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Changing the World One Pollinator at a Time

Changing the World One Pollinator at a Time

The following blog post was written by Spark-Y 2019 Summer Internship Casket Arts Team:
Umulkheir Abdinoor, Raiyyan Ahmed, Sarah Anderson, Nicolas Campion, and Piper Lepine.

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As urban areas continue to expand in Minneapolis, green space is becoming more scarce. In turn, bee population decline and a cascade of environmental issues follow. To combat this, our internship team has been working hard to construct several pollinator houses, a compost bin, and two planter beds to enhance the green space surrounding the Casket Arts Building. In doing so, we have gained valuable skills involving teamwork, construction, communication, and so much more.

Pollinator Houses

Our first project this summer has been designing and building pollinator houses which will hang in trees outside of the Casket Arts Building. These pollinator homes target the native solitary bee population. Interestingly, of the 400 + bee species native to Minnesota, only 2% colonize in hives. Therefore, the majority of species are solitary bees. They work independently to gather their own pollen and nectar, as well build their own nest to lay eggs. In more developed areas, solitary bees struggle to find places to nest which contributes to population decline. Thus, the implementation of pollinator houses is important for sustaining native bees species. Check out our neat triangular design and stop by the open house to learn how you can make your own!


Pollinator Houses

Compost Bin

Our second project has been constructing an outdoor compost bin for the Casket Arts Building and community members to utilize. Everyday, large portions of food scraps and yard waste end up in landfills which emit problematic greenhouse gases such as methane. However, by composting organic matter, carbon emissions are reduced and nutrients are harvested in the soil. Accordingly, a rich soil containing beneficial fungi and bacteria is generated. Thus, the implementation of a communal compost will reduce methane emissions and provide rich soil for Spark-Y’s Urban Agriculture Lab. Additionally, we are working with a local artist to design a sign to complement the bin!

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Compost Bin

Planter Beds

Our third project has been constructing two planter benches for the Casket Arts Building. These beds provide 64 square feet of garden space, and also serve as a seating area for community members. We plan to fill the beds with Minnesota native pollinator plants, with hopes of growing fresh produce in future seasons. The implementation of native pollinator plants serves as a valuable food source for local bees, especially those living in our Pollinator houses mentioned above.


Planter Beds

Team Member Highlights:

Umulkheir Abdinoor - “I have enjoyed learning how to build things, design things, and how to run my own business.”

Raiyyan Ahmed - “I loved how hands on this internship was and I wouldn’t change the experiences I gained this summer for anything else.”

Sarah Anderson - “This internship has taught me valuable project management, leadership, and building skills that will help me in future paths of life. I am excited about the local impact our project will have and grateful for my overall Spark-Y experience.”

Nicolas Campion - “This experience has opened my eyes to the world of pollinators and how important they are in our everyday life. By working to provide resources for our native pollinators, we can foster an environment that supports all types of plant and wildlife.”

Piper Lepine - “Being my first job, this internship did an amazing job of teaching me what it is like to be in the workforce and I will be able to take my experiences to my future jobs.”

Cultivating Sustainable Mindsets at MPS Culinary

Cultivating Sustainable Mindsets at MPS Culinary

The following blog post was authored : Maria Montero & Quinlan Genrich on the Minneapolis Culinary internship project. Additional Team Member: Amelia Bowser

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Accessibility. This word was emphasized to us by Caitlin, our team lead and Urban Farm Manager, as well as our contacts at Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) to whom we ultimately report. Through our summer internship with Spark-Y, we are working to create an accessible learning space for MPS students and community members. One that educates students on sustainable growing, eating, and living in an engaging manner outside of the typical classroom. Our internship focuses on two main strategies to encourage accessible sustainability. First, we care for the diversity of plants in the community garden space. Second, we have planned and designed an outdoor education space, which we will create by the garden and adjacent to the entrance of the MPS Culinary & Wellness Services building. Our main goal is to bring the youth and classrooms of MPS outdoors to the natural world and make learning accessible and enjoyable!

