Please skip on over to our new site at www.spark-y.org.
YEA Corps is now Spark-Y! — 11/07/13
Roosevelt starts aquaponics — 11/06/13
Today, the students at Roosevelt started their journey in aquaponics. We spent the first period cleaning up some of the fish tanks in the greenhouse, where we’ll transfer some orphaned goldfish. For many students, this was the first time they had visited the greenhouse — and for all, it was a great chance to start transforming it. As the students cleaned off the algae from the tanks, we discussed what algae is and the role it plays in the ecosystem.
In the second period we played an energy game to get everyone pumped up and ready to learn about aquaponics. Spark-Y has launched a video Education Series beginning with a video on aquaponics, and our class at Roosevelt were the first to see it. You can check it out below.
After some post-video discussion we split up into two groups for the rest of the period. Each group was able check out some plants and bacteria under microscopes, and work on an assignment about aquaponics to track and build their knowledge of the sustainable food production system we know and love.
This week is a building block for the entire year, the beginning of our aquaponics journey. Next week, we will start on designing and prepping to build our aquaponics system in the greenhouse.
We hope to see some of you tomorrow for our annual fundraiser event, Spark It Up. Tickets are still available (and will be at the door), and it’s sure to be a great night.
Until next time!
Program Launch at Roosevelt High School: Renovating greenhouses and exploring the food system — 10/30/13
Last week we launched our program at Theodore Roosevelt High School! We have the pleasure of teaching two classes through our program, and we’re excited to see the progress the students make on becoming sustainable leaders.
Roosevelt’s facility includes an attached greenhouse from the 1960s, which we’ll be renovating for aquaponics. As part of our program we’re not only building aquaponics, but vermicomposting as well. These systems will become learning tools and business opportunities for the students to gain knowledge about biology, sustainability, and entrepreneurship.
This week we talked about the food system, how we get our food and the energy it takes to create and distribute it. About how we moved from a hunter and gatherer soviet to a farming one that let us create cities and food security. We compared the differences between sustainable and conventional farming, and what sustainability means.
Next week we’ll begin the journey in aquaponics. Students will learn what it is, how it works, and how life works symbiotically to help us produce food in a sustainable way.
We know that Roosevelt will continue to be a great partner, and look forward to continuing working with these fantastic students.
Bachman’s, Urban Ag Tour and More — 10/17/13
Bachman’s Workshop Series 2013
Through our Bachman’s series this fall, we have been able to reach more diverse groups in the community.
The vermicomposting workshop on the 21st of September was a huge success, with students getting some hands on experience with worms.. After getting energized and learning names we went through the lifecycles of worms, the important role they play in soil ecosystems, and how useful they are in making rich topsoil out of household waste. Older students were able to get up close and personal with worm ecology by looking and microorganisms in the soil, examining worm eggs, and exploring dissected red wigglers. Every student got to take the message home with them by making their own vermicompost start up bags and taking home a colony of worms.
On the 28th, we kicked off our first ever workshop on Spirulina and Algae. We were happy to introduce the seldom discussed topic of using algae as a food source and supplement, and the possibility of farming it in your own home. Students kicked off the day by exercising and experiencing the rigors of being balanced in a changing system, then moved on to learn about how important algae is in keeping our air clean and being the basis of aquatic food nets. After playing games to bring these concepts home and discussing the types of algae that humans eat all over the world, students got to try smoothies made with the microalgae superfood Spirulina.
The fourth and final workshop went off without a hitch last Sunday, October 5th. For this week’s installment the youth came to learn about the important role that fungus and mushrooms play in soil ecosystems and as food. As youth came to prepare their nametags, they played a guessing game with real and pretend mushroom names. You’d be surprised too to hear that Jelly Babies, the Panther, Parrot Toadstool and Honey fungus are all actual names of fungi, no kidding!
Then our group of 5 to 15 year olds worked together in an energetic game to learn about the life cycle of fungi, as well as involvement in the competition between different types of molds and mushrooms. Each time the game was played different types of fungi/groups of learners emerged the victor, completing their life cycle and taking over the other fungi.
After our game we split into teen and youth groups to learn more about the specific aspects of fungi that make them so important to the health of our crops and soil. While youth created a mix of prepared mycelium and sterilized coffee grounds to make a sample of an oyster mushroom habitat, teens spent their time with our microscopes exploring in depth the elements of the mushroom life cycle.
