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2017 Summer Internship

Internship 2017 Re-cap #InternsSoFresh

Internship 2017 Re-cap #InternsSoFresh

Executive Director, Zach Robinson, shares his 2017 Summer Internship Retrospective:

On August 10 the  Annual Spark-Y Summer Internship came to a close with our Open House, attended by 100+ supporters of our 2017 intern class, and our larger Spark-Y community.

This year we had 60+ applicants, all of whom interviewed for a spot on our 8 intern teams, 32 spots in total. Approximately half were undergrads and half were in high school,  while the majority came from the Twin Cities.  As in previous years, we had participants join Spark-Y from all over the globe!

Of the 8 projects – 4 were “internal” and 4 were “external” projects with community partners:

  • Urban Ag Lab Marketing Team
  • Urban Ag Lab Production Team
  • Schools Squad maintenance Feat. Roosevelt High School + others
  • Schools Squad maintenance Feat. Edison High School + Northeast Minneapolis community
  • Gastro Truck Team
  • Good Acre Maker Teams
  • Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association Community Garden
  • The Lube-Tech Waste Audit Team

HINT: Check out the Annual Internship page for links to intern blogs.



As you can see, the Spark-Y Summer Internship provides a real-world opportunity for high school and college youth to run sustainable entrepreneurial projects. This is a practical, broad, hands-on experience that is missing from so many education institutions right now. Each of the projects had an established budget, deadline, and general direction for its end goals which interns could then further define. Teams were empowered to chart their own course for project execution by creatively determining the specifics of how they would reach their goals. To help them on this journey, the teams were able to utilize specialized training from Spark-Y in the form of mentorship and assistance from experienced staff, board members, consultants, and even insight from outside partners and experts. Finally, each intern individually had a strict set of guidelines that would allow them to achieve the official Spark-Y Sustainability Certification, a professional accommodation that comes with the backing of our organization, a proficiency requirement, and a reference directly from the Executive Director upon request.

There was incredible excitement and energy through the entire internship this year, which lasted over an energy-packed 6 weeks. On Open House night, the general sentiment was: “Can we make this two weeks longer? We do not want this to be over!”


The passion, knowledge, and dedication of these interns really stuck out to me this year. A continued trend that I also noticed, is how a lack of direction and a high degree of autonomy required to execute a Spark-Y internship project  is an intimidating barrier for many youth. I believe this is due to systemic failures in some of society's education institutions, in that memorization, standard testing, and a combination of non results-oriented education outcomes and scarce creative freedom in study does not prepare them for the “real world.” However, this is part of why Spark-Y exists and when that “boiling point” of creative freedom and required results within a professional setting is reached, our youth are accessing incredible innovation and solutions within themselves. The vast majority of our interns were able to meet their project goals AND obtain their certification at the Internship Open House award ceremony. Some of the interns earned special distinctions.. All interns were paid a $750 stipend for their experience over the 6 weeks, based on the value they created for each of our project partners. And how much sweeter a certification is when it is handed out along with their final $500 check?!

> For full list of our 2017 internship graduates and their distinctions: click here.


Being a Spark-Y intern is an meaningful professional experience and resume builder. However, much of the real value, as many of us know to be in true in our lives comes from a day-to-day transformative experience that provides new opportunities, challenges your comfort zone, and maybe even feels a bit scary. On top of putting the interns in the driver’s seat of a project, we encourage them to think about this experience as an analogy for their future, calling on each individual to step into the needed leadership for our economic and environmental future. It’s a lesson that I learned as the first employee of Spark-Y, and one that all of the staff at Spark-Y embodies. (over half of whom were also once interns).

Spark-Y will continue through our internships, our school partnerships and our Urban Agriculture Lab and more, empowering youth with real-world transformative education experiences that provide tangible value to our partners and the greater community. And in so doing, we will help passionate young people create the sustainable future that our world needs.

If you want to join our mission, please sign up for a mailing list and get involved!

-Zach, Executive Director


Waste Awareness: Lube-Tech Internship Team's Guide for Purposeful Change

Waste Awareness: Lube-Tech Internship Team's Guide for Purposeful Change

The following internship post is brought to you by our Lube-Tech team,
written by: Madeline Reed, Erin Purvis, Taylor Schroeder, and Max Doty

About Lube-Tech

In 1925, an oil company by the name of Jennison Rollins was founded. Later in 1946 Argi-Tec Lubricants was created, and in 1993 Jennison Rollins Oil Company, Argi-Tec Lubricants, and Gopher Oil Company worked together and formed Lube-Tech. In 1997 Rollins Fuel Oil Company merged with Lube-Tech, and by 1998 Lube-Tech started a division to test the oils and fluids they produced. Lube-Tech started working with Randt Recycling, now known as Lube-Tech Liquid Recycling, which provides recycling for used oil, used filters, coolant, and more.

