Urban Farming Episode Recap

Last weekend Dale brought on guests Russ Henry and Jane Shey from Giving Tree Gardens and Home Grown Minnesota to discuss Urban Farming here in Minneapolis. In case you missed the show, you can listen to it here. Read on to get the highlights! When you eat local food you use a lot less oil than food that is shipped around the world. Better yet, food grown organically in your yard can truly be “fossil fuel free food.” But what about my precious green grass?! Grass has just a slightly better run-off rate than concrete – meaning, most water runs off the grass and into the sewer system rather than going back into the watershed. This is a HUGE problem! We are draining of watersheds faster than we are filling them, which will eventually lead to a shortage of water. By planting native grasses or gardens in your lawn instead of grass you can minimize water run-off. A brief urban farming history of Minneapolis: from 1963-2012 it was illegal to farm – aka sell produce from your garden – in Minneapolis. In 2012 those laws were overturned to not only allow but to encourage urban farms. This monumental change was not without resistance though. Some local city politicians (who did not win the support of their party in the following election cycle!) formed a coalition that insisted on market garden licenses for urban farming that would restrict the days that they could sell to just 15 pre-described days per year. Thankfully a little something called the Constitution of the State of Minnesota says in article 13 section 7 that there should be no limits or requirements on the sale of farm produce. Take that status-quo defenders! We are living at a time of revolution for the food system. By taking the matter into our own hands – and into our own gardens – we are changing the culture of food and the impact it has on Earth. Last year there were 106 community gardens in Minneapolis, making a total of 21.5 acres of food production in the city. Right now there are 1500 vacant lots in North Minneapolis, most of which used to have residential property that went into foreclosure. Think of the growing potential of all that land… When you garden you may find that you have a surplus during the harvest season – more than you can eat or store, or give away to friends and family. Our guests suggested a great alternative to letting it spoil: donate it to a food shelf! There are over 75 food shelves in Minneapolis, and all of them need fresh produce. An organization called Healthy Food Shelves is running a campaign to “Plant an Extra Row” so that you can easily donate during the growing season. It’s that simple! Learn more at http://www.healthyfoodshelves.org/ Here are some other great websites mentioned during the show: We Can Grow | They will come set-up a garden for you and teach you how to garden! http://wecangrowmn.blogspot.com/ Gardening Matters | Local Resource Hub, get hooked up with a gardening club and on-going classes  http://www.gardeningmatters.org/hubs Home Grown Minneapolis | Grow, process, distribute, eat and compost more healthy, sustainable, locally grown foods here in Minneapolis. http://www.minneapolismn.gov/sustainability/homegrown/ Minneapolis Dept. of Agriculture | Minnesota Grown, directory of all the farmers in the state. http://www3.mda.state.mn.us/mngrown/ Here is the list of Minneapolis Farmer’s Markets locations and schedules:


The Shift To Solar

Minnesotans have new incentives to invest in renewable energy as a result of this year’s legislative session. An omnibus energy bill passed last month sets the stage for an expansion of solar energy for the state. It is modeled after the state’s earlier energy policies that led it to become a leader in wind energy, currently 14 percent of total power generation.

The new solar energy standard is the most exciting component of legislation. It requires four of the five investor-owned utility companies to provide 1.5 percent of their power supply from solar by 2020. 1.5 percent doesn’t sound like much, especially because the lobbying environmental organizations had the goal of 10 percent, but it is still something to celebrate. 1.5 percent means a shift from just 13 megawatts today to about 450 megawatts of solar power in the next 7 years. That’s about a 30 fold increase according to Midwest Energy News. What’s more, is that 10 percent of the new solar generation must come from systems that are 20 kW or less, signaling a priority to keep individuals a part of this energy transformation.

For the home- or business-owner this new legislation means more solar rebates and financial incentives from the state and energy companies. Just how they will work or what exactly they will be are still up in the air. Details of such programs will be decided upon in the coming months.What we know for sure is that a Solar Incentive Program for systems less than 20 kW will run from 2014-2018 and will be funded at $5 million per year by the Renewable Development Fund (for Xcel territory only), and the Made in Minnesota (MiM) solar modules incentive will continue, with $15 million per year provided from 2014-2023, including $250,000 per year for solar thermal systems.

The unfortunate reality is that only about 1/3 of all buildings meet the requirements to be able to hold solar panels, leaving some people who would otherwise invest in this new technology unable to get in the game. With this group in mind, a provision of the legislation allows for the development of community shared solar, or “solar gardens.” A group of individuals can invest in a shared system not more than 1 MW, as an alternative to installing solar panels on their property.

Other highlights of the legislation include: new energy studies on on-site energy storage, the value of solar thermal, and other miscellaneous energy topics to be completed by the Department of Commerce; Guaranteed Energy Savings Program contracts extended from 15 to 25 years on state buildings; and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing terms extended from 10 to 20 years.