Category Archives: mini challenges

Being Part of a Transition Group

Beginning the Transition Journey

When my husband and I sat down at a coffee shop in 2010 to talk with two other people about starting a Transition group, I would not have imagined all of the things I would learn and do over the next 7 years. Transition Longfellow has been an expansive experience.

I tell people Transition is a way of thinking and a direction, as well as a local and global grassroots movement. That sounds pretty high falutin. What does it really mean?

Transition Gives Us Back our Self Determination

Every day we make innumerable decisions that individually and collectively have an impact on our world. Our culture pushes us to make those decisions based on what we “want” and  what we “deserve.” And our consumer society is set up to short-circuit our decision-making process by making some things easy (turn up the thermostat), convenient (get in the car), and distractingly addictive (Facebook). It makes other (often better) things quite difficult (carpooling) or expensive (solar).

When you dig deeper into the issues Transition looks at – food resilience, cutting carbon, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels – it changes the way you look at your everday decisions. You ask yourself different questions: “What is the carbon footprint or the collective impact of of this decision? Could I do this another way? Do I really need to do this at all?”

You make decisions in a new way.

Transition Provides Direction

One of the first activities Transition groups do is engage their community in a visioning process to identify what a healthy, sustainable future would look like in their area. What  direction do we need and want to go? The answer to that question will be different in different places. It may be water issues in New Mexico and seed sovereignty in India. I heard from a student, who had visited a Transition group in Bolivia, say that improving male-female relationships and overcoming the damaging effects of machismo was one of the first things the group she visited chose to tackle.

In my neighborhood it could be improving mass transit, getting safer bike lanes, helping to get more homes weatherized and insulated, increasing the number of solar installations on rooftops or getting more people signed up for solar gardens, helping people grow more food, or helping people identify and prepare for the effects of climate change.

In my mind, I see all of those “good things” as part of a big river flowing in the direction of a sustainable, healthy future. There are many streams of effort feeding that river and everyone can be part of it. In fact, millions of people are taking hundreds of millions of actions. Even when some governments or some businesses put up a damn to try to divert us, this is one great big roiling river. We are not alone.

Transition Provides a Structure for Personal Exploration

My husband and my involvement in Transition Longfellow has inspired us to try so many new things: from dropping a car, to finding a new home for 1,079 possessions,  creating an edible landscape and learning to preserve our own foods. We’re more interesting people because of it – and we’re also more skilled.

Last fall I got to meet Brianna Harrington and learned about her project, the 15/30 Challenge. I’m so impressed by her efforts to raise awareness of the tragic wastefulness of fast fashion. From the massive diversion of water to grow fiber, to the childhoods and health lost in sweatshops, to the dumping of used clothes on African nations, ruining their clothing industry and impoverishing their culture. Cheap clothes – fast fashion – for us has had devastated effects across the globe. I hope to take her challenge soon – once I learn how to use Instagram to share my efforts :).

Transition Builds the Local Community and Economy

We have met many, many neighbors. Although I’d lived here 23 years, it wasn’t until we started a Transition group that I knew more than a handful of neighbors. I’ve met at least 150 new people and made dozens of real friends. Some of these people became my support system as I took on the task of providing home care for my dying mother. They cared for me as I cared for her.

As we move further into climate change and feel more of its effects on our health and safety, these relationships within commuity will become even more important.

We have found role models all across the metro area who are doing things to reduce their use of fossil fuels and live a more sustainable life. Lee Olson taught us to grow sprouts. Annette taught us to make jam. Bruce and Aggie inspire us to grow big with their huge garden. And our new friend Lisa is helping us think about preparedness.

We have found businesses to take us in the right direction. Ralph Jacobson from Innovative Power Systems and Bruce Stahlberg from Affordable Energy Solutions have helped us reduce our home energy use. The folks at Gandhi Mahal restaurant have demonstrated how a restaurant can source its food hyper-locally, growing its own veggies and fish IN THE CITY! The Tiny Diner has become a hub for learning and growing by offering food-related classes.

That river of Transition needs businesses of all sizes and business professionals in all fields to stop and ask the questions:

  • “What is the carbon footprint or the collective impact of this decision?”
  • “Could we do this another way”
  • “Do we really need to do this at all?”

And when they do, Transition can make those actions visible so we can all support and learn from those efforts. So we can see that we are, in fact, all in this together.

