About nackcamp

Recording crazy life-changing summer experiences for my future self and long distance friends and fam.

Think-tanking about Solutions

Cross posted with revisions from Minnesota 2020’s Hindsight Blog

I spent my time in the Twin Cities this summer with Summer of Solutions. Since that summer, I’ve been thinking about intersections between the abstract concepts of “the economy” and “the environment” and the communities where these ideas become realities. During my fall semester at Macalester, I’ve been spending time at an internship for Minnesota 2020, a progressive non-partisan public policy think-tank in the Twin Cities, and I have the opportunity to write about moving Minnesota’s economic policy forward.

of  ago, Will Allen from Growing Power Inc (Milwaukee, WI) spoke at Macalester’s campus at a fundraiser dinner for the Women’s Environmental Institute. It was awesome. In the audience I recognized the faces of Cities organizers, activists and entrepreneurs that I had met through Summer of Solutions. Allen’s speech and got me thinking about how permaculture could go statewide and mainstream, so I got to write about it for MN2020:

The turn toward blustery and freezing weather this week signals the end of harvest season here in Minnesota and the beginning of even more Californian, Mexican and South American imports. Meaning that multi-national agriculture corporation owners will benefit from more of our food dollars.

The world’s warmer regions certainly have an advantage when it comes to year-round food production. Large-scale agricultural methods could not support any crop through a Minnesotan winter.  But thanks to innovative and sustainable growing techniques, fresh salad greens grown in Milwaukee and fresh tomatoes grown in southern Minnesota are becoming an affordable option for consumers.

At most grocery stores in Mankato, Rochester and the Twin Cities you can find Bushel Boy tomatoes, grown in Owatonna, Minnesota, on the shelves all winter long. Bushel Boy grows its tomatoes in greenhouses without pesticides or herbicides. Bees pollinate the tomatoes and predator insects eat any pests that appear. Because Bushel Boy’s produce doesn’t travel thousands of miles to get to a grocery store, these local, vine-ripened vegetables have better nutritional value than their artificially ripened counter-parts.

Over in Milwaukee, Growing Power Inc, a non-profit urban farming organization, takes sustainable, job-creating food production a few steps further. Growing Power’s intensive urban farm design combines raising fish, livestock, poultry, and fresh produce with solar panels, compost, and an anerobic digestor that generate enough heat and electricity to power green houses through the winter. At their Milwaukee location, a two acre urban farm employs 35 full-time staff; generates revenue by selling compost, meat and produce; and offers classes and workshops for folks in the neighborhood. Growing Power unites sustainable food production, economic development and social justice.

Bushel Boy and Growing Power set examples of what year-round farming in Minnesota could look like. Both use efficient, common-sense methods that support the local economy and produce healthy and more cost-competitive food year round. There is still a long way to go before we can make these  systems a widespread reality. The first step is to recognize that economic development takes many forms, including through local, innovative and sustainable agriculture.”

I will continue to think about ways to communicate what I learned and experienced during SOS this semester…Check out MN2020’s blog or website!

Meetings with reps of Sens Klobuchar and Franken, say what?

Working for two congresspersons last summer gave me a great perspective on all the work involved in hearing constituent concerns in a congressional seat. Last Thursday I was on the other side.  With our friend Reed Aronow, some SoS-TC folks and I met with aides from Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken’s Twin Cities offices.  Reed organized these two meetings through Show Me Democracy and invited us along. Politics has always been one of my passions, and it was energizing to be a constituent, to actually get the chance to argue for what I believed was just. Instead of listening to other peoples’ opinions, I had the chance to voice mine.

Sen Amy Kolbuchar

Sen Al Franken

First, we met with  Leslie Kandaras, Senator Klobuchar’s aide. Standing outside the office, waiting for the others to arrive, going over who was to say what, writing and illustrating our large poster-board letter, I couldn’t help but be excited and also nervous.  Thankfully, Leslie was very supportive of our organization and resonated with all our policy requests. The meeting was rather spontaneous, and many of the speaking roles were decided at the last minute.  That worked to our advantage, keeping the conversation genuine and organic.  We hit home and were able to go through every point we wanted with time to spare.

Running off of the energy from our successful meeting with Ms. Kandaras, much of the group went to meet with an aide from Senator Franken’s office, Charlie Poster.  Charlie seemed like a pretty shrewd guy and questioned most policy suggestions we threw out.  While not supportive per se, Charlie provided much needed discussion on these issues.  In the end, we did not falter, though his challenging questions threw us off of our intended order, forcing us to improvise.  It was fun being pushed a little, and in the end, we pushed back on Senator Franken, asking him to champion, not just support, several environmental measures.

