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Spark-Y Impact Report: 2017-18

Spark-Y Impact Report: 2017-18

Youth Empowerment. This is our mission as an organization and also a directive that shapes our organization - from the curriculum we deliver in our school programs and the real-world approach we take in our summer internship program, to the opportunities for community outreach and youth employment we provide through Urban Agriculture Lab. These three branches of our organization work systemically to positively impact Twin Cities youth, providing multiple pathways for empowerment and growth both within and beyond our organization.

Perhaps this is why so many of our Spark-Y youth begin in our school programs, graduate from our summer internship program, and go on to gain employment at Spark-Y or other organizations as a result of their experiences.

As an organization we are always asking ourselves the same question: How do we measure youth empowerment?
Can it be measured by student grades in our school programs?
Or by the dollar value of projects completed in our summer internship?

If you ask one of our Sustainability Educators, they might tell you other stories of empowerment:

  • The transformation of disengaged students who rally to save a classroom fish, complete an assignment for the first time in their classroom history, or join an elective leadership opportunity (our elementary Captains program).

  • The marvel of watching student-led creations come to life, as young people use STEM-based learning and utilize power tools to design, build, and cultivate their own sustainable systems.

  • Youth interns sharing their summer internship successes on stage in front of our Minneapolis Mayor, Jacob Frey - then going on to secure jobs and admittance to higher education programs as a result of their experiences.

As we continue to share these meaningful stories of youth empowerment on our blog, Facebook, and Instagram we also want to share the other side of how we measure youth empowerment, through our Spark-Y Impact Report. This report is designed to help us as an organization measure our successes, focus our future efforts, and paint a broader picture for our supporters (that’s you!) the value of your investment in our organization.

Together, we are empowering more Twin Cities youth than ever before.


Total Youth Served in 2017/18: 1,926

School Programs:

This branch of Spark-Y provides hands-on education, rooted in sustainability and entrepreneurship to Twin Cities youth in school classrooms, workshops, one-time events, and customized programming.

In 2017/18 Spark-Y provided curriculum for:

  • 13 schools

  • 18 regularly occurring school programs or 2,799 class periods and 1,334 youth regularly served

  • Workshops and one-time events impacting 401 youth and 191 adults

  • Reaching a total of 1,735 youth

Within our school programs, youth engaged in hands-on curriculum that resulted in:

  • 10 permanent in-school aquaponics systems

  • 35 mini-aquaponics systems

  • 4 permanent vermicompost systems


Did you know?

In 2017-2018 Spark-Y doubled the number of permanent aquaponics systems built in the previous year.

Another marker of impact in 2017-18 was our expanded reach and lasting impact within of our partnerships with Twin Cities Schools:

  • Addition of Edison High School LEAF (Leadership Education Agriculture Future) program - a diploma certification with Spark-Y programming spanning 5 class offerings.

  • Our third year of programming at Roosevelt High School, including our urban farm and EASY Pro (Edible Schoolyard Professional) programs.

  • Our seventh year at School of Environmental Studies.

  • We also celebrated our fifth year at Southside Family Charter.

Fast Fact:
After participating in a Spark-Y school program, 62% of youth reported knowing ways they can live more sustainably.

Spark-Y continued to expand interpersonal partnerships:

  • 2 school interns from a continued partnership with HECUA program (non-profit with a focus on social justice, human rights and sustainability).

  • 2 AmeriCorps members on staff.

Urban Agriculture Lab (UAL)

The second branch of Spark-Y, the Urban Agriculture Lab, provides support to our school programs through sustainable systems research, facilitation of youth classroom builds, and ongoing maintenance to in-classroom systems. The UAL operates in indoor production facility, providing a sustainable revenue model for the organization and a youth job pathway. Lastly, the UAL is home to our DIY Bio Lab, equipping our classrooms with new, innovative science projects and providing workshops and outreach throughout the Twin Cities.

In 2017/18 the Urban Ag Lab:

Reached 167 youth and 175 adults through tours.

