Been waiting to start growing your own food?

Start today! Track down some healthy soil, exchange some change for seeds at your grocery store, and find some old newspaper. Tony will show you were to take it from there.

A Time of Transition

By Casey Wojtalewicz

My introduction to Summer of Solutions was in 2010, when I was a full-time participant in the Twin Cities program. As it has done for hundreds of other young people, the program and its model of cyclical empowerment transformed my self-identity from something akin to “just another student” to an organizer / agent of change / Solutionary.

Me reading goals as a participant in the 2010 Twin Cities Summer of Solutions program.

Fast forward two years: I’m sitting in a classroom at LA CAUSA (Los Angeles Communities Advocating Unity, Social Justice and Action) in East LA. I’m helping lead the LA CAUSA Summer of Solutions program. We’re at week two, having wrapped up our training launch last week. I’m sitting in on a meeting of our clean energy team as they lay out the groundwork to bring community-owned solar panels to this area. Several weeks ago, I knew none of these people. Now we operate together in well-constructed and organized teams. We’ve created shared visions, set goals to help us achieve our vision, and outlined steps to get there–literally.

Pam, Maite, Tony & Miguel during LA CAUSA SOS’s training week.

It’s a sunny day outside in this industrial part of town. A lot of trucks pass by on the roads. It’s busy. Everything’s moving. The crosswalks usually don’t give enough time for one to walk casually across the streets. Concrete is everywhere. But there’s a cool breeze. I can see the San Gabriel mountains in the distance, and large white clouds are slowly moving across the sky to the north. Inside LA CAUSA, we are laying out plans to create a healthy environment that works for everyone. Everything’s moving.

It feels to be a great time of transition for our planet. I recognize the conflicts and challenges we face today as profound opportunities for transformation. I can feel the potential and momentum building up for change across the city, the state, the country, the world; just like I can feel it building in this very room. And as a Summer of Solutions affiliate, I feel connected to people feeling and doing the same things across the United States right now.

Some LA Solutionaries

Surrounded by these other young people who are turning ideas and visions into reality, I feel the completion of a cycle. Two years ago, I was given the inspiration and skills to become an agent of change. Today, I have given them, and the cycle continues.

This is what the world changing looks like. There’s a feeling of transition, of momentous energy. Like clouds moving on a windy day. People are coming together, working to make changes in their lives and their immediate surroundings.

It feels wonderful to be a part of it.

Let’s Ride: Bicycle Organizing in Los Angeles

By Miguel Ramos

Miguel at CICLAVIA 2011

What got me interested in bicycles was 1) their connection to the idea of being self-sustaining, and 2) how bicycles can be utilized as a tool to organize people while promoting the idea of alternative forms of transportation. I wanted to help unlock the potential for individuals in communities to create a better infrastructure and safer environments for people to transport themselves. Noticing the lack of education that served the individuals who use bicycles as a form of transportation really pushed me to get involved. Therefore, I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this program…

I’d like to introduce you to Let’s Ride, a community-learning program that is taking place at LA CAUSA in collaboration with the City of Lights program (LA CAUSA is the LA-based organization that has teamed up with Grand Aspirations to bring the first Los Angeles Summer of Solutions program to life).

Let's Ride LA

Let’s Ride’s mission is to develop new ways for young people to  learn the ins and outs of bicycling. We plan to accomplish this mission through providing and focusing on topics regarding bicycle mechanics, bicycle safety, group-ride organizing, community outreach, media, and advocacy. Not only will this program result in more safe and confident student riders, but it’s another big step in promoting the idea of alternative sustainable forms of transportation.

LA CAUSA students are already involved with Let’s Ride. Currently, they are working on the Bike Ride Organizing section and planning a ride with and for their peers. Through their work, they have the opportunity to develop (and flex) their leadership skills while highlighting and supporting the idea of community organizing around self-sustaining practices.

LA CAUSA SOS Throws a Party

Candles welcomed guests from Figueroa Street up to Tony’s home, where they were welcomed with local food and drinks, live music and good company. A seed bomb-production lab gave everyone a chance to try their hand at guerrilla-beautification. A resource wall that Jasmin made displayed the many assets our Summer of Solutions program is proud to have, and allowed guests to contribute their own resources, knowledge, skills and connections to the effort.

Everyone came wanting to know more about this new program and how they could learn more and get involved.

This was LA CAUSA Summer of Solutions’ premiere event. Our hello to the world. It was Friday, March 16th, 2012. Over the course of the night, upwards of two hundred people layered long sleeves and jackets to spend their evening celebrating and networking on a small patio overlooking downtown Los Angeles.