Kitchen Remodel to Reduce Food Waste and Organize Recycling

Reducing Waste in the Kitchen

The kitchen is not only the location for much of our household consumption, it’s also the source of much of our household waste production, including one of the worst greenhouse-gas-producing waste products — food waste.

A Few Facts About Food Waste

According to a National Resources Defense Council report, getting food from farm to table uses 10% of our nation’s energy budget. This morning on MPR, Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, said that we use about 40 percent of the (non-ice-covered) land on the planet to grow food, and “70% of all the water we consume is used to irrigate crops.” Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

That’s an extremely costly food chain and yet approximately 40% of all food produced in the world is never eaten. According to the EPA, 21% of our municipal waste is food waste. More food goes to landfills and incinerators than any other type of material.

Not only are we losing an estimated $165 billion in food that could be used to feed hungry people, but food in landfills produces methane as it decays. Methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so this is a very big deal. Landfills are the source of 20% of all methane emissions.

Our Goal: Reducing Food Waste

Continue reading

Emergency Preparedness and the Long Emergency

Preparedness Discussion Group

This group began in November 2012 after a few members watched the video Peak Prosperity and began talking about how to prepare for immediate emergencies and the “long emergency” of climate change. We aren’t showing the video to the group because it is too sales-oriented, but we do find information on the peak prosperity website to be useful, particularly the “What Should I Do?” list.

This is a complex, and emotionally challenging topic for many in the Transition movement. The majority of websites that discuss preparedness – and that sell preparedness products – have a distinctly militaristic and apocalyptic attitude. The peak prosperity site also has some of these discomfiting elements, but we encourage people to read the section on Community to understand that we are not advocating disregard for one’s neighbors. Chris Martensen uses an airline emergency as a metaphor: By taking steps to prepare ourselves, we are putting our own oxygen mask on first so that we can then assist the person next to us. We ARE in this together.

The group meets on the Third Tuesday of each month (various locations) from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Topics include:

  • December 18, 2012: Water — How do we meet our personal need for water, and our food garden’s need for water, in the event of a short-term emergency or longer-term drought? How would our community/city provide safe drinking water if our water system were to be damaged or compromised by storm or flood or loss of electricity?
  • January 15, 2013: Heat – How do we heat ourselves in an emergency situation, such as being stuck in the car in a snowstorm or while camping? How do we heat our home in the event of a power outage (remember, gas furnaces use electric fans to move heat)? In the event we have no heat, how do we prevent cold-damage to our homes? What are the environmental consequences of different types of backup heat? How can we minimize that damage?
  • February 19, 2013: Electricity – What are your household’s critical electrical needs? In the event of a short-term power outage, what backup system do you have in place? What are the environmental consequences of different types of backup electricity? What alternatives do we have to the electrical grid should electricity become unreliable or too costly over the long term? What can we do as a community to bring improvements to our grid and our energy future?
  • March 19, 2013: Food 1 – How much food should one keep on hand in the home or in the car in case of short-term emergency such as a weather disaster? How does one’s food storage outlook change when considering the “long emergency,” when drought and weather instability may lead to crop losses and increased food prices? (What did our foremothers do to get through the winter?) What has been done on a governmental/ community level to store food in case of crop loss/food shortages?
  • April 15, 2013: Food 2 – What kinds of food should be in the “deep pantry?” What is the best balance of growing your own versus buying from local farmers versus buying from the store? What would a good food storage area look like?
  • May 21, 2013: Food 3 – What are the best methods for storing or preserving food? In what situations might one need a backup system for cooking food? For freezing food? What are the environmental consequences of different types of backup systems?
  • June 18, 2013: First Aid and Health – How prepared are you to handle a sprain, a broken bone, an infection or burn? Do you have adequate emergency supplies in your home and your car? Do you have a small kit on your bike? What health maintenance resources are available within the community? Who in your area understands  no-cost or low-cost natural health treatments?
  • July 16, 2013: Finances – If your home is destroyed by a tornado, will you be able to access your money and credit? Are important documents stored safely offsite? In the face of the long emergency, how might our financial system change? What constitutes real wealth?
  • August 20, 2013: Community – What does a resilient community look like and what steps can we take to help build resilience? How can we take what we’ve learned and share it? What institutions in our community can be a resource for preparedness? For example, if a tornado destroyed homes in this area, are there churches that would open their doors to those made homeless?

Personal Permaculture Discussion Group

Transition Longfellow will be hosting a year-long conversation on Personal Permaculture. January’s kickoff meeting will feature Longfellow master gardener Theresa Rooney. She will provide an overview of permaculture, introducing and explaining the principles and ethics. To learn more, see the Personal Permaculture page under Discussions.

