Category Archives: Environment

Dam birds may have to find another perch to fish if Suzie Nakasian has her way

Ames Mill dam on the Cannon River, downtown Northfield Great Blue Heron on the Ames Mill dam Great Blue Heron on the Ames Mill dam 
On Saturday afternoon as the Riverwalk Market Fair was closing up, John Thomas  (AKA Mr. JST Technology) alerted me to a Great Blue Heron that was perched on the top of the Ames Mill dam. After a few minutes, a Mallard joined it. It’s moments like that that make most Northfielders love that dam and the visually pleasing pool of Cannon River water behind it.  But it could be much more.

There’s a resurgence of interest in planning for the Cannon River as it flows through downtown Northfield, especially if the dam is removed. See the discussion attached to my 2007 blog post: Tear down the Ames Mill dam.  And the Sept 2011 PRAB minutes included this:

Council Member Suzie Nakasian reported. The City of Reno Nevada was chosen as an example of how to maximize the river corridor in a city. The planning was done around the river, recreation, economic development, and flood mitigation. A slide show presentation showed the reconstruction of the river to an Olympic class kayak run. She presented this to the PRAB to inspire creativity and thinking of the Cannon River as a park. To create a corridor along the river as parkland.

I was at that PRAB meeting and saw Suzie’s slideshow. It’s pretty cool what they’ve done along the Truckee River in Reno. See the Reno Riverwalk District, the Truckee River Whitewater Park, the Reno River Festival and the Downtown Makeover page on Reno.

Imagine something like this (smaller, of course) in downtown Northfield:

DSC00728 DSC00729 renokayakparkro6 2478640677_907d140dd5 by RenoTahoe 529539_10151062507755575_2079489686_n


George Kinney wants you at Saturday’s solar energy workshop

City of Northfield Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) member George Kinney Solar Energy Workshop Flyer 2012
Longtime City of Northfield Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) member George Kinney stopped by my corner office at GBM last week to alert me to a solar energy workshop coming up on Saturday. See the flyer (PDF) and the press release below (links added):

Solar Workshop: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Solar Energy But Were Afraid, Or Didn’t Know Who To, Ask

A workshop on residential and commercial solar energy opportunities will be held at the Just Food Community Room (Just Food Co-op, 516 Water Street South, Northfield) from 1:00 to 4:00 pm Saturday, May 19th. The workshop, sponsored by RENew Northfield and the Southeast Clean Energy Resource Teams (SE CERT), will cover currently available active solar technologies, the economics of solar installations, and the experiences of local homeowners and business owners with recent solar projects.

Presenters include representatives of three solar energy vendors, who will discuss solar air heating, solar water heating, and solar electric systems for homes and businesses. The head of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industry Association will present an overview of solar energy opportunities in the state, and a Minnesota Division of Energy Resources representative will discuss current solar rebates and financial incentives. A panel of local homeowners and small business owners will talk about their experiences in selecting and working with solar contractors, and the performance of their systems, so companies as SolarKraft solar company can use their panels to produce the right energy all the time.

The solar vendors will have informational displays, and will be available for one-on-one discussion after the formal presentations.  Attendees will also be invited to view a nearby solar installation after the workshop.

The workshop is free. Pre-registration is encouraged, but not required. For more information, contact SE CERT at 952-406-1215.

Atina Diffley to speak at Just Food Co-op on Thursday; no bullshit expected

Turn Here Sweet CornIn case you hadn’t noticed, Northfield’s blogosphere is humming ( here, Monkey See Monkey Read here, Just Food Co-op here) with the news that Atina Diffley of Organic Farming Works will be in town this week to speak about her new book, Turn Here Sweet Corn.

Why do I say "no bullshit" in my blog post title?

She was featured on the front page of the Strib’s Variety section last week:

and the last paragraph of the main article:

Atina Diffley - Strib photo by Marisa WojcikThe book deserves a wide audience, Dooley said. "I pray it doesn’t get pegged to a category. This is literature. It’s every woman’s story, about land use and food but also about resilience and being yourself." And even though Diffley finally caved to using cosmetics, she’s still very much herself, Dooley said. "There couldn’t be anyone more genuine. There isn’t a lick of bullshit in her."

I guess cuss words are aok in a family newspaper if someone is quoted using them.