As one of the five organizers who comprise the LA SOS leadership team, I couldn’t be happier about the event. While an oncoming flu tempered my outward excitement, on the inside I was glowing as I watched new faces interacting with familiar ones. Partying with a conscience. Here were powerful connections being made; friendships that could mean the start of new ventures and collaboration on existing ones.

So I venture: why can’t we do this every weekend? If we’re going to drop a few bucks on a given weekend on some drinks and food, why not have it directly support a program that will give young people the skills and connections that will support them making change in their communities? Or any cause for that matter. I’ll take the warmth and curiosity of the people surrounding me last Friday over a glammed-out club–where I can’t hear anyone anyway–any day. Moreover, I had the honor to entertain with my band, Dylan Trees, and our partners in music for the night, The Withers.

Sharing music, raising some dough for a good cause, meeting new and interesting people–can a Friday night get much better? Not really. I’m excited for the next party. It’s not official, but yeah, we want this to happen again. And next time, it won’t be five people organizing, it will be a larger group of people all working together to organize, promote, set up, cover, take down, and move on to the next steps. All in an effort to bring a new program to Los Angeles that will continue to grow and help shape the future of this region.

Photos by Alex Kinnan.

We made a lot of seed bombs on Friday. Over the next few weeks, they’ll be tossed into vacant lots and fields around Los Angeles and start sprouting into beautiful fields of wild flowers. What I didn’t realize is that our event itself was a seed bomb. We threw in all the right ingredients, packed it into a condensed space, and now we grow. Glad to have you on board.

– Casey Wojtalewicz

From Bennies & Johnnies to Solutionaries

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Maddy Dragich and I am currently teaching 10th grade geometry in Stuttgart, Arkansas. I am originally from Arden Hills, MN, and I just graduated in May 2011 from the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University (CSB/SJU). In college, I majored in Peace Studies and French. People are often confused by what it means to major in Peace Studies.. Well, let me give you a quick summary. To me and many of my peers, the field of Peace Studies is an in-depth exploration of the history of war and how our past can help us to prepare for peace in our future.

Now that I re-read that last sentence, I realize that you might be thinking that it sounds a bit idealistic… well in many respects you might be right. However, I would argue that without a bit of idealism, how could we attain the vision we want for the world? This question brings to mind a project that all senior Peace Studies majors were required to complete at CSB/SJU: a future studies project. Our task for our senior seminar was to identify a current issue/challenge/problem in the world and then write a paper from the year 2041 outlining how we spent the past 30 years addressing the challenge and ultimately created a more peaceful and just world.

After participating in brainstorm sessions, guided meditations, and reading about the invention of future studies projects, I came to the conclusion that I was going to create peace in the future through the implementation of backyard mini farms. Each household across the U.S. would attain 60% of their food from their own backyard or a community garden located in a 2 mile radius of their house. I will spare you the 20 page paper details of how this was accomplished (for the time being), but the entire process led to many sleepless nights and even more arguments with my roommates about whether or not it was a good idea for each household to have 4 hens in a small coop in their backyard.

On the day that our seminar presented our projects to one another, I discovered that my project idea was almost identical to two of my peers, Casey Wojtalewicz and Chris Morgan. After we all finished presenting, I remember talking with the two of them and agreeing how powerful of a team we could be in the future when our projects and ideas cross paths. 

Fast forward to January 2012: I was teaching high school geometry in Stuttgart, Arkansas, Chris Morgan was volunteering with the Vincentian Volunteer Corps in Denver, and Casey Wojtalewicz was working as an intern for the Sierra Club in LA. On January 5th the three of us were reunited at the Grand Aspirations / Summer of Solutions winter training session for program leaders who are going to lead Summer of Solutions programs in various cities around the country this summer. Throughout the training, Chris, Casey and I developed our plans to work with a group of young Solutionaries (teams of individuals who focus on creating holistic solutions to local economic, environmental and social challenges) this summer to raise awareness about and create positive change in our communities concerning environmental justice. All three of our projects will address small scale agriculture and energy usage in our communities. We suddenly came to the realization that we were taking the first step towards accomplishing our Peace Studies project goals that we had written about only seven months before.

At the training it became clear to me that idealism is really only something that exists in the minds of the unimaginative. Sure, when we wrote our project ideas, the future seemed somewhat idealistic. However, when you commit yourself to a future goal and have peers to support you in this goal, the sky is truly the limit. I look forward to writing future blog posts about the progress of our Summer of Solutions project in Stuttgart and to hear more about the other projects around the country!

Peace and Love to the Dreamers.