  • Location: Riverview Wine Bar on 42nd Avenue and 38th Street, Mpls
  • Time: 10:30 to noon
  • Dates: First Saturday of each month

September Mini-Challenge: STUFF

Trash Pickup Facilitates Endless Consumption

A friend of ours just came back from studying Spanish in Guatemala. One of the things that stood out for her (aside from chickens everywhere) was the fact that the community in which she lived did not have regular garbage pickup and therefore the things people bought stayed with them. No throwing away a pop bottle and having it disappear. Nope, it stayed on the ground where it was dropped.

If that was the case where we live, think about what the typical American neighborhood would look like. We’d all be living on a trash heap — OR

  • We would buy less
  • We would find a way to use that piece of refuse for another purpose
  • We would give things away and share
  • We would complain to manufacturers who over-package the products they sell us
  • We would ask our stores to carry more things in bulk so we didn’t have to buy the packaging
  • We would buy things locally rather than have them shipped from so far away, which is why it requires so much packaging
  • We’d try to make things ourselves so we didn’t have to deal with the waste

If you stop to think about it, garbage pickup is a way we hide the truth from ourselves about what we are really doing to the planet. It’s one of the luxuries that allow us to keep consuming.

Check out a few interesting pieces about waste:


It’s harvest time! How far did your food travel?

Oh Bounteous Garden…

Pickled peppers

August was supposed to be the month we looked at reducing our carbon footprint in the area of transportation. What was I thinking?! I’m spending any non-work hours trying to stay ahead of the garden. We have learned how to can and pickle and ferment.

We’ve pickled green beans and peppers, cukes and beets and cherry tomatoes. We put up stewed tomatoes. I’ve got two containers of tomato puree in the fridge, a big mess o’ green and purple beans, and an abundance of fridge pickles cuz I let the pickling cukes get too large.

Garlic harvest

Produce from the garden

I’m waiting until all the pickling is done before I freeze the remainder of the 16 heads of garlic – absolutely luscious and interesting to experience the drying process. We had to dry them indoors because of the high humidity in July. We’ll be doing that again.

The tomatoes are starting to slow down now in the cooling weather. The peppers are still going strong – we’ll have a big batch of jalapenos and hot hungarians and a few more gorgeous green peppers. The eggplants are still going strong – we have purple and long, thing green ones. Collards look nice but didn’t get very big.

While I was out harvesting, a neighbor came by. I like him a lot and usually think he’s a very sensible guy, but he said he sees no value to gardening. He knows where he can get a tomato any time of the year – at the grocery store.

I pointed out that my tomato only traveled 10 feet, was picked in its prime and was never exposed to toxic chemicals. He thinks it’s a waste of time. While the industrial food system is working, he wants what he wants, when he wants it.

Canning and pickling

My neighbor believes in global warming but he doesn’t think there is anything we can do about it. Getting food closer to home – reducing the carbon footprint of food – is not a meaningful solution to him. On the other hand, he believes we have an “excess population” problem and coming food shortages are nature’s way of balancing.

That’s a pretty scary thought. I would rather be more hopeful and life-loving. I would rather enlarge my garden and learn how to grow more and preserve more. Maybe my garden can’t get us through a winter but let’s see what we can do with my garden and local farmers.

We’re learning. We thinking about issues. And I guess I was paying attention to my transportation footprint after all, in the form of food.

July Mini-Challenge: Sustainable Yards

In July we’re taking a look at how sustainability issues affect the urban land around us. In Longfellow, many people are particularly mindful of the effect we have on water – and the effect water has on us:

  • Water runoff from our neighborhood, directly bordering the Mississippi river, carries waste water directly into the Mississippi, potentially damaging the water quality for everyone downstream from us
  • We seem to live with high water levels under our houses so the problem of water in basements affects many in our areas, creating the conditions for unhealthy mold growth
  • Of course, when our water runs off into rivers it’s not going down into the ground to replenish our aquifers
  • And a repeated problem for many years has been water runoff that overwhelms our storm sewers, causing water to back up into the street or worse — to blow the tops off manhole covers. A few years back a Longfellow neighbor suffered permanent spinal cord injury when a manhole cover blew up from under him.

Rain gardens, rain barrels and watershed friendly (non-turf) yards are three ways people address the issue of water on their property.