In today’s society, we can’t just cut oil out of our lives. We use oil everyday in our vehicles, heating, electricity generation, and even asphalt and road oil. So how do we lessen our environmental footprint? We recycle. Lube-Tech recognizes this, and they took action. Not only does Lube-Tech distribute oil, they also pick up used oil and used oil filters to be recycled. The used oil goes to one of two places- either to the lab to extract the water from the oil to be resold as used oil, or sold as burn oil for manufacturing of asphalt. Lube-Tech wanted to take it a step further and asked Spark-Y to produce a waste audit of their work space, and that’s where we come in.

Our Project

Within a six week timeline, we were asked to create a waste audit with Lube-Tech. We were given a project brief the first day to help us better understand what we needed to do. The main piece of this project was the waste audit, but it’s hard to write an audit when you know nothing about the company. So the next week we visited three Lube-Tech sites: one in Golden Valley, one in St. Paul, and one in Roseville. On the tours we got to see the behind the scenes of the actions taken to produce, distribute, and recycle oil. The Golden Valley site is the main production site, with roughly 39,400 square feet of production space. This is where the oil is manufactured, distributed, and tested. The St. Paul location is the smallest of the three. Here they don't manufacture any oil, but distribute it to multiple locations. Lastly, at the Roseville location the oil is separated from the water to be recycled and reused into new blends of  oils for a certain need. Although the waste audit is the biggest part of the project, it’s not the only thing we needed to do.

The next thing on our to-do list was creating an awareness campaign. On our tours we noticed how little the employees were recycling, so we decided to raise awareness on recycling. If you were to combine all the office trash from all three locations, about 64% of what was thrown in the trash could have been recycled. So, we decided to create posters to hang around the facilities to help guide the employees on what they can and can’t recycle. These posters were hung around the building as a reminder- RECYCLE!

If you are interested in checking out our audit, download a copy by clicking here
To see what we did each day, download a copy of our calendar by clicking here.

You can make an impact

In today’s age, everyone should be trying to reduce their waste impact. With landfills filling up and incinerators negative health impacts, not to mention the negative environmental impacts both of those waste disposal options have, we should all be trying to reduce the amount of waste that we put in the trash. Taking the step to reduce the amount of waste you put into the trash sheds light on the importance of conducting a waste audit. Without knowing what is in your trash how can you plan on reducing it? If you have a lot of food waste in your trash, maybe backyard or commercial composting are steps you can take to divert that waste. If you have a lot of food packaging in your waste, like ziploc bags, are there changes you can make to reduce that, like purchasing a reusable food container. Identifying items in your trash and finding their proper waste streams can greatly decrease the amount of trash you have.

Everyone knows the phrase Reduce Reuse Recycle and for good reason. One thing that is important to recognize is that they are listed in order of effectiveness to reduce your waste. Reducing the amount of disposable items you use will prevent you from having to find the correct waste stream for disposing them. Reusing items will ensure that you can get as much use as you can out of a product, preventing you from having to buy any more. Lastly, recycle when you can no longer use something, put it in a waste stream where it can be broken down and converted into something else.


These are all guidelines that you can follow and guidelines that Lube-Tech has decided to take to reduce their waste footprint. With their long term goal being accomplishing zero-waste, we have helped to start that process on ensuring that all of their office waste is disposed of in the proper waste stream. Lube-Tech is setting an industry standard, showing that you can be in the oil and lubricants industry while also moving to ensure that environmental impacts are decreased in places where they have that direct control.

“It was so great to be a part of a project that can directly divert waste from going to landfills or incinerators! Lube-Tech is setting an industry standard; that correctly managing waste in office locations is important and possible.”    

    -Madeline Reed

My dream is to be an environmental management consultant, working with the strategic, analytical, and managerial processes associated with the environmental impact of corporate products and processes. Due to that, I was very pleased to hear that I was placed on this team. It provided me a trial run of my future and only fueled my passion for sustainable business even more!”    

    -Erin Purvis

“Working on this project with my group has been a blast! I was able to apply my knowledge on zero-waste living to something bigger- an oil company! It feels great knowing that the work we did will change the oil industry and the world. Living a zero-waste lifestyle is still a new concept to many, but it’s a growing trend, and we helped it expand even further from our homes.”

    -Taylor Schroeder

“I had such a great time during this internship! I got to meet people of all kinds of backgrounds and work with them to finish an assigned task. This was a great way to test my skills and see how I can contribute the most. My favorite part about the internship was the value of everyone’s opinions. I thought Spark-Y did a great job of making teamwork one of the main priorities.”