Here are the main policies we asked Franken and Klobuchar to spearhead in the Senate in our “Wish List”:

  • Reduce subsidies for industrial-grade corn and soy, and reallocate that money to subsidize local, organic small-scale agriculture.
  • Tie subsidy payments to acres farmed instead of bushels yielded.
  • Support the Feinstein bill, which would extend the 30% investment tax credit to renewable energy manufacturing.
  • Support PACE and overrule Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s rejection of it.
  • Champion a National Complete Streets bill like the one recently signed into Minnesota state law.

It was a great experience and I hope that Klobuchar and Franken step up as leaders in the ensuing energy, agriculture, and climate debates in the Senate.

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This post written by David Isenberg, a Summer of Solutions Twin Cities participant.

Listening to understand…the conservative viewpoint?

I find it pretty difficult to be a “progressive” thinker and avoid letting criticism leak into my consciousness. The nature of the work I’m doing with Summer of Solutions-Twin Cities causes me to encounter comments along the lines of “these kids don’t know what they’re doing” or “what the heck is environmental justice?” pretty frequently. [Don’t read the comment thread in the Star Tribune article that our dear Martha wrote unless you want to have your faith in the Minnesotan people trampled on a little bit]

I tend to label, for better or for worse, this kind of response as “conservative” (though not Republican). When I think of these views, phrases like, “if you’re not conservative by 40 you have no brain,” and “guns don’t kill people,” and “the politics of fear,” pop into my head. The term “haters” usually comes to mind, closely followed by the uplifting message in Kanye West’s Stronger.

I find it hard not to get bogged down by the Haters. I find myself slipping into an oppositional mindset of “Us vs Them,” labeling people I meet “us” or “them”.

I realize that this mindset is pretty unconstructive. Especially in doing research about rural energy infrastructure and trying to engage rural communities as well as urban populations, I’ve learned that there are no friends or enemies, there are only opportunities for collaboration. Nevertheless, I have attempted to further my understanding of the conservative point of view (and thus advance my quest to become a Rural Minnesotan) by picking up the following read at the local library’s used book shelf:

“Conservatize Me” by John Moe

A short book that follows the originally liberal Seattlean author on a one-month journey to discover if, by immersing himself in his perception of conservative culture (that includes a wardrobe change, country music soundtrack, and interviews with conservative pundits), he can convert to the right.

So. Entertaining.

While the book is mainly targeted towards the sarcastic, Northwestern US reader (who I identify heavily with), it is a wonderfully humorous example of the art of  “listening to understand, not to respond.” Highly recommended to fans of caustic wit and others who have wondered “WHY?” in the face of conservative media.

It’s been a good reflection tool for me this summer, especially when pondering how to include everyone in the green economy.

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This post cross-posted from Solutions, shamushions by Natalie Camplair

“If we don’t do it, who will?”

That’s the question we asked earlier this week when discussing who should research possible alternatives to the high-voltage transmission line slated to cut through the neighborhood we work in.

Transmission lines are necessary, you may say. For the most part I agree. There have been a few brown-outs in South Minneapolis, and the utility claims there is a significant shortage. (Although no independent studies have confirmed this) It’s true: we need to get energy from where it’s captured to where it’s needed.

What I’m thinking about this summer is: What if neighborhoods could produce, consume and manage their own energy, and grow to be independent of private and public utilities who often ignore their needs and experiences? There has has been little to no consultation of the people who live in this mid- to low-income, diverse neighborhood.

Why aren’t new highways, transmission lines, railways,  power plants planned in Mac Groveland? Northwest Portland? Why are they in South Minneapolis, in Vanport? I won’t go too far into the environmental justice implications here.


An example of high-voltage transmission lines

Some of us attended a meeting about the possible alternatives that included state representatives, non-profits, state university researchers, community groups etc. At the end of the day, none of the well-established entities would accept the task to research alternatives. The funding has been unalotted for the research, and no one will accept the project A) because there is no money for it, and B) pitting oneself against one of the largest private utilities is (“potentially”) political suicide.

Who better to take on the project than a bunch of enthusiastic, naive college students? Exactly.

In this case, (and perhaps others too) youth is an asset. Keep you posted.