Community Garden

The Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary & Wellness Services contains a beautiful garden encompassing the front sides of the building. One of our responsibilities as part of our summer internship project is to maintain the communal garden space by weeding, planting, and harvesting the many varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. As a group we stay very productive with hands-on work and assistance to our wonderful Urban Farm Manager and team lead, Caitlin. We have learned a lot from her urban farming expertise and how to best care for the growing space. There have also been many generous volunteers of all ages helping out and we could not be more grateful for their dedication and hard work! With the little time we have left of this internship experience, we cannot wait to continue our journey of enriching sustainable living, getting our hands dirty and digging into more garden exploration!

Outdoor Education Space

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Within the dominant education model, experiential learning is often forsaken in favor of sitting inside at a desk seven hours a day, nine months a year. In high school, I remember asking my teachers each spring to take class outside to which the answer was usually “no, we have too much to do.” I remember savoring each 20-minute lunch when, on nice days, my friends and I would sit on the grass and try to avoid being hit by a stray frisbee. Through providing an outdoor educational experience, our internship challenges the idea that learning can only be accomplished by reading and lecturing in an indoor classroom. In addition to the hands-on garden space, we are working with MPS staff to design and create an outdoor classroom and produce preparation space. A table equipped with a sink will allow for easy produce cleaning and preparation. Stools will allow for flexibility of arrangement and use. Picnic tables will provide additional seating and table work space. A chalkboard will provide ample space for written instruction and information. Finally, a sign will welcome people to the garden and learning space, intentionally engaging the youth, the community, and the MPS Culinary employees. These components will work together to foster an exciting educational experience and support a tactile learning environment. We hope this space, as a departure from the traditional classroom, will engage visiting MPS students in a different way and inspire them to further explore the origin of their food, its preparation, and the meaning of sustainable living. Having spent the first half of the internship budgeting, proposing, and planning the outdoor classroom and produce preparation space, we look forward to seeing our plans come to fruition throughout the remainder of the internship!

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Our participation in this Spark-Y summer internship will add value in our futures by fostering more sustainable living habits, knowing how the connection of people and nature can build community, and enhancing our interests in the environment. This internship has developed our problem solving skills and provided space for us to think about how a garden and education space can be engaging and accessible for everyone. We have explored what sustainability means to us and thought in a mindset that encompasses a world greater than the individual, inclusive of the natural world and the systems on which we rely. We will bring this sustainable mindset with us in our future careers and our expanded understanding of what constitutes education will continue to shape how we learn and interact with others.

In With the Old, Out With the New

In With the Old, Out With the New

The following blog post was written by 2018 Northeast Sustainable Systems Team: Erin Boehme, Mike Salzl, Natalie Dusek, Andy Angel, Jahir Aquino & Gabe Cayetano.

In With the Old, Out With the New: Reducing Waste By Reusing Gardening Supplies

Our Northeast Sustainable Systems Team at Spark-Y is working with three public schools in the Northeast Minneapolis area: Pillsbury Elementary, Northeast Middle School, and Edison High School. Our main focus at these locations is to work on repairing and optimizing the current sustainable systems at these schools, which consist of aquaponic systems at all three locations, as well as a community garden at the Edison location. These systems are used to introduce the students to the topic of sustainability in an engaging, hands-on manner; to provide the student body with the ability to learn more about both science in general and the skills needed for growing and farming; and finally to supply fresh, nutritious food to the school cafeterias.

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Recycling is a concept near and dear to every environmentally conscious individual’s heart. But how is it used in the garden? We used recycling in two primary ways: composting and aquaponics. Composting is a way that we can take nutrients from unwanted or unneeded sources, such as weeds or dead leaves, and turn it into a treatment to better our soil. An aquaponics system also serves to recycle nutrients in an indoor environment. As the fish excrete Ammonium and Nitrate through their waste and gills, the plants uptake the nutrients and filter the water for the fish.