Once each group had finished their hands on learning, we moved on our group art project. Students drew mushroom habitats complete with everything a growing fungi needs to flourish. Once the drawings were finished, they used real mushroom caps to add fruiting fungi to their projects.
Sustainable Ag. Youth Garden Tour, September 27th, 2013
Spark-Y: Youth Action Labs was honored on September 27th by playing host to 60 urban farm tourists. An Urban Ag Farm Tour was organized to show citizens and interested parties examples of functioning urban farm organizations, and Spark-Y made the list!
Our educationally focused mission dictated that we show our guests some fun, education-based energy games to start things off. We then rotated groups around our entire space sampling each part of our office/lab/interior urban farm: permaculture garden outside on outside edge of office, experimental lab spaced furnished with re-purposed kitchen cabinets, our aquaponics and vermicompost systems and of course Travon and Eddie were there to represent the school programs.
Some great connections were made with community members interested in learning more about sustainable agricultural practices. So much enthusiasm was generated we had a participant come back to purchase a vermicompost kit!
Spark It Up on November 7 — 10/07/13
Aquaponics workshops from Spark-Y — 09/16/13
Aquaponics workshops with Spark-Y were all the rage this past weekend, with our launch of youth workshops at Bachman’s on Saturday and a special “pop-up” workshop at the Kingfield farmers market on Sunday.
Bachman’s Headquarters, 9/14
Partnering with Bachman’s is a great opportunity to reach neighborhood youth as well as garden leaders of the Twin Cites. A very active group of 5-10 year olds was followed by an engaged group of 7-13 year olds in the first of our set of workshops taking place at Bachmans’s headquarters on 60th and Lyndale.
The workshops got off on an energetic, welcoming start with a name game that got kids invigorated and ready to learn. Once the group was relaxed and ready to go, we launched straight into describing the key concepts of aquaponics, as illustrated with posters, story telling, and a functioning aquaponics system for them to watch and touch.
Once they understood the big picture they got to see the main components up close and personal though the Spark-Y microscopes, focusing on fish anatomy, bacterial communities, and plant physiology. To conclude the day, models were constructed of recycled materials, exercising and reinforcing participants’ innate creativity and resolve. To learn more about what’s coming up, check out this video! It’s not too late to sign up for any of the next three workshops.
Kingfield Farmers Market, 9/15
Youth attending the Kingfield neighborhood’s Sunday farmers market were greeted with a surprise encounter with a hands-on sustainable project when Spark Youth Action Labs arrived on the scene. Spark-Y felt right at home showing off our aquaponics system and educating the crowd amongst the regions organic farmers. Of course our principle crop, youth’s imagination, and our main fertilizers, independence embedded with a healthy dose of practical application, was in no short supply. After getting sucked in by our model aquaponics system and our youth coordinator Curtis, we were able to illustrate the fish growing in their tank, their waste being digested by microorganisms, and the being filtered by the plants to dually filter the tank and fertilize the growing crops. Having their imaginations Sparked they ambled over to visit with Lab Director Destiny Z., where she had the microscopes trained on fish, bacterial, and plant specimens for farther investigation.
Finally, the young ones followed the flow of traffic to prepare a model of the aquaponics system with Hanna, to enforce creative thinking and building skills. They ended up with their own model of how aquaponics functions and hoping to inspire their parents into growing their own food.
Summer happened! And now into fall… — 09/08/13
A few weeks ago, our third class of summer interns completed their intensive 8 weeks with us with an Open House. Those who were there know the impact that these remarkable young people had: They created a large vermicompost system that will be used to produce saleable compost, a mushroom growing microclimate, a unique new aquaponics system that uses less electricity, and a beautiful permaculture garden on our front lawn for passers-by to enjoy. They expanded the Unity Gardens business at MNIC Unity School in North Minneapolis, as well as our social media presence (check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!)
The Open House 2013 was a fun, educational experience for all, including some awesome mushroom treats made with the same variety of shiitakes we are growing, and a great donation of coffee from Sovereign Grounds, our neighbor on the South Side.
As we move forward into the fall, we are excited about launching this year’s school programs, partnering with classes at the U of M to engage student volunteers, and beginning our first youth workshop series at Bachman’s! (Click the link to register).
