Vermicomposting at Columbia Heights

The following blog post was written by Columbia Heights 2019 Summer Internship Team: Mary Clare O'Shea, Anteneh Zelalem, George Bonete Quintero, and Robbie Creadick.


This summer, the Columbia Heights internship team has been working with the students at the Columbia Heights summer recreation program. Every week we strive to facilitate an engaging experience for students that will inspire them to live more sustainably. We do this by focusing each of our lessons on one of the “5 Es of Sustainability” (economics, education, equity, environment, empowerment). Then, we include a hands on activity such as building mini aquaponics systems or engineering from recycled materials. 

Last Friday, our E of the day was education. We began by teaching students the important role education plays in empowering people to better care for the planet. Many have no idea where their trash goes after throwing it away. Others believe that throwing away organic matter is environmentally friendly because it will decompose. Education is the key to curbing these misconceptions. Breaking down and re-purposing trash so it does not wind up in a landfill is integral to a healthy planet.

What better way to demonstrate this to students than vermicomposting?


Our two black bins of vermicompost sitting mysteriously on the tables prompted nonstop questions about what was inside. Once we finally cracked them open no one was disappointed by the boxes of dirt, worms and garbage. Students happily picked up shovels and began exploring the contents of the bins. At first, many were grossed out by the small wiggly red worms but they eventually warmed up to them. After discussing how the worms turn the musty smelling mixture of microgreens, wood shavings, and paper scraps into organic fertilizer, students were each given a plastic baggie to create their own vermicompost environment. Each student picked out two or three worms and were sure to name them before they placed them in their vermicompost home. Many started to ask in bewilderment how it was possible for tiny creatures like John and Spiderman to convert heaping piles of garbage into pounds of organic fertilizer. In the end, building their own mini vermicompost compelled students to appreciate the composting power of the worms and their potential as a solution for a greener future. 

Robbie: “As someone who wants to be a teacher when they grow up, this has been an extremely helpful and memorable experience. It’s amazing to see the kids build friendships with each other while also learning important things that can make the world a more sustainable place like vermicomposting.”

George: “The kids had fun writing facts about their worms and naming them in the vermicomposting activity we were doing, It was funny how three kids named all their worms ‘John’, it's nice seeing how happy and interested they are on the lessons we plan and the different activities they do to help them better understand the lesson of the day.”

Anteneh: “I think that the kids really enjoyed the vermicomposting and the video we showed them. Overall i think the kids had a fun and enjoyable time in the classroom.”

Emma: “This internship has given me my first experience teaching in a classroom. I've learned a lot from being in a situation where I'm not completely comfortable, and also from the other team members. Also, it's really fun teaching in a hands-on way!”

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

Garden Image.jpg

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

Outdoor Classroom and Produce Preparation Location.jpg

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!

For social media post - MPS Culinary Team (from left to right_ Maria, Quinlan, Amelia).jpg

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.

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

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.