountability, Innovation, & Research, Susanne Griffin MPS Deputy Chief Academic Officer, Jenny Arneson MPS Board of Education Treasurer, Jackie Hanson MPS Associate Superintendent and Vernon Rowe Principal of Northeast Middle School.


To top it all off – the Mayor proclaimed Friday Jan 13th 2017 to be Northeast Middle School / Spark-Y Sustainability day in the City of Minneapolis!

What a powerful way to show these kids that they are seen, they are heard, and they are respected leaders in our community. Shout out to a community that shows up for youth!