And of course, we are excited about our new official name, Spark-Y: Youth Action Labs. We feel this name better reflects what we do, and couldn’t be more pumped. A new website, spark-y.org, will be up by October.
We couldn’t do what we do without the support of key partners, and want to especially thank Words at Work for developing the logo for our NEW NAME, Seward Co-op for awarding us a grant to develop and host aquaponics, vermicompost, mushroom and algae workshops for the public (look for this soon!), and Opal Apple for their donation to our Unity project. With their support, youth at MNIC Unity will continue to grow the aquaponics business they’ve been working on — and you may soon see their produce at establishments in North Minneapolis. Finally, a grant through the MN Agricultural Education Leadership Council (MAELC) made our lab renovation and internship this summer possible.
On Friday, August 9th 2013 YEA Corps played the lucky host to a Zero Waste workshop with Susan Hubbard from Nothing Left to Waste – Founder and former CEO or Eureka Recycling, the Twin Cities’ ONLY Zero Waste organization.
This woman is nothing short of amazing. Growing up on the east coast near toxic waste management processes, as a result she has battled and defeated cancer 14 times. She started Eureka Recycling over 15 years ago, with an idea (that waste is preventable), a business plan, and a loan for 250K. Now, the organization is doing over $12M annually, having paid back their entire debt and making a huge dent in the Twin Cities waste practices. Susan has put on 3 day events serving over ten thousand people, with only 20 lbs of trash at the end. She has traveled the 7 seas and personally witnessed the toxicity of the Gyres (such as the North Pacific), intersecting oceanic currents where pounds of un-decomposable plastic is infecting mother earth like a cancer, spreading up the food chain to humans. It was this experience that catapulted her on her journey to being a Zero Waste leader.
Susan taught us the difference between Integrated Waste Management and Zero Waste. Integrated Waste Management is a linear process involving 1) extracting resources, 2) manufacturing them into goods, 3) shipping the goods, 4) consuming the goods (you) and then 5) destroying natural resources with trash. When you recycle, which is still a great action, you (step 4) send your waste back to manufacturing (step 2). Generally, around 1/3rd of this recycled material is then re-used, with the other 2/3rds of the resources going to (step 5) resource destruction. Additionally, of all waste tracked is generally only consumer waste…for every 1 bags of consumer waste, there are 70 bags of industrial waste! This is only the tip of the iceberg for how we approach our “waste” problem – the real trick may lie in getting this 70 Billion Dollar “waste management” industry to see profit potential in preventing waste instead of sending it to toxic landfills or burning it.
Within this waste paradigm, plastic has been singled out as a particularly toxic problem – directly relating to serious health effects for everything from eco-systems to newborns. Recyclable plastic labeled #3 and #6 are (…drums, please.) not actually recyclable. The earth is not equipped to break these materials down, and in many cases they will be sitting around in the ecosystem for an estimated 500,000 years or more.
In Zero Waste, there is no such thing as waste. The focus, instead, is on preventing waste. You don’t need any ground breaking new technology. Just understanding the problem will lead us to new solutions. If we (interested and acting entrepreneurs for sustainability) do not know about these issues, then it is no wonder the general public does not. And there are many example of zero waste in action being executed while making money for investors (See Eureka Recycling, and the City of San Francisco).
In addition to some amazing facts – some great wisdom were shared with our 3rd annual internship:
-How powerful the desire to take action can be
-When we (you, I, humanity) are unhappy, we are out of alignment with our inner knowing and desires – we must re-align by acting from authenticity
-Learning is not linear – it is circular with each interaction changing both the teacher and the learner
Overall, it was an amazing day and, and our interns had an incredible time gaining a firm grasp on the concept of Zero Waste. We look forward to Susan’s continued mentorship. As she herself put it “I want to be the Grandma to young growing organizations that are changing the world. Let me babysit your group, spoil them with goodies and sugar, and then you can have it back”.
Thank you Susan, Nothing left to Waste, and Eureka Recycling!
YEA Corps Open House August 16th! — 07/30/13
YEA Corps is hosting an Open House at our office at 4432 Chicago Ave S in Minneapolis! We will be showcasing intern projects and unveiling our NEW NAME.
Please RSVP through the following link: http://yeacorpsopenhouse.eventbrite.com/
Hope to see you there!
