• 16 Jun 2016 7:51 PM | Anonymous

    By: Liz Hasty

    My husband and I recently moved in to our first home. It is quite the upgrade from the tiny condo we moved out of including the backyard space. The previous owners of the house had put raised garden beds in the backyard and my husband and I couldn’t wait to get our hands in the soil this spring.

    My father is Italian and all through the dozen plus moves my family made when I was kid, my dad always had a tomato plant and some basil growing in our yard. Depending on the space, we sometimes added in hot peppers, lettuce and my favorite, strawberries. My dad would make big pots of sauce with the tomatoes and basil and over pasta, as a family, we would discuss ways to keep the squirrels out of the garden.

    Following in my dad’s footsteps, I planted tomatoes, basil and an assortment of vegetables. I’ve been lucky to not have squirrels in my garden… yet. I want to explore new ways to cook with my veggies and I’ve begun to check out some cooking classes around town. Cooking classes can be really expensive, but I have found some places that really give you a lot for your buck.

    Gale Woods is a working farm located in Minnetrista. For just $12, I learned how to pickle and can a variety of vegetables. At the end of the three hour class, each participant took home four small jars of their pickled creations. Gale Woods has a beautiful space and offers classes throughout the year. Most of the food used in their classes come from the farm itself. They even have classes where you pick the food first (or milk the cow or gather the eggs) and then cook it together. What a great way to show your kids where our food really comes from.

    My second favorite place is Theodore Wirth Pavilion located in Minneapolis. They offer a variety of cooking classes throughout the year including how to use essential oils in your cooking and summer camps based around cooking for kids. For $8, I spent a cozy winter’s evening with my neighbor and a warm cup of hot chocolate, learning how to make krumkake. We made four different varieties with plenty to sample and take home.

    What are some of your favorite places to take cooking classes in Minnesota? Leave your comment below. I would love to hear from you!

  • 16 May 2016 9:44 PM | Anonymous member

    Books to Compliment the Outdoor Classroom
    By Angela Bianco

    This spring, Dawn Publications donated 3 of their new spring books, Over the Farm, Green Bean! Green Bean!, and Wild Ones: Observing City Critters  to us.  I wanted to try to these books with my elementary students.  The book that I used with 4th grade students was Wild Ones. This is a fun book about all of the animals and biodiversity of the city.  Wild Ones is  told through the eyes of a dog. This is great for 4th graders as we talk about point of view.  Before reading the book, students could take a walk around their neighborhood and note the life they see. After the book, have them do the same thing and see if they notice more.  This book helps students focus their observation skills and is fun to read. 

    A kindergarten class read the book Green Bean! Green Bean!  This story is about the life cycle of the bean.  This book is a good fit for kindergarten because it tells the story in rhyme and lends itself to discussions about sequence.  The story starts in the spring and goes through each of the season and shows what is happening to the bean.  This is a book that would be a good fit for young gardeners.  It highlights the process as well as the patience and reward of gardening.

  • 18 Apr 2016 8:53 PM | Anonymous member

    The Growing West Side Seed Library (Seed Library) is a small, volunteer-run program which distributes flower and vegetable seeds to community members in the West Side neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota.  The Seed Library strives to educate and engage the local community in topics of gardening and sustainability. Goals include promoting self-reliance and healthy food choices. 

    The Seed Library began operating in 2014. It is modeled after other similar programs in Duluth, MN.  It is run solely by volunteers in a public library space and is open twice a week, during planting season. A variety of donated plant seeds are kept in a cabinet for patrons to view.  People may take up to 3 seed packets per visit. Participants taking seeds are asked to sign in, and provide name and contact information, but are not required to have a library card or other form of identification.  

    The Seed Library is a program of the recently founded Growing West Side organization, which is committed “to building a stronger community by supporting the development of community gardens and access to healthy food.”  Growing West Side has also worked to develop a weekly farmers’ market in the West Side neighborhood of Saint Paul, as well as other activities.  After the first season of Seed Library operations, lead volunteers decided to merge the education branch of Growing West Side as part of the purview of the Seed Library, because of similar goals and outreach strategies, as well as benefits from consolidation to shared efforts. 