    -Max Doty

Empowered Women Using Power Tools: Sustainable Landscape Design at Gastrotruck

Empowered Women Using Power Tools: Sustainable Landscape Design at Gastrotruck

The final feature of our 2017 Annual Internship is the from the GastroTruck team
written by: Holly Check, Minette Saulog, and Daniella Torres-Skendi

Two years ago a Spark-Y intern group completed their project for Gastrotruck by building a hugeltruck and creatively expanding Gastrotruck’s grow space. This year our team continued that mission.

Gastrotruck is a food truck based in Minneapolis. Their philosophy revolves around respecting the environment. Gastrotruck follows this philosophy with zero-waste procedures and 100% utilization of their products. Our project was centered on sustainable landscape design, which falls directly under Gastrotruck’s umbrella.

Our original project goals were to revitalize the hugeltruck built by the 2015 intern group, replace the sod on 24th Avenue with pea gravel, and build planters and benches.

Our first goal was to renovate the hugeltruck, based on hugelkultur, built by Spark-Y interns in 2015. It incorporates the concept of hugelkultur which utilizes wood in the grow bed that fertilizes the soil as it decays. The Gastrotruck interns two years prior combined the sustainable growing system of hugelkultur with the design of a food truck to create the hugeltruck that resides outside of GastroTruck Events.

    After two years, the hugeltruck needed some revitalization and refurbishment. After some general housekeeping, like weeding the cab and bed of the truck and replacing splitting boards, we were able to replant the garden bed. Gastrotruck’s emphasis on sustainable landscaping includes the use of as many edible plants on property as possible. To keep with their mission, we planted raspberries in the hugeltruck to be used in their summer menu. The first edition of the hugeltruck had wheels which, unfortunately, disappeared not long after their installation. To add to the curb appeal, and more space for edible plants, we added new tires and planted tomatoes in the wheel wells. The final step to revitalizing the hugeltruck was the addition of a poster explaining the concept of hugelkultur and the collaboration between Spark-Y and Gastrotruck on this endeavor.

Our second goal required digging up the sod on the boulevard of the 24th Avenue side of the building and replacing that entire area with pea gravel. The property, located at the corner of University Avenue NE and 24th Avenue NE, is situated at the top of a street block that slopes downwards on 24th Avenue. As a result, heavy rainfalls often flood at the bottom of the block, leaving the grassy area without much water intake. This goal allows for reduced water runoff and soil erosion by leveling the land, and removing dry, crumbling, clay-like topsoil.

    After the two-day process of digging up all of the sod, it was time to lay down landscape fabric to prevent weed growth through the pea gravel. Our client had a pile of limestone rock fragments in her backyard, removed when parts of the back parking lot area of the building were torn apart, and she had been looking for ways to use some of them. We decided to take some sturdy limestone pieces of all different sizes to create a walking path through the gravel area, providing an extra element to the aesthetic of the rocks and fulfilling the client’s request to utilize free materials she already had on-hand.

The last step involved shoveling the pea gravel into place. We received a delivery of river rock from a local rock aggregate supplier, and by lunchtime we had accomplished this goal! In just two days, we permanently altered the surrounding landscape in a way that will benefit our client’s property for years to come.

The construction-related goal of our project was to design and build planters and benches for the property. In our design process, we aimed to align the design to our client’s vision of a rustic, Old World, mixed wood-and-steel aesthetic already existing in the building’s interior and exterior.

We ultimately chose a planter box design using frames of wood and sheet metal, and a bench design constructed out of pallet wood and metal legs to follow the design theme. Almost all of these materials were acquired for free; either already found on-site as surplus from previous projects undertaken by the owners or through donations. A significant challenge that our team overcame was the learning curve with our first construction experience. We were fortunate to have the support of the RUF Squad (Roosevelt Urban Farm Intern Team) during this build day and their team members’ construction knowledge and volunteer efforts, which helped the construction go smoothly and kept us on-schedule overall! To add weight to the planter and improve water filtration, we layered large limestone rocks, pea gravel, and soil before planting in them. The planters and benches were finally attached to each other to create one cohesive unit, ensuring that it becomes a permanent structure for the building and paying special attention to asset retention and overall appearance.

With a food truck business and the property eventually transitioning into a full restaurant, we aimed to maximize the functionality of the planters. By planting edible flora so that as many edibles as possible can be grown on-site for use in their food, and interspersing low-maintenance weather-hardy herbs and flowers, we ensured the long-term sustainability and economic benefit to our client. With the installation of the bench and planter combination to be used as a waiting area for customers of the future restaurant, our team combined functionality with beautification of their public space to be enjoyed by all.

The final piece of our project was to update the back garden. The existing planters, built by the 2015 intern team, were in need of some revitalization. So, we weeded and cleared out the areas with a build up of materials and added additional pea gravel for a brighter appearance. We also had the opportunity to add three new and different planters to add grow space for potential ingredients.