Atina has at least one connection to Northfield that I know of. Her kids went to Prairie Creek Community School.

You can buy her book from Jerry Bilek at Monkey See Monkey Read bookstore in downtown Northfield.

Follow Atina on Twitter and read her blog here.

Helen and Antonia want you to know: Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration is Saturday, April 28

 Northfield Earth Day 2012 Helen and Antonia with the Northfield Earth Day 2012 poster Transition Northfield Earth Day

Officially, Earth Day 2012 was yesterday, April 22. But in Northfield, it’s being celebrated this coming Saturday, April 28, noon to 5 on Union Street between Third and Fourth Streets (outside First United Church).

Last week, Transition Northfield volunteer Mary Jo Cristofaro managed to convince two Northfield High School students, Helen and Antonia, to get up really early and meet me at my GBM corner office for a photo with the 2012 Northfield Earth Day Celebration poster (PDF).

For details, see Mary Jo’s blog post, Earth Day Celebration to Include Several Free Workshops and Transition Northfield’s Earth Day page.

See my Northfield Earth Day photo album slideshows from 2011 and 2010.

Food composting; what’s the best way to do it?

Northfield food compost site Northfield food compost site Northfield food compost site Northfield food compost site
As I noted in a blog post last month, the City of Northfield compost site is now accepting food scraps and non-recyclable paper. I took the above photos last wee. The site’s webpage says:

Collect food and non-recyclable paper from your kitchen and place them into biodegradable bags and bring them out to the Compost Site during regular hours.

All food products can be recycled including fruit, vegetables, bread, cereal, dairy, meat (including bones), coffee grounds, filters and tea bags. Non-recyclable paper includes paper towels, plates, napkins, and pizza boxes.

Items NOT acceptable are plastic bags, styrofoam, glass, metal, diapers and pet waste.

 natural waxed paper bags food compost bucket food compost basket biodegradable plastic bags
combi-open-air-newWe purchased a box of natural waxed paper bags at Just Food Coop and put them in small bucket on our kitchen counter. (The bucket has a lid.) When bucket gets full, we place the paper bags in a biodegradable plastic bag inside a wastebasket in our garage. When that gets full, we’ll take that to the compost site.

I’m not sure if this is the best way to do it. The food sure gets stinky quickly.

Should we buy something like the BioBags Max Air buckets instead, even though we don’t do backyard composting?

The negative impact of disposable coffee cups

disposable coffee cups display at St. Olaf disposable coffee cups white board at St. Olaf Thermos 360° Drink Lid Tumbler 
When I was up at St. Olaf’s Buntrock Commons earlier this week, I noticed a very cool display on the impact of student use of disposable coffee cups.  The top of the white board proclaimed:

There is no such thing as a sustainable disposable cup

The bulk of the notes on the white board focused on the financial waste, not the environmental impact. For more on the latter, see The Basic Problem with Coffee Cups on the Sustainability is Sexy website. The summary:

crushed-cupDisposable paper cups affect the environment negatively.  Besides creating a steady supply of waste, disposable cups also demand a large consumption of natural resources and emit high levels of climate-changing green house gases.  Because so many disposable paper cups are used throughout the world, the actual environmental affect can be staggering. 

Fortunately, there are alternatives.  Reusable coffee cups reduce the impact disposable cups have on our environment.  Waste, natural resources, and damage done by green house gases are all decreased by reusable cups after only 24 uses.  As an added bonus, reusable cups help cut supply costs for coffee houses.  That discount is often passed on to consumers – saving everyone money.

After much experimentation, I’ve used the Thermos 360° Drink Lid Tumbler as my main coffee cup for years, though truth be told, my motivation was initially to avoid spilling coffee on my laptop.

Beaver training facility discovered along the Minnesota River bottoms

Bucky Bill Nelson IMG_20120216_170856 IMG_20120216_170842 IMG_20120216_170609
I went mountain biking with Bill Nelson along the Minnesota River bottoms this week and he showed me an area just east of Cedar Ave. where beavers have been gnawing away at a dozen or more large trees.

The Wikipedia entry for beaver says:

Beavers fell trees for several reasons. They fell large mature trees, usually in strategic locations, to form the basis of a dam, but European beavers tend to use small diameter (<10 cm) trees for this purpose. Beavers fell small trees, especially young second-growth trees, for food.

