Challenges and Opportunities of a Solutions Economy

By: Timothy Den-Herder Thomas
Location: Twin Cities, MN

I’ve been spending a good part of the last five years imagining, developing, and implementing an energy cooperative, Cooperative Energy Futures, that will help Twin Cities communities take our energy economy into our own hands. For months now, I’ve been waiting eagerly for the final step in a series of projects that will allow us to hire a full-time staff person and start scaling up. I’ve been excited to announce our success to the world. And I’m still waiting.

Making a successful, financially self-sustaining venture is hard, even when the basic economic seem self-evident. Basic investments in energy efficiency are no-brainer deals, a few thousand invested now can save tens of thousands of dollars in energy costs over the coming decades, but it’s still hard for most people to afford the upfront cost. Even more importantly, the current process of delivering efficiency programs hasn’t made the transition from knowledge to action click for most folks – nationwide, an energy audit program is considered successful if 5% of the people who receive audits act on the recommendations. While it is clear that over $200  billion/year in potential energy savings is sitting untapped in United States communities, it’s nearly impossible to get at it. cropped logo

In 2007, I started researching this challenge and learning home energy system science. In 2008, I helped convene a team of youth leaders and community experts to start evaluating what to do about it. In 2009, we incorporated Cooperative Energy Futures as a 308B Minnesota cooperative, a member-owned business. 2009-2010, we worked to develop our outreach strategy, educational approach, and network of community groups and energy service providers, and in 2011, we started launching our programs in full. We coordinated a series of workshops with a local neighborhood organization, training 30 residents, many of them renters and Spanish speakers, in energy conservation practices. We launched an insulation bulk buying program in late 2011 into Spring 2012, insulating 7 homes in our neighborhood. We launched a solar bulk buying program in summer and Fall 2012, securing 24 letters if intent from community residents to install solar (a total of 83kW) on their homes, pending Xcel Energy rebates. And we piloted a series of three commercial solar arrays financed by an equity investor, a first step towards community solar. As we closed up 2012, Cooperative Energy Futures was positioned to take it to the next level. Continue reading

A Garden Takes Root in Minneapolis

By: Aly Young
Location: Twin Cities, MN

The storms that felled trees in Minneapolis and St. Paul have come and gone, and the Gandhi Mahal/HECUA garden project is in full swing! Solutionaries have been hard at work weeding, watering, planting perennials, and scraping and painting the fence.

This summer, we’re growing eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, basil, beans, strawberries, cilantro, okra, tarragon, and more! Here’s a taste of what’s growing:

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Returning to the Twin Cities

Graduation season has ended and school is wrapping up which means one thing for the Twin Cities Team, we held our first in person meeting since January Gathering.  Patricia, Elizabeth, and I met at Ruby and Timothy’s house early last week to discuss our Training Week Schedule.  It was good to see everyone back in Minneapolis again (except Aly who couldn’t make it).  Plus, meetings in person are just so much more fun and productive than Skype meetings.

1 Some of the TC Team planning training week!
From Left: Patricia, Elizabeth, Timothy, and Maddie Continue reading

Greetings from Sunny Minnesota


Preschoolers everywhere are probably wondering what kind of alleged May flowers are supposed to come out of these April showers.

It’s almost May in Minnesota, and spring is in the air!

…Except maybe for the two massive snow storms we got this week.

It’s sure pretty to look at, but it isn’t quite making for optimal planting conditions. Earlier this year, I mentioned in another blog post that my joint positions as a Summer of Solutions program leader and a waitress might breed some sort of synergy. As it turns out, Twin Cities SoS will be tending a garden for Gandhi Mahal Fine Indian Cuisine. The restaurant started a pilot garden project last summer, and is expanding this year to include several more plots. Ours will be at the site of the first garden, as pictured in the blog post. Of course at this rate, only time will tell if we’ll just end up growing Thai chili pepper popsicles. Maybe we would be better suited toward a Gandhi Mahal ice fishing venture? Continue reading

Inspiration to Join Summer of Solutions 2013 by April 14th!

The 2013 Summer of Solutions programs are accepting participant applications until April 14th!  Apply here!  Keep reading to learn about the life-changing experience that Summer of Solutions was for our alumni!

1Emily Stiever: “It was one of the first times where I could see what my life could look like in the future: the ability to work on social issues that I cared about and to live sustainably in community with people who shared a similar passion.” Read more…

1Ashley Trull: “I learned how to have creative confidence, which to me is being willing to put yourself and your ideas out there, boldly, knowing that you have the skills and resources within yourself and your community to make it a reality.” Read more…

1Nathaniel Cook: “Summer of Solutions was probably the most influential experience that I have ever had, and it has shaped me, my experiences, and my relationships ever since.” Read more…

1Shoshana Blank: “Even as young college students, we were able to do some big things in Summer of Solutions-Twin Cities because we were well organized. We could offer solutions to community members and be taken seriously because we had a plan of action and materials to back us up.”  Read more…

1Colin Higgins: “One of the main things that I took away is that I really enjoy teaching others, especially youth, about environmental issues and solutions.” Read more…

1Cecelia Watkins: “The greatest thing I took with me was a deep sense of practical empowerment—a sense that money is far from the only resource we can leverage for change, a sense that we are rich in those other resources.” Read more…

1Brianna Besch: “I still remember the first week of Summer of Solutions training as one of the most inspiring things I have ever done.” Read more…

2Ethan Viets-Vanlear: “SoS really taught me a way to help a community without being part of various systems of oppression and control that dominate most organizations and institutions in our society.” Read more…

Inspired yet?
Become a solutionary and apply to join Summer of Solutions 2013!