  • Impacted 199 youth with hands-on STEM workshops, in a new partnership with Hennepin County Libraries.

  • Provided a work-based learning internship with 3 Edison students, complete with class credits and stipends.

  • Employed 1 youth apprentice.

  • Impacted 23 youth at our second year in attendance as speakers at CONvergence.

  • Hosted 47 volunteers.


Fast Fact:

Spark-Y moved office headquarters in August of 2018, moving their 1,300 square foot indoor aquaponics system to construct a timber-frame, vertical growing system at their new offices in Northeast Minneapolis.

Additionally, the Urban Ag Lab participated in the following:

  • Hosted a Spring Plant sale, attracting hundreds of visitors.

  • Featured exhibitor at the Minnesota State Fair, Common Table.

  • A stop on the 2018 Farm Tour.

Summer Internship

The third branch of our organization, the Summer Internship Program, a sustainability bootcamp where young people gain real-world experience through hands-on projects with our Twin Cities partners.

In 2018 Spark-Y provided 41 paid internship positions for our youth, completing:

  • Design and build of a two-ton timber frame aquaponics system

  • A rain garden

  • Indoor aquaponics system

  • Garden shed

2018 interns receiving paid stipends, with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, in front of a youth-built timber frame aquaponics system at the Spark-Y Open House.

2018 interns receiving paid stipends, with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, in front of a youth-built timber frame aquaponics system at the Spark-Y Open House.

Looking ahead:

With a nod to this last year’s accomplishments, we also look forward to focusing our efforts in key areas of growth to create even more impact in the year to come.

This includes:

  • Creating even more ways to measure our impact, including, entrance / exit surveys and methods of qualitative data collection.

  • Expanding our community workshop offerings to build interest and curiosity in new communities.

  • Thinking of new and innovative ways to fund and expand into new school partnerships, including the ten schools on our current wait list.

  • Increasing our employment pathways.

  • Adding professional certifications to our work based learning programs.

We are very excited to share this information with you. We appreciate your continued support of our organization and other Twin Cities organizations that are actively uplifting the lives of youth all around us. We could not do this work without you. We thank all of our volunteers, staff, Board, fiscal contributors, partners, and cheerleaders for your ongoing support.

Let’s keep building towards empowering our youth, so that they can go on to empower their families, schools, and our greater community!


A Special Thanks:

In the last month we have received in-kind support of our organization from the Joan Brick McHugh memorial. These donations were given to honor her memory, and for that, we are sincerely grateful. We would also like to recognize Spark-Y Founder, Mary Helen Franze, for her ten years of service on our Board of Directors and for choosing Spark-Y to honor her mother's memory.

Tours, Microgreens, and More: A Look at Spark-Y's Urban Ag Lab

Tours, Microgreens, and More: A Look at Spark-Y's Urban Ag Lab

Spark-Y’s Urban Agriculture Lab (UAL), offers a blooming paradise in a cold Minnesota winter! Youth operate our aquaponic production facility, raising microgreens for sale through the Gentleman Forager, facilitating regular tours, and organizing events such as our spring plant sale. Since the beginning of 2018 alone, more than 180 students and over 20 community members have toured Spark-Y’s UAL. Read on to learn more about the UAL, and the activities that our awesome interns, volunteers, youth apprentices, and citizen scientists are participating in.

The Latest from the Urban Agriculture Lab


Spark-Y’s fresh, local, youth-grown microgreens are being used in restaurants across the Twin Cities, through our partnership with the Gentleman Forager. These microgreens will also soon be offered for sale at the Gentleman Forager stand in the new Keg and Case marketplace opening spring, 2018. Revenue earned through this partnership allows youth in Spark-Y’s school programs to be employed in the UAL, where they can apply the skills and knowledge learned in their school program to a real-world setting. Kelly, our first youth apprentice, was a student at Roosevelt High School. He participated in the Roosevelt Urban Farm Squad for two years, and in Spark-Y’s summer internship for two years. He was hired on as staff in August, 2017, and is now helping produce microgreens for the Gentleman Forager partnership.