But it’s puzzling because the trees above are not in place where the logs could be used to "form the basis of a dam" and they’re much too large for beavers to move.

So Bill and I have a formulated a theory: it’s a training facility.  Prove us wrong if you dare.

Are Northfield schools helping to make students climate literate?

Explorer Will Steger  had a commentary in last week’s Strib titled, Make America climate-literate. Here’s an excerpt:

Will Steger, photo by Amanda OdeskiIt wasn’t until 2002, when the Larsen B ice shelf disintegrated from western Antarctica — an ice shelf formed more than 12,000 years ago that my expedition team took a full month to ski across — that the facts of global warming prompted me to take action. In 2006, I decided to establish the Will Steger Foundation, where we support educators, students and the general public with science-based interdisciplinary resources on climate change, its implications and its solutions. Our goal is for educators and students to achieve climate literacy.

If the nation is to address climate change, it must begin with a public that is climate-literate. Starting with our educational system is critical. Teaching and understanding climate change is a process involving scientific inquiry and educational pedagogy; it is not about politics or partisanship. There is virtually unanimous scientific agreement about climate change. Yet due to both the inherent complexity of the topic and the social controversies surrounding it, confusion and doubt often persist. Climate change is now ultrapoliticized in the United States.

I’m curious to know what Northfield’s schools (district, charter, parochial) are doing in the classrooms on this ‘ultrapoliticized’ issue of climate change.  Are our educators using materials like those available on the Steger Foundation’s education page, are they ducking the issue, or doing something in between?

Some personal background:

Continue reading Are Northfield schools helping to make students climate literate?

Photo album: ribbon cutting for Lashbrook Park’s new woodland trail

I got this email from Councilor Erica Zweifel earlier this week:

Hi Griff, I am attaching some information and pictures regarding the volunteer awards that I will be giving out at the May 17th council meeting at 7PM.  Please let me know if you would like any further information. Also you are invited to join the ribbon cutting at Lashbrook Park to celebrate the new woodland trail.

I got there for the woodland trail opening and was delighted to meet Helen Lashbrook Olson whose parents owned a farm in the area.

See my album of 10 photos, view the large slideshow (recommended), or slow click on this small slideshow:

Erica’s press release on the volunteer awards (PDF) includes this about the trail opening:

Volunteer Awards 2011St Olaf Environmental Studies majors Mary Coulson, Lisa De Guire, Mary Morris, Katelyn DeRuyter are receiving an award for their work planning and building a woodland trail in Lashbrook Park.

These students worked with The Friends of Lashbrook Park, The Northfield Park Board, and the City of Northfield to design the trail, get approval for their plan and arrange for help with brush and tree removal.

The path is located in the wooded section at the North end of the park. This project is an excellent model of collaboration and community volunteerism.

For more, see Nfld News: Take a walk in Lashbrook Park

St. Olaf students studying social work or environmental studies have been working to develop the new path this semester, designing the trail, weeding the area and picking up garbage. Erica Zweifel, research assistant at St. Olaf and City Council member whose district includes the park, is directing the environmental studies students. She said the project enables students to get out of the classroom and apply what they have learned in the classroom in a practical setting.

Friends of Lashbrook Park has become the Northfield Prairie Partners Chapter according to this March article in the Northfield News, Wild ones take root in Northfield:

Around five years ago, a handful of locals with a mission to keep native plants intact in our city organized themselves into the group, Friends of Lashbrook Park, which later changed over to Prairie Partners of Cannon Valley. Now, with the backing of a larger national organization called Wild Ones, this still small, yet growing group has become Northfield Prairie Partners Chapter of the Wild Ones.

Update 10 am: I got an email from Erica, correcting the info in the above Nfld News article re: the Friends of Lashbrook Park and the Prairie Partners of Northfield:

The Friends of Lashbrook Park is alive and well and is a very separate group from the Prairie Partners of Northfield.  The Prairie Partners did not have anything to do with the path project, but they are responsible for the work being done at GLONA near Greenvale School.  About two years ago two members of the "Friends" group split off because they wanted to focus more on the prairie specific issues and the "Friends" group remains committed to the entire Lashbrook Park.