Greening Minnesota ~ July 2010

Summer is in full swing in Minnesota. That means the news is filled with stories about our lakes, our parks, and our farmers markets. of course, all of those are topics we love to cover in Greening Minnesota.

Earlier this month, Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of the famous late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, visited Powderhorn Park on July 4 to promote an effort called Expedition: Blue Planet and to film a segment for it. Minneapolis was the first stop for the project’s film crew and biodiesel bus on its 14,500-mile tour across North America to investigate water issues and educate the public about water conservation. Some local organizations were there to help, too, like Blue Thumb, a clean-water program started by Rice Creek Watershed District that now has many chapters in Minnesota, and Metro Blooms, whose mission is to promote eco-friendly gardening that beautifies neighborhoods and protects the environment.

To help people recycle more when they're not at home, Ramsey County officials are setting aside $1.3 million to buy nearly 2,000 recycling bins to give to cities for use in public areas. It will be a three-phase program over three years. First, cities would put the bins in parks, along trails and in other recreational places. Second, cities would put the bins along streets. Third, the county would offer the containers to school athletic facilities. The goal is to have the same kind of container in every public park in the county. Ramsey County has already put about 400 containers in its parks and ice arenas.

A patch of grass along Nicollet Avenue past Burnsville's Civic Center campus is brown and dead for good reason: The City is turning the one-acre site into a field of native prairie grasses and wildflowers. It is the first step in the city's plan to cut maintenance costs and reduce negative impacts on the environment. Between $8,000 and $10,000 will be devoted to the project, Jacobson said, adding that it will pay for itself in seven to 10 years due to savings in the cost of mowing, watering and weed control. From an environmental standpoint, the project will eliminate the emissions that would be produced by mowing the area. There also will be a reduction in the amount of chemicals used for fertilizing and for weed control.

About 30 teenagers, armed with leather gloves and heavy-duty pruners, trudged through the waist-high grasses at the Lost Valley Scientific and Natural Area in Denmark Township recently to clear away invasive woody plants to give the native prairie plants and flowers a chance to reach for the sun. Lost Valley, one of more than 150 scientific and natural areas owned by the DNR, is undergoing prairie restoration, which entails burning off undesirable plants. The young work crew was made up of students from Como, Harding and Johnson high schools in St. Paul who are part of the Upward Bound program at Century College in White Bear Lake. The Upward Bound program is designed to encourage young people who face obstacles to going to college.

New farmers markets are sprouting up all over Washington County, bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to some areas that might not otherwise have access to it. The Oakdale Farmers Market, a satellite of the St. Paul market, opened June 24 in the Guardian Angels Church parking lot.  Another Farmers Market opened in Mahtomedi recently. Centennial Lakes Farmers Market in Edina debuted in July, as well as a new Friday market in Richfield. The Streetwerks Youth Farmers Market in north Minneapolis opened in June in the parking lot of a former gas station.

Highly effective at killing weeds in cornfields, atrazine is a commonly used herbicide in Minnesota, and it's. But it gets into waterways, and exposure to it can cause a variety of health problems in both humans and animals. Now two enterprising University of Minnesota graduates have developed a new product that removes the weed killer from the water - naturally. The process involves taking a type of bacteria that loves to eat atrazine and attaching it to a filter inserted in the water supply.  Every two minute, the organism can consume its own weight in atrazine and breaks it down into harmless substances. The product may results in cleaner water supplies in communities where the chemical has contaminated drinking water supplies throughout the Midwest.

Finally, as vacation season continues and you pine for tropical beaches in warm parts of the United States that might be financially out of reach right now, think about the results of the Natural Resources Defense Council's 20th annual beach report first. According to the report, Minnesota, New Hampshire and California have some of the cleanest beaches around, in terms of water quality and state monitoring programs, while some parts of Florida, Maine and Mississippi have among the worst. And that was even before the Gulf oil spill, as the results were compiled for 2009.

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