It is important to remember that recycling is only one of the “Three R’s”: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. This phrase, repeated to us over and over again, seems to have lost its meaning. Many Americans focus almost solely on the recycling aspect of this mantra, when the practices of reducing and reusing are equally, if not more, important. All three are incredibly important when working towards sustainability in our nation, but it should be emphasized that these three actions are listed in order of focus. In other words, you should attempt to reduce the amount of materials you use as well as look to reuse those items, and only then recycle them once the former two paths have been exhausted.

In addition to recycling, the Northeast Sustainable Systems Team has been able to effectively use the other two vital principles of reducing and reusing in aspects of all of our projects’ systems, with our main focus in these first few weeks on Edison High School. For example, when we first started working in the Edison High School garden we noticed that there were many items left by the previous year’s gardeners. These materials were then utilized to further support the garden’s structure and to aid plant growth, amongst other tasks. We have identified five main ways in which we reused the materials already present in our gardening space, thereby reducing the number of supplies we had to purchase and diverting useful items from the landfill.


Spark-Y Plants

Rather than purchasing all of our plants from a garden store, we decided to bring some plants to our on-site locations from the Spark -Y headquarters, specifically from the Urban Agriculture Lab, or UAL. The UAL was almost overflowing with unused plants, and the Spark-Y staff were more than happy to unload some onto us. We then transferred our newly-acquired army of tomatoes, peppers, chives, and longevity spinach to the Edison High School aquaponics system and outdoor garden.


Wire Mesh

After planting in the garden, we noticed some sheets of wire mesh which had been left on the outside of the fence. We decided to use this material to support the growth of our tomato plants. The wire mesh was bent into a circle and inserted into the soil around each tomato plant, allowing the stems to cling onto the wire and grow upward, rather than outward. This not only allowed the tomato plants to thrive, but also prevented them from spreading along the ground and overcrowding one another.


Garden Rocks

While digging up one of the empty beds, we discovered several large rocks that had been hidden under the soil. What at first seemed to be only a few rocks later turned out to be a very large number, and we soon amassed a large collection. We elected to lay them out as a border for the garden’s gravel path, keeping the smaller rock gravel from moving into the open soil and vice versa. Not only did this have a practical use, but it also increased the overall visual appeal of the garden.


Letter "E" Sign

After cleaning up some trash around the perimeter of the fence, we found a very odd bit of litter: a large piece of metal, shaped into the letter E. One side of the E was painted white, and therefore we have speculated that it had been a part of a sign once spelling “Edison.” More importantly, however, the other side of the structure made the perfect space to plant flowers. Thus, the giant letter was reused as a lovely planter for some yellow marigold flowers, representing one of Edison’s school colors.   


Pea Plant Stakes

One of the plant varieties that we decided to grow in the garden were pea plants. These were placed around the inside edge of the fence and in some terraced, elevated planters. The seedlings by the fence would be able to wrap themselves around the slots in the fence, but the seedlings in the planters had no such support. In order to allow them to grow properly, we decided to stretch string down from an upper row of horizontal yarn. Then, taking some branches from a dead tree in our compost pile, we stuck some stakes into the planters’ soil and wrapped the string around them, pulling it taut enough to give support to the future pea tendrils. 

Sustainable practices can be implemented not only at Spark-Y, but in all aspects of our lives. As we attempt to go about our day to day lives in a way that respects the planet, it should be remembered that even little acts can make a difference, and that we can all work towards a greener Earth

Michael Salzl --- “At my college house at the University of St. Thomas I recycle recyclables and compost my organics waste. I also reuse glass jars for storage and as cups, and I have greatly reduced, if not stopped, my consumption of meat and single use plastics.”

Jahir Aquino Moran --- “The way I use the Three Rs in my life is when I’m reusing old or full PC parts for my current PC . For example if there is no more space in it i would look for a old and full hard drive and delete any thing that was in it and use it also with cooling systems.”