School year’s end approaches — 05/20/13
As we wrap up the school year at each site, we do a few things:
We have celebrations where students learn to fillet fish, do a job interview, and eat great food.
We reflect on the year and what we have all (YEA, students, and partner schools) accomplished.
At Unity, for instance, students have come a long way. They are now leading lessons for one another on proper maintenance of the aquaponics system, where they teach how to harvest, prune, test levels, and use the tracking sheet. They are excited about selling their produce, and creating invoices and survey cards to track product quality. They are excited about learning to cook. We’ve come a long way since the fall.
At the School of Environmental Studies, we built a living wall and had another successful year in the classroom.
At Humboldt and Metro Heights, we built 2 new systems!
We find ourselves thinking about what can be done in a school year — and what more we can do moving forward. Already we plan to work with students and teachers at Southside Family Charter School, our neighbors in South Minneapolis and our first K-8.
Finally, like all other food producers, we get excited about summer. This year’s internship is shaping up to be a good one — we’ve got all sorts of projects lined up, including a lab re-build with DIY equipment. There’s still time to apply — the deadline is June 1st. Contact us to schedule an interview!
YEA Corps seeks summer interns — 05/03/13
YEA Corps seeks interns for our 2013 summer cohort. Interns will serve essential functions within the growth of our organization. The internship will be based out of our lab at 44th St. and Chicago Ave. in Minneapolis, and will include opportunities to work on lab design and building, permaculture gardening, marketing and fundraising, and curriculum development projects.
The internship is a 10-15 hours per-week commitment, for which college credit is available upon request from your educational institution. Interns will receive benefits of education and mentorship from YEA Corps staff and guest lecturers, skill building around business and non profit development, and valuable connections throughout the Twin Cities local food community.
This is a great opportunity to get involved with YEA. Contact us to find out more and schedule an interview!
The past few weeks at Unity have seen more microgreens action: University students led us to plant more trays and think more deeply about our business, and today, we were blessed with a guest speaker in the form of Chef Eric, formerly of Big E’s Soul Food and currently of Kids Cafe at North High.
Big E told us what he looks for in a product, how to talk to a potential customer such as himself, and that we already have an edge: we’re local, our product is fresh, and we grow through all seasons. The variety of flavors that we can produce are music to a chef’s ears. We look forward to seeing him again soon, for a fish fillet and cooking demonstration and to learn how he pairs flavors in fine dining.
Meanwhile, the system at Humboldt Senior High School was built last week! Soon, fish will be added. A build is always a great learning opportunity for students — it involves math, science, critical thinking, and teamwork.
Another piece of exciting news: YEA Corps has moved on to the next phase in a grant opportunity with Opal Apple: go here to vote for us! The URL, which you should send to all your friends, is here:
A lot has happened since our last blog post…
Let’s just say we kept it going strong, and came back from spring break with a bang: Having made great connections at the University of Minnesota’s Growing Food, Growing Youth event (where we also saw the hydroponics above), we were able to bring in expert guest speakers from a horticulture class on Successful School Gardens. Three talented young ladies shared their expertise with Unity students, who learned how to grow microgreens in soil, what distinguishes microgreens from sprouts, and a little bit about seed structure – going beyond the work we’d done earlier in the semester to a deeper level of understanding, and reinforcement of what had already been covered.
We look forward to having these great folks back next week, as well as local business owners and chefs from the neighborhood. As we continue to apply what we learn to real life situations (growing produce, interacting with potential clients, getting the word out to the public), we see students understanding more and more – really getting it, as they say.
Unity this week was a day of review, business planning, and system maintenance. We spent the first half of the workday doing a review of everything we’ve learned this semester, and looking at produce prices to figure out potential revenues for our product.
We made a chicken wire cover for our fish tank – no more fishy deaths – and did some routine maintenance: transplanting some plants into larger pots, planting more seeds, testing the water, and of course feeding the fish. Students continued to document our activities through photos!
It’s so nice to have the aquaponics system up and running – when doing the review worksheet with a student who hasn’t been around so much, I was able to say, “You want to know where the bio-filter connects to? Well, let’s take a look.” And hands on learning proves itself worthy once again. We tasted some micro-greens (delicious) and plan to harvest, package and sell a small amount next week.