    We utilized materials already on-site or owned by Gastrotruck for all three planters. The first, a box garden, is made up of pieces of sheet metal with a wooden border that were on site. We layered limestone, pea gravel, and soil for better filtration as well as added tomato plants. In order to take advantage of all the space available, we added gutter planters along the fence line above pre-existing garden beds. These planters will grow kale and lettuce for use in Gastrotruck dishes. The final piece to our final project was adding vertical chair planters along the fence line, allowing for extension as the event space transitions to a restaurant. The chair planters also made use of previously-owned materials with each chair holding a tomato plant.

    The back garden area is now a multi-purpose space in which Gastrotruck can grow and collect plants to incorporate into their menu. In addition, both clients and eventual restaurant patrons can learn about small-scale agriculture, particularly in a restaurant specific environment. Overall, our project exemplifies sustainable landscape design through the use of upcycled materials and the regenerative food supply due to the extensive selection of planters. This small-scale landscape design is economically, socially, and environmentally beneficial to Gastrotruck and can be applied on a larger scale.

    Throughout this project we gained more confidence in our technical and interpersonal skills, such as learning how to use power tools and how to manage a project from start to finish. We would not have had the opportunity to gain these experiences without Gastrotruck’s investment in our development as Spark-Y interns. Going forward we will always carry this confidence and knowledge in our future endeavors.

Spice up the community: Working with Food Entrepreneurs at the Good Acre

Spice up the community: Working with Food Entrepreneurs at the Good Acre

This latest post come from Spark-Y Annual Internship Good Acre team,
written by Elise Hanson and Daijiro Yokota.

Daijiro and Elise with the Señoras de Salsa

Daijiro and Elise with the Señoras de Salsa

Small businesses are important to building strong local economies as they provide value-driven jobs, products, and innovation. In the beginning stages of starting a business there are many challenges in paving a path to becoming a thriving business. However, this can be such a large endeavor, that many businesses do not survive. Through a partnership with Lakewinds Food Co-op and The Good Acre, the Maker to Market Program was started  to create an infrastructure so that the Makers have a successful launch for their business.

The Good Acre is a nonprofit food hub that offers “multiple programs that promote local agriculture efforts in and around Minneapolis-St. Paul, with an emphasis placed on supporting low-income, immigrant, independent farmers.” The Maker to Market program serves as an incubator for four up-and-coming food businesses, known as the ‘Makers.’ Throughout the six-month program the Makers have access to commercial kitchen space at the Good Acre, the Good Acre Farmer Network for local ingredient suppliers, and distribution to all Lakewinds stores.  

As the Spark-Y Good Acre intern team, we play an important role of working with three of the Makers to help them achieve their business goals. We met with each of the Makers to understand what their business plans are and negotiate tasks that would help them reach their end goal. Each of the Makers are at different places in their business journey so we worked with them on their next steps. We’re working on a variety of projects like doing product demos, collaborating to create a product feedback survey, creating social media pages, formulating a job description, giving marketing feedback, creating marketing materials, writing a press release, and doing probiotic analysis research.

We both gained real-world experience in working directly with our clients, developing  an organized work plan, and using consistent collaboration to achieve high performance on our projects.

Our Takeaways:

I am inspired by the Makers’ passion for their products and the care that goes into each bottle. Every business decision is made with shared well-being in mind- from the environment, the farmers, the cooks, to the community that their products feed.” - Elise

“It was a great experience to work with these three Makers at the Good Acre. Each Maker has very different mindsets about their business but all of them are exceptionally passionate about what they are doing. I really enjoyed meeting with people who love their job every week and learned a lot from them.” - Daijiro

Meet the Makers:

Señoras de Salsa
Danielle Wojdyla is the business owner of this new social enterprise that creates delicious authentic Mexican salsa unlike any other salsa products in the store. Señoras de Salsa takes another step to empower immigrant women and share bold flavors with the community. Their flavors are Guajillo, Salsa Verde and Chipotle (the intern’s favorite).

Caldo Foods
Mona Khemakhem and her husband Anis created mediterranean recipes in their own kitchen. Friends and family took such a liking that they looked for places to buy similar products in retail, but nothing like their recipes existed. So they set out to create their own product line of Mediterranean-inspired, locally-sourced, all-natural food products. They have goals to make Caldo products available nation-wide. They have a growing product line starting with Caldo Harissa, Carota(the first carrot dip on the market) and Chimichurri.

You Betcha! Kimchi
Joe Silberschmidt and Iman Mefleh began their fermenting business from their small apartment with the mission of supporting sustainable agriculture through partnerships with local organic farmers. They use the freshest ingredients to make their kimchi “a Minnesotan twist on the Korean classic.” Their kimchis feature three spice levels: Minnesota Nice, A Bit Nippy and Uff Da!