    Educational programs have included children’s classes on Sunflowers, V is for Vermiculture (worm composting), and Jack and the Beans on the Boulevard.  Adult classes are held on a variety of topics:  Starting Seeds Indoors, Winter Sowing, Fruit Tree Pruning, Edible Landscaping, Fruit in Northern Climates, Chickens in the City, Garlic Growing, Seed Saving, Bees, Bean Summit, Healthy Cooking, as well as master gardeners on site with the Seed Library.  Volunteers have provided children-focused activities, including using the library’s regular story hour for gardening-related books and activities.  Another volunteer has incorporated arts and crafts activities for children related to the seed library, such as paper plate “peas in a pod”. 

    Partners include Gardening Matters, a local non-profit organization with a similar mission, and the Riverview Branch of the St. Paul Public Library (Riverview Library).  The Riverview Library is located in the heart of the West Side neighborhood of Saint Paul.  The building was built in 1916 and is one of three Carnegie libraries in Saint Paul.  The historical structure was renovated in 1989.  The library has provided a staff person as a liaison to the West Side Seed Library, who participates in regular planning meetings.  The library also provides meeting space for the planning meetings in addition to hosting the seed library.

    Approximately 200 people participated in the Seed Library during the initial year, which included both children and adults. Participants had a wide range of previous gardening experience.  Some had never gardened before, while others were very experienced and brought in their heirloom seeds to contribute to the seed library collection.  A common question came from people who do not own property and were unsure if they would be able to plant seeds. 

    In the first year of the Seed Library, there was no budget.  Seeds were donated by seed companies and Gardening Matters.  Local residents also began donating seeds, throughout the spring and summer.  Next year, the Seed Library plans to have a small budget, perhaps $100, to purchase some seeds in bulk.  These funds have largely come from the sale of worm compost tea, donated to the Seed Library. If additional funds are available in the future, they may be used to support programming and classes.  The Riverview Library may be able to assist by purchasing items for classes held on site. 

    The Seed Library is staffed entirely by local neighborhood volunteers, with a lead volunteer coordinator.  One of the co-founders of Growing West Side, who is a master gardener, has also been highly involved in planning and staffing the Seed Library as well as teaching classes.  Another volunteer has created a database for tracking the seeds and the Seed Library patrons and also provides the data entry.  There are approximately 10 regular volunteers in total, but the group is “always looking for more volunteers.”

    The interview took place at Sarah Foster’s home, where she hosted the first fall planning meeting for the Seed Library.  A stew of butter beans and kale was served amid lively conversation.  Sarah is the lead volunteer and coordinates the meetings as well as much of the outreach and planning.  I began the meeting by explaining a bit about the evaluation process and my goal to have it be a useful activity for the group.  Three volunteers, in addition to Sarah, were present.  Interview questions were interspersed with broader discussion about the future of the Seed Library, over the two hours.

  • 08 Apr 2016 7:31 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Tell Minnesota decision-makers: Protect our Pollinators!

    Minnesotans are doing what we can to protect bees. But to turn the tide on pollinator decline, we need our decision-makers like you to step up and create stronger policies at the state level to protect our pollinators. Minnesota needs policies that truly protect pollinators:

    • Restrict neonicotinoids: Neonics are a driving factor in pollinator decline. Minnesota should immediately restrict or suspend their use.
    • Fund farmers to implement pollinator-friendly practices: Farmers who transition away from using neonic pesticides should be supported for their pollinator-friendly practices. The state can create initiative to support farmers.
    • Restore local control over pesticide policy: Minnesota's "preemption" law prevents local government from passing pesticide policies that are stricter than state law. This keeps local communities from setting their own standards for pesticide use.
    • Increase transparency about pesticide use: When pesticides are applied, they don't stay where they're put; they often drift to contaminate our air, water, crops or beehives. We have a right to know when and where pesticides are applied. Minnesota needs a pesticide use reporting law. 