Baby Blue Tilapia were bred as a special project by our intern Nicholas Jacob. They were born on November 3rd, 2017. These fry will reach a mature size within about nine months. Tilapia are the ideal species to raise with students in our school programs for their hearty nature, and ability to reach maturity quickly. We like to celebrate the creation of a food system with the students in our school programs, by participating in a fish fry at the end of each year. These Blue Tilapia fry are currently being raised by the youth apprentices and interns operating our UAL. We intend to sell them to local restaurants and individual consumers right around August, 2018 when they reach maturity. Our tilapia make extra tasty (and sustainable!) fish tacos incase you were wondering.


Spark-Y’s mission of sustainability education and empowerment stretches beyond the youth in our programs. Every-other Thursday evening from 6 to 7pm we welcome the public to join us on a tour of the UAL. Tours only cost $10, and will go through each of the sustainable systems we utilize in the classroom as drivers of STEM education. You can sign up for a tour on Spark-Y’s Shop page.

Side note: You can also stop by before the tour on Thursdays from 5-6pm to purchase fresh, youth-grown microgreens!

This summer, Spark-Y will also be partnering with the Hennepin County Library to offer a series of STEM focused workshops. Keep an eye on our Facebook page, or sign up for our newsletter to learn more.


What’s Ahead for the Urban Agriculture Lab:

Are you getting antsy for spring? We sure are! Get your pants from Spark-Y at our 2nd annual Spring Plant Sale taking place May 5th, 2018. All your veggies, flowers, herbs, and even native plants will be available! We will also be offering mushroom log demonstrations, UAL tours, and activities for the kiddos throughout the day. Sign up for our newsletter at to receive a pre-order form for the 2018 plant sale.


Looking to get involved?

You can support Spark-Y and our UAL by participating in any of the following events:

  • Come on a tour - Offered every-other Thursday 6-7pm.
  • Purchase microgreens @ Spark-Y, 5-6pm on Thursdays.
  • Come to our plant sale on May 5th.
  • Purchase a mushroom log, T-shirt, fanny pack, SCOBY, or vermicompost bin at, or on Thursdays 5-6pm.
  • Sign up for our newsletter.
  • Donate
  • Volunteer
  • Like & follow us on Facebook

Spark-Y staff share their passions at CONvergence

Spark-Y staff share their passions at CONvergence

The following post was written by Michelle Chmura, Spark-Y Education Facilitator, on her experience at the CONvergence Convention.

Spark-Y had the opportunity this year to participate in CONvergence, a four day geek-a-thon where fans of all kind come together to share their passions. With just three workshops for the weekend, over 150 people stepped through to learn about vermicomposting, mycology and Ohm’s law. Each workshop included take home goodies, home instructions and an interactive lesson.

With vermicomposting, we spoke about our humble friend, the red wiggler worm, and how Mark Watney’s (from Andy Weir’s The Martian) version of composting doesn’t fit the bill with what we do on Earth. Each of the visitors for this panel left with a few worms and the knowledge to start and maintain their own vermicomposting bin.

Spark-Y’s mini mycology lesson “Preparing for the Fungal Invasion” was a riot with guests, where Dylan lead them through the importance of keeping a clean space for growing fungi, and a lesson about the fungal family. From athlete’s foot to shitake mushrooms, all fungi play an important role in our lives (even though some are tastier than others).


Dressed as a spore.

Our last workshop at the end of the CON was about Ohm’s law. Visitors build a simple circuit with a color changing LED and showed their creativity by building origami creatures. While we provided instructions to build a rocket ship, many people incorporated the simple circuit in cranes, flowers and even dragons! It was amazing to see the creativity that everyone brought to this panel.

If you didn’t catch us at CONvergence among the many other amazing panels going on (or you couldn’t get enough of us), Spark-Y offers full blown workshops that you can sign up for! 

Upcoming events and workshops:

More details and information on the Urban Agriculture Lab and upcoming workshops can be found right 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!