Greening Minnesota ~ February / March 2010

The short month of February caught me offguard, so this issue of Greening Minnesota is for both February and March of 2010. Some of these stories date back at least that far. Read on to learn about environmentally friendly practices around the Twin Cities and Minnesota!

Janitors usually do their work after everyone else has gone home. But that has changed at the Hennepin County Government Center and other heavily used county buildings as of March 1. About half of Hennepin County's 63 buildings are vacuumed, wiped down, swept and emptied of trash during the daytime rather than at night. By shutting off the lights and turning down thermostats at night, the county expects to save at least $100,000 a year in energy costs. It's thought to be the first public entity in Minnesota to move to day cleaning, a trend that has gained popularity in the private sector.

Rep. Paul Gardner, DFL-Shoreview, has offered a bill that requires phone book publishers to print directions on the cover for how residents can opt-out of further unsolicited deliveries. The legislation says the directions should explain how to opt out either via a phone call or at a Web address. I don't know about you, but these collect dust on a shelf at my home - the internet tells all. Think of how many trees and how much paper it would save if fewer people received these books and they printed fewer?

The Recycling Association of Minnesota is again offering rain barrels (two design, both $65) and a new design of a compost bin (for $55.) Rebates are offered to residents living in certain areas of the metro.

Woodbury and Washington County are planning to team up to acquire a 66-acre tract of land and turn it into a park. Woodbury plans to buy the land near the junction of I-94 and Manning Avenue from Dale Properties LLC for $3.57 million, using funds set aside after a 2005 referendum that raised $9 million to acquire open spaces and improve recreation facilities. Partnering in the purchase would mark the Washington County’s first approved spending from a Land and Water Legacy Fund passed by voters and created in 2006.

Rumors circulating on the interwebz seem to indicate that the window on the side of the new Dairy Queen near Minnehaha Park is going to be used as a bike drive thru. It would likely be the first of its kind in Minneapolis.

As director of the Rural Enterprise Center in Northfield, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin has been training Latino immigrant "agripreneurs" to raise chickens in Northfield and Cannon Falls for the past three years. Many of his students are already involved in community vegetable gardening. Humane treatment of animals is important to him, but it's not his primary goal. It's just one factor of a grand experiment that factors in sustainable farming, energy conservation, self-sufficiency for low-income immigrants and healthier food for everyone.

The project has had 600 acres offered for free use by foundations and interested farmers in the area. The relatively minimal investment and the chickens' short growth cycle translate into a quicker turnaround for generating income. The birds are processed at a USDA-certified plant in Utica, Minn., and sold at Hillside Farmers Co-op in Northfield as well as to other clients, including CSAs (a direct farmer-to-consumer delivery method) and a growing number of restaurants committed to the "eat locally" movement.

If you’re not ready for raising chickens, but do want to raise vegetables, all signs point to another bumper year for veggie gardening - an ancient practice that had nearly disappeared. Last year it flourished, fueled by an influx of new gardeners, according to a study by the Garden Writers Association Foundation. When asked about their plans for 2010, 37% of gardeners said they planned to increase their edible gardens. Homegrown produce has many benefits. It cuts down on buying fresh produce from the grocery store. It's healthier because home gardeners don't have to worry about pests on the same scale as farmers. And it's incredibly satisfying to feed the food that's grown to our families.

You don't need good soil or backbreaking labor to produce a bounty of vegetables this growing season. All you need is some old straw. Though it's not popularly practiced in the Twin Cities, straw-bale gardening is basically a variation on container gardening. The bale acts as the container and the decomposing straw within the bale serves as the "soil." Straw-bale gardening has many benefits: The bales retain moisture, reducing the need for watering. There's more airflow, less disease and no weed seeds like in typical topsoil. It's a solution for those whose soil isn't rich enough to nourish plants, like in new construction developments. And it's an ideal method for gardeners with physical limitations, because there's less bending and heavy lifting than with traditional gardening. At the end of the growing season, the straw-bale garden can be composted.

Minnesota women have the opportunity to learn about being more eco-friendly and saving thousands of dollars through a class called "Understanding Solar and Electricity Usage in Your Home, for Women." The first class was held Sunday March 28th. Women will be taught how to analyze their electricity bills and learn energy-efficiency efforts they can save money. Women will also be taught how to use a solar system to save thousands of dollars on electricity bills. Go to for information on the upcoming class and another class in June.


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