On July 24, from 3 – 6 pm, Longfellow is sponsoring a watershed-friendly yard tour. You can pick up a map at Holy Trinity Church, 2730 31st St. E. Visit their new Rainwater Discovery Courtyard then take the self-guided walking or biking tour featuring native plants and rain gardens. Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions. Maps will be available at the Longfellow Community Council website.

To learn more about rain gardens, you can also check out Metro Blooms. No classes are currently available, but bookmark it and check back later.


I wanted to link you to the Permaculture Research Institute for Cold Climates website but it appears to be down. They do have a blog so you can see what they are up to – and what others are doing in the city.

I’m sure there are many wonderful gardeners whom I don’t yet know. Who I do know is Russ Henry of Giving Tree Gardens. We LOVE his renegade style. When we wanted a garden plan, he was the only gardener who didn’t insist we take out what we had and start over. He was willing to advise on how to fix up what we’d done so far and he took our busy schedules into account. He knows all there is to know about who’s doing what in urban agriculture in Minneapolis. You can see his work outside the Seward Coop. He’s their gardener.

Irrigation-Free Landscape Project in Longfellow

In the last issue of the LCC newsletter, they were looking for households that wanted to participate in a landscaping demonstration project. We contacted the organizer, Spencer Agnew, to learn more about it.

LCC will be selecting one or more properties in the neighborhood on which to install an irrigation-free landscape garden. The property owner will pay $400 to $600 (about 1/8th of the total project cost). Site selection will begin in August and planting will begin in early to mid-September. There are already more interested participants than funding, so there will likely be a lottery or application process.

On our property we have a rain garden with native plants with deep roots, a planted boulevard to mitigate runoff, a rain barrel, a vegetable and herb garden. Because we live on the corner, we try to remember several times a year to rake out the storm sewer grate beside our house to keep our streets clear and to prevent plant matter from getting into the sewer.

Please share your ideas for sustainable yards!

Longfellow Sustainability Group – I’m Loving the Support

The Longfellow Sustainability Group meets on the first Saturday of every month at 10:30 am at Peace Coffee on Minnehaha and 33rd. We get to meet new neighbors almost every month. We discuss our experience with the prior month’s mini challenge, share tips and  resources, and have a great conversation.

Next group meeting is July 2. We’ll be reporting in on our local food efforts.

The group has been a wonderful addition to our family’s greening lifestyle. We really enjoy hearing what other people have done. We learn a lot and every single time we come away with new ideas. I’m really grateful for the people who have come, whether once or several times. Because of you, we’ve:

  • Signed up for the Shop the Coop class (and the home pickling class while I was at it)
  • Gotten involved in the Southside Food Hub
  • Met the wonderful owner of Gandhi Mahal restaurant
  • Fearlessly moved forward in a lifestyle with less toilet paper (Who knew that this was such a hot topic! But I guess we’re a pretty cosmopolitan bunch here in Longfellow and once you’ve traveled the world a bit, you have a better understanding of what is and is not a necessity.)
  • Begun worm composting
  • Diligently kept moving forward on reducing our energy use because we want to report back that we’ve made progress

Thanks, everyone, for making this community a better place to be.

Highest CO2 Emissions in History Sets the Stage for More Biking

The transportation mini-challenge doesn’t start until August, but when I saw that CLIF BAR had created a nifty biking challenge, I thought this was as good a time as any to commit to more biking for both the health benefits and CO2 reduction.

I have to admit, I was spurred to action when I saw the International Energy Agency  report that 2010 had the highest CO2 emissions in history. “At current rates, the 2° temperature increase that most experts consider the threshold of unmanageable climate change, will be considered a floor for potential future temperatures, rather than the ceiling.” That’s grim news from Greenbiz.

So what’s the challenge? To use your bike for any trip you take within a 2 mile radius of  your home.

Why 2 miles?

Forty percent of all urban travel is within 2 miles of home and yet 90% of the time people get in a car to make that trip! That puts tons of carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating the problem of climate change. CLIF BAR hopes their challenge will inspire people to avoid 100,000 car trips.

Sign up to take the 2 Mile Challenge!

Last weekend I biked to book group, biked to an exercise class in Highland Park (almost but didn’t quite make it up the hill), and biked to the coop where I signed up for the ZAP program. (The ZAP program offers an incentive for members to visit the co-op on bicycle.)

That’s a great start for me. I’m looking forward to racking up more points for Team 350 this weekend. Maybe a bike ride to PRIDE.