    Tell Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture, Commissioner:

    Tell Governor Mark Dayton: 651-201-3400 or submit a message to him at:

    Tell your legislators: who represents me? Look it up at

  • 13 Mar 2016 3:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    girl holding watering canSchool gardens are alive and well in Minnesota! With a packed house of over 350 attendees, the 4th annual Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Conference was a success. Teachers, parents, administrators, master gardeners, and other school garden practitioners and supporters came from all over the state for this one-day event hosted by the Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Coalition, University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Program and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

    The morning kicked off with a video tour of school gardens around the state, compiled by the Jeffers Foundation. The audience was welcomed with a prayer by Janice Bad Moccasin of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Rose McGee, creator of the "Sweet Potato Comfort Pie Initiative - A Catalyst for Caring and Building Community” lit up the stage with her presence and welcomed the keynote speaker, Betti Wiggins.

    Betti Wiggins is a national leader in nutrition and food service management as the Executive Director of the Office of School Nutrition for Detroit Public Schools. She is responsible for school-based meal operations in 143 schools and has prioritized locally grown foods and “clean-label” foods for her students. In 2011, under her leadership, the Detroit School Garden Collaborative (DSGC) was established which currently supports 78 school-based gardens and a 4.5 acre school farm. She spoke about the role that good, healthy food plays in contributing to self-determination for all in her community. She employs youth throughout the summer months to help maintain the school gardens. The school farm is run by students age 18-26 who have developmental disabilities and receive valuable job training skills at the farm. She advocates for a healthy food system, bringing about change at a systems level so that not only the students are eating the healthy food, but that education, investment and commitment reaches to the food service staff, teachers, families, and wider Detroit community as well.

    After a delicious local lunch (including a slice of Rose McGee’s Sweet Potato Pie!), attendees got to choose from a wide range of sessions including DIY Hydroponics, Garden to Cafeteria, Farm to Childcare, a Principal’s Roundtable, Square Foot Gardening, Growing Small Fruits, Pollinators and Beekeeping, STEM in the Garden, and Winter Gardening in MN Classrooms. If you weren’t able to attend, many of the resources shared in these sessions are available on the Schoolyard Garden Conference webpage. Be sure to check it out!

    Inspiration and excitement was in the air with all of the ideas and connections being made. The momentum will continue as schools plan for Minnesota Schoolyard Planting Week which was announced at the conference. Governor Dayton has proclaimed May 23-27th, 2016 Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Planting Week. Be sure to learn more and add your school to the list at

    Stay tuned for information about next year's Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Conference - save the date for March 2-3, 2017! Stay connected to the Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Coalition all year through facebook!

  • 16 Feb 2016 8:14 PM | Anonymous member

    The Inner Child of Winter

    By Jennifer Parker

    When those first beautiful white hexagonal crystals fall in late November, even the most cynical and seasoned Minnesotans secretly feel that thrill of childhood, complete with an inward squeal of excitement. By the time February rolls around however, the stark white and bitterly cold rhythm of a Minnesota winter is one that non-natives may find unbearable, transplants find taxing and even natives can find challenging. It becomes harder to access that inner child (unless you happen to be a teacher that gets a snow day).  Cold hurts. Waking up blissfully in the dark of the night to a quiet, beautiful snow can quickly morph  to a panicked thought: “I have to get up at least an hour earlier to shovel”. This is a season that can prove very difficult to keep up the enthusiasm of learning outdoors. By the end of February, the pristine white has usually turned ugly brown and treacherously icy. Some days just the thought of walking outside is a lot to bear.

    When the late winter blues start to rear their ugly, slushy head your way, nature has provided us with a few shreds of hope to keep you sane and convinced that there is indeed beauty and joy to be found in every Minnesota month of the year. If you are not convinced of this, I challenge you to go to either a playground or a dog park on the next snowy day.