West Coast Gathering

Last week was the second of three regional Summer of Solutions gatherings hosted by Grand Aspirations.

For those who aren’t clear, Summer of Solutions (SOS) is a program of Grand Aspirations (GA), a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit.

As with the Eastern Gathering in West Virginia and the Central Gathering in Chicago, the West Coast Gathering brought together a circle of incredibly talented organizers and bore the fruit of their collective brainpower and energy.

The idea that such groups of people are working together to create local solutions on the national scale leaves me very inspired. The potential of such a powerful cast of Solutionaries collaborating together is truly explosive (in the reciprocal sense, of course).

With such invigorating conferences taking place across the country this month, I can only imagine what the energy level will be come August, when Solutionaries from every program gather in one city for our national gathering.

As we continue to share our stories, lessons and successful practices, we will continue to grow and spread change to local communities. We hope you will join us.

Creation is Our Essence

Our economy is crumbling. One in seven Americans live in poverty. The only thing our partisan politic-deadlock government can agree on is a free trade agreement with South Korea that isn’t likely to produce anything different from every other free trade agreement we’ve created.

More for the rich, less for the poor.

So why the squirrel?

It brings me back. Back to the single greatest period of growth and leadership development I’ve experienced in my life: Summer of Solutions – Twin Cities. It was the summer of 2010, and it was when my potential to lead, to challenge, to create, was unlocked.

I learned how to organize, how to facilitate, how to create a proposal for successful implementation of energy efficiency measures in homes and then how to present it to the administration of an electric utility, the imam of a local mosque, the head of a children’s summer program. I learned about oppression and privilege. I learned how to use Google Docs.

Together, we door-knocked, created an urban farm in a day, fixed and rode bikes, hosted community listening sessions, developed plans to convert an old car factory into a green manufacturing and living zone, planted and harvested food across Minneapolis, wrote business plans, toured renewable energy facilities, organized fundraising events, and ate a lot of delicious vegan food.

That summer changed me, because it empowered me. It gave me the tools I needed to help create the vision I and others have for our world. A world where communities overcome divisions and rise up together to take head on the economic, social and environmental challenges we face.

There’s a reason the dandelion is the focal point of the Summer of Solutions logo. A versatile, highly nutritious plant that can take root almost anywhere, grow, and disperse for miles around the parent plant, the dandelion defines the methodology of the program to gather in low-income communities, build up local infrastructure while training the next generation of green social entrepreneurs, and spread.

I was fortunate enough to go through this great experience, and now it’s time for me to return the favor. So I’m creating.

In 2012, application pending, there will be a Summer of Solutions program in Los Angeles. Building largely off the great work of a local organization, La Causa, we will be working with various different organizations and leaders, and our focuses are likely to include food access, green business, urban agriculture, complete streets and bike advocacy, green manufacturing, renewable energy projects, and community organizing.

I can’t wait to see what creations emerge.

The application to build your own Summer of Solutions program is open until next Saturday, October 29th. I encourage others who are ready to take this step: to join an incredibly talented and growing network of young leaders who aren’t waiting for help from above–they are working now to create the change they wish to see in the world.


In just three years, the Summer of Solutions program has expanded from a single site in Saint Paul, MN, and a partner program in Portland, OR, to fifteen programs across the country. As an emerging leader in youth empowerment and green economic development, we are excited to open the opportunity to work with Summer of Solutions to creative, dedicated young people who believe in improving their communities, advancing social justice, and improving the environment. We believe that together, people hold the ideas and inspiration for change. By tapping the vision and skills of individuals, Summer of Solutions programs work in collaboration with community partners to create self-sustaining green economy projects that will continue to have a direct positive impact.

We welcome all participants ages 14-30 regardless of race, culture, class, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Positions as volunteer participants (up to 20 hours a week) and full-time participants (40+ hours a week) are open. The program is free, and full-time participants are eligible to receive need-based financial support, the application for which is here. We are currently working to generate funding to support participants with all levels of need.

To learn more about Summer of Solutions and find a program, visit Grand Aspirations, the host organization of Summer of Solutions, at The page for applications can be found at The priority deadline for full-time applicants is Sunday, March 13th at midnight PST, and the final deadline for full-time applicants is Sunday April 24th at midnight PST. Volunteer applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

We look forward to receiving your application, and working together, hands-on, to create stronger, self-sustaining communities across the country.