During the Summer of Solutions, you will receive training in community organizing and sustainable community development techniques. You will use these skills to demonstrate the promise of energy efficiency, community-based energy, green industry, local food production, and/or smart design as described in the locations you choose. Beyond the concrete skills you learn, Summer of Solutions will be a really fun community-based experience. It is a great chance to grow with, learn from, and work with other incredible young people and community leaders who are building a better future.

Now accepting participant applications: Arleta, CA; Chicago, IL; Hartford, CT; Iowa City, IA; Ithaca, NY; Johnson City, TN; Lexington, KY; Little Rock, AR; Middleton, WI; Oakland, CA; Raleigh, NC; Southern West Virginia; Twin Cities, MN; and Washington, DC!

Applications are due on 4/14/2013. Some programs may keep their local applications open beyond 4/14, but there is no guarantee that any specific program will do so.

Find more details and the online application here!

Hello from Elizabeth of the Twin Cities Program

Hello all! My name is Elizabeth Kahn and I am currently one of the program leaders for the Twin Cities Summer of Solutions 2013 program. I was a part-time participant last summer and I am excited to continue my involvement with the program for this summer. I am excited once again to work in the Minneapolis area.  It is a great city with a lot of potential for sustainable development.

The Summer of Solutions program teams up with many different organizations and various people to get the word out about sustainability in the city. Last year I did research with an ARISE, an organization, that looked into implementing alternative energies into the abandoned Ford Power Plant site in St. Paul, MN. I also worked with a group of participants from Summer of Solutions last year creating a “farming business.” Or goal was to make a business installing urban gardens in people’s yards and teaching people how to can their food; because we had such a short amount of time to implement everything, we ended up creating cookbooks that we sold in the Minneapolis area with local recipes in it. We used the money funded towards the program.  Working with ARISE and the farm group was a great experience. We are planning on having the same organizations that participated for last years program to continue on this summer as well. Continue reading

Alumni Spotlight: Cecelia Watkins

We are now accepting applications to participate in our 2013 Summer of Solutions programs!  Apply here!

My name is Cecelia Watkins, and I am a proud Summer of Solutions alum. This is my SoS story.

After four years in a liberal arts college and many more years spent desperately wondering how to funnel my passions and skills into making a difference in this crazy, suffering world, I found myself at somewhat of a loss. I was a second semester senior in college, and despite an incredible amount of growth and community support, I found myself looking into my future with a deep and unrelenting anxiety. First off, I struggled to determine what I wanted to do in the next year (not to mention the much larger perceived struggle of deciding what I wanted to do with my life). Secondly, I felt a deep fear that even if I miraculously decided what I wanted to do, there was no way I’d ever be able to get paid a living wage to do it (let alone a student-debt-alleviating wage).4

While at the PowerShift convention in Washington DC that spring, I ran into two young men standing behind a table with the banner “Summer of Solutions.” A few lengthy conversations later, and I decided to sign on to the SoS program based in the Twin Cities—the land where I grew up, where I’d hardly been since leaving for school four years prior. Why did I sign up? It neatly filled a gap of time between my graduation and a work exchange I had set up starting in late August. It sounded cool. And it would fulfill my guilt-driven longing to bring my new passions and energy back to my neglected hometown. Continue reading

The Joys of Telecommunication

In the weeks since the January gathering the Twin Cities team has been getting used to Skype, lots of Skype. We are currently all in different cities: Patricia is in Minneapolis; Aly is in Northfield, MN; Elizabeth is in Ashland, WI; and Maddie is in Canada. So we have been faced with the challenge of 4 different schedules, 3 states, 2 time zones, and 2 countries. Needless to say I think all of us are pretty excited for when we can all be I the same place.


Patricia and Maddie talking about the Twin Cities program at the Chicago January Gathering

Despite all this we have been having fun and getting a lot done! Only two of us were able to make it to Chicago for January Gathering, so we had fun sharing everything we learned with our fellow program leaders. We planned lessons in Chicago which we then shared with the rest of our team in the weeks following. There was and Anti Oppression session, a Media and outreach session, ahow to work google docs session. We used the time to practice facilitating, and we are planning on having a facilitation recap when we are all back in the Twin Cities.

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Alumni Spotlight: Shoshana Blank

Hello!  My name is Shoshana Blank.  I went to St. Olaf College and participated in the Summer of Solutions in 2009.  I joined SoS because I wanted to get involved in the Twin Cities community with students from other colleges. Also, I was so passionate about trying to create solutions to climate change, I knew from the title of the program that I wanted to be a part of it. I think that I found out about the program through an email from the Environmental Coalition at St. Olaf.

2 Even as young college students, we were able to do some big things in Summer of Solutions-Twin Cities because we were well organized. We could offer solutions to community members and be taken seriously because we had a plan of action and materials to back us up. I am specifically thinking about Cooperative Energy Futures, with structured meetings, a nice website, and a good business model.  I have so many good memories of my time with SoS, and I particularly love my memories from the potlucks we would have, at least once a week. It was such a good way to create community! Continue reading