Andy Angel --- “The way I use one or all three R’s, Reduce Reuse and Recycle is when we use old boxes and plastic bins from food for other forms of storage for other food instead of buying new plastic stuff. We save money and prevent from using a ton of new plastic.”

Erin Boehme --- “I have been a vegetarian for two years, and so have a reduced reliance on livestock agriculture: something that produces a great amount of carbon-dioxide and methane (contributing to climate change) and uses a mind-boggling percentage of the world’s freshwater supply. I have also recently been trying to reduce the waste I produce by bringing reusable bags with me when shopping, and using tupperware to transport food instead of plastic wrap and plastic bags.”

Natalie Dusek --- “In my own life, I try to reduce, reuse, and recycle in many ways. In my house we use a compost bin daily to recycle food scraps, using them to create compost, which newly growing plants can use for nutrients. Additionally, I have made many personal daily changes in my life to reduce waste. For example, one of my friends and I created DIY bee wrap to wrap food instead of using plastic wrap or plastic bags. These are just a few examples of the many ways I try to reduce, reuse, and recycle in my own life!”

Gabriel Cayetano --- “I am a part-time vegetarian when I am at my mom’s house because she is vegetarian. We also have a compost bin that we use. I have also salvaged and reused computer parts that still function.  

April Showers Bring… Snow Plowers?

April Showers Bring… Snow Plowers?

The following blog post was written by Sarah Pilato, 
Spark-Y Education Facilitator.

Students in Edison High School’s EASYpro (Edible Agricultural School Yard Professionals) class are facing quite an interesting challenge this spring.  How do they establish and maintain a successful garden when it seems like this winter will never end?

This has so far been a very exciting and busy year for EASYpro students.  The 2017-18 school year marks Edison High School’s pilot year as part of Minneapolis Public School’s Garden to Cafeteria program.  Being involved in this program means that any food that is grown at Edison can be sold to the school’s cafeteria and served to students during lunch.  Edison has several different agricultural components on their campus that are serving a huge purpose in this program. The Edison farm consists of a campus garden, a greenhouse, and an aquaponics system that the students care for throughout the year.


This year’s class dove right into the program with an incredible amount of enthusiasm.  After completing their two week food safety training, the class participated in their first official harvest!  

With the help of last year’s spring 2017 class and Spark-Y summer interns planting and maintaining the garden, there was plenty to be harvested in the fall.  This first harvest included a basket full of delicious cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and chives, and some pumpkins.

The initiative taken by the students was a meaningful experience. Students harvested, delivered, and even washed produce with the staff - chatting about new potential recipes they could make from their harvest. After this first experience, it was impossible to keep students out of the garden! (Not that we would want to.)


After being cooped up inside for several months during the bitter Minnesota winter, everyone has been getting quite antsy to be outside in the garden again.  The class was just gearing up to prepare the garden space by cleaning out the beds, tilling the soil, and building some new trellises, but wouldn’t you know it, winter decided to make another comeback.

A  surprise snow storm that hit over this past weekend left some parts of Minneapolis covered in as much as 15 inches of snow (yikes!).  All that snow threw a bit of a wrench in the garden planning process. The class quickly learned from this experience that nature doesn’t always stick to the schedule you want it to.

Ever the resilient bunch, EASYpro students are not letting this obstacle slow them down.  A few students still got out there this last week to problem solve and make decisions about moving forward.  Some resourceful thinkers on the team decided to utilize extra space in the aquaponics system to continue growing seedlings that can be transplanted once the snow clears.  This kind of adaptability is what is making Edison High School truly successful in this endeavor!

Thanks to their hard work, the aquaponics system is growing more than it ever has.  The class even hopes to make a harvest of spinach and chard from this system that they can deliver to the cafeteria very soon!

Let’s hope that this was the LAST of winter for this year so we can all start moving forward with garden season!

Anthony working on the aquaponics system

Anthony working on the aquaponics system

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Swiss Chard

Beautiful & healthy growing in our aquaponics system.

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Edison's Aquaponics System

Just after construction and not yet planted.