Bioneers Inspires

By Jennice Rodriguez
Reno, NV
Posted by Casey Wojtalewicz

A few weeks back I was given the chance to attend environmental/peace conference, Bioneers, for the second time in Marin County California.  The event, if you haven’t experienced it already, is something beyond the power of words could describe.  A festival organized for enriching the mind and activating the activist deep inside the soul each attendee.  It’s a place where some of the most powerful people are united in the same place to talk about their work, the work of others, and the work that we as a society need to start engaging in.

It’s a place where lifelong learners come to be taught and experience all the different ways our mother is trying to get us to listen.  It’s a place where the hungry come to be fed the fruit of exposed dirty treason of the powerful forces in our country, but with as much information that is being shared, it is more enlightening than depressing, more electric than any festival I have ever experienced (besides Burning Man…which could totally be compared to this event, in another blog maybe).

Though it may sound quite terrifying–and it is!–Bioneers is a place where possibilities meet the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  Bioneers has been the root of so many ideas I have to make this world, to save this world, our world, a place I want to live in.

I walked away this year with so many contacts, I don’t even know what to do with them all. I made friends that I already know better than people I’ve known for years. One idea that hasn’t stopped flickering in the glass window of my memory shop: I was told to find something I am passionate about, and start from there.

But what am I passionate about?  I love my fruits and veggies, and I want everyone to be able to access only the purest food, sure.  I think green energy is something that our government needs to get in check with and make it happen already, sure.  I think marijuana should be legalized and the production of hemp products will save the land that has become ever so exhausted, sure.  But what am I really passionate about?

I have been overwhelmed with the numbers in which one person can dedicate their power to, and I want to do it all, but I can’t do it alone.  Until I find out what it is that I’m passionate about, I need your help, and she needs ours.


Last week, editors at The Nation asked their readers to answer the question, “What Does Patriotism Mean To You?” in 200 words or less.  Some Twin Cities Summer of Solutions folk responded to voice their feelings about our country, promote our vision, and spread the word about SOS.  My entry and those of a few others are posted below.

Patriotism is proactive. It is seeing and believing in a better America, and working to make that vision a reality. Patriots are not sticks floating down the stream of society, shifting and responding to each push and pull of the current that carries it. They are trail blazers pushing forward along the banks and through the valley. It is a difficult yet necessary role, for when the stream encounters a dam, it is the Patriots with the vision and grit to take on the challenge and the allegiance to see it through. They do not balk at, deny, or flee from our nation’s problems.

I am blazing trails in Minneapolis with the Summer of Solutions program.  We see the problems of our hollowed economy, divided communities and degraded environments as inherently connected, and our remedies seek to address them all. We are working hands on to create green jobs, promote energy efficiency, and empower communities across the country. What we are doing is unchartered territory, but we are pushing forward with passion using the assets we have to create a better America. And we won’t stop.

– Casey Wojtalewicz

This is the first Fourth of July when I can safely say that I’m proud to be an American.  I think this realization of my unique brand of patriotism is a result of the past few years I have spent abroad. I chose to attend university in Scotland with the assumption that outside the US, people would be less materialistic, or more earth-conscious and community-oriented. However, I realized that everything I was looking for could be found in my very hometown. Patriotism does not mean loving the political views and lifestyle choices of every citizen. Rather, patriotism is finding the pieces of your country that bring out the best in you, and caring about your country enough to make it a better place. In my hometown of Minneapolis, I am working alongside other youth to create community sustainability and build a green economy as part of a program called Summer of Solutions.  As I work the land in community gardens, talk to community members about energy efficiency, or bike around the Twin Cities, I feel patriotic for this piece of my country, and even more so, for what my country has the potential to become.

Elana Bulman

Patriotism demands that we find an America powered by dirty energy – which funds terrorism and destroys Gulf Coast livelihoods – unacceptable. It means that we lead smarter pathways for our country as car companies and banks and housing markets and energy suppliers that are “too big to fail” start taking our communities and our livelihoods down with them. Patriotism means embodying the entrepreneurial, can-do, team spirit that exemplifies our nation’s best moments as leaders in our workplaces, schools, churches, and neighborhoods. It means walking resolutely towards the dawn of a sustainable, socially-just, and prosperous economy powered by local entrepreneurs, strong communities, and clean and efficient energy.

This summer, I’m helping a new generation of leaders create their own careers in the green economy, empower their communities through collaborative solutions, and help others do the same. They are helping neighborhoods convert hobby gardens into viable urban farming businesses, recapture value from utility bills through energy efficiency, develop green manufacturing centers on abandoned industrial sites to create jobs, and create access to clean transit options. Here in Minneapolis and nationwide, the Summer of Solutions ( is helping nurture this type of patriotism – the nitty-gritty on-the-ground leadership to take America forward.

– Timothy DenHerder-Thomas