    It was one of those bitter cold days and the last thing I wanted to do  after de-icing my car and having the polar vortex blow through my snow pants was go out again in the waning light. My husky pup, Denali, however, needed to get his exercise and mark his territory. There was still fluffy snow and if I put a scarf over my hat and wore two pairs of gloves, I thought I could make it to the lake and back.  Head down, we trudged over to the park. As we reached the main path, Denali burst from my grasp with enthusiasm and literally leaped up on all fours with elation. The fresh snow was his joy. He rolled and wriggled and leapt up again. He buried his face in the snow and pushed himself along the snowy path like a bulldozer.  If dogs can smile and laugh, it was happening. It was contagious. The air suddenly seemed less frigid. Or maybe it was my cold heart thawing.

    The next week the snow was mostly melted but the low area in the woods behind school had turned into a virtual skating rink. Now back in the day, this would have meant off limits for kids for fear of injury. At an environmental school, however, it is an opportunity to explore the water cycle and test properties of matter. With some strategic safety pre-teaching, a gaggle of 3rd graders were soon gleefully sliding and investigating the unique properties the melted and refrozen precipitation afforded. Rubber slid against the earth-tainted frozen vernal pond, and balance was practiced by all. Smiles celebrated the conquer of a new substrate and laughter filled the hollow in the woods.

    The air was chilly and a cold mist filled my lungs. A contentment called February reminded me that unique beauty comes to us in every season. We only need to stop and notice it.

  • 18 Dec 2015 9:06 AM | Anonymous member

    By Kristen Poppleton, MAEE board member and Director of Education for Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy

    There are moments you remember from your school years. Moments when your teacher brought some topic or issue to life so well, that it still sticks with you today. It is my hope that this past week will be one of those moments for many of the students we connected with through our Window into Paris program. I want the Paris Agreement to be a historic moment, so that in 30 years, when it comes up in conversation as the day we turned the tide on climate change, these students can say, “oh, yeah, I remember that. My teacher was there and she/he made COP21 come to life; that made climate change real for me.”

    So, the deal is this. For this to be real and historic, we have a responsibility to make it so. Our last night in Paris, we sat together as a group and talked about the week and what it had meant. You can hear the Education Ambassadors talking about this in their video blogs, but a consistent theme was the sense that we all had the responsibility to take more action. The sense that, although we were already working hard on this issue, we had to work harder. Close to 200 countries may have sat down together and come to an agreement, but the agreement wasn’t enough and we all knew it.

    So what do we do next? How can our actions be commensurate with the history that needs to be made? I honestly don’t know the answer to that entirely, but I feel a newfound weight of responsibility to go beyond what I have already been doing. To try some new things and go outside my comfort zone. Here are a few ideas I will share, knowing that when something is declared publicly, it is more likely to be accomplished.

    1) Activate! Most of my family, friends and colleagues will tell you that I do not self-identify as an “activist.” I am not comfortable in confrontational and highly visible situations. If there is one thing I will take away from being at COP21 though, it is that citizen voices united are not only powerful, but something leaders expect and look to when making decisions. The Paris Agreement may not be “legally binding” in the strict sense of the word, but there is language in it to which we need to hold our leaders accountable. If 1.5 degrees is as an ultimate goal, or red line, then we need to use our voices to demand that it it realized.

    2) Make sure climate change is in our educational standards. If you are in education or work with teachers, you know that if you want to guarantee that something is taught, you make sure it is in the standards of the school, the district, and ideally the state. One of the primary goals of bringing teachers to COP21 was to elevate the importance of climate change education as a part of the solution. The success of the Paris Agreement relies on innovations not yet developed and the knowledge and awareness that climate change is the issue of our time. Close to 15 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, the first national standards to include climate change. Making sure the other 35 follow suit is integral to ensuring that climate change will be taught in our classrooms, and preparing a climate-literate generation ready to meet the challenge of this issue. I will make this a focus of our education program and empower teachers and students to raise their voices in asking for climate change standards.

    3) Vote for individuals who think climate change is important. We don’t have time for the ridiculous debates over the legitimacy of climate change that continue to ensnare US politics. The rest of the world has moved forward. Almost 200 nations of the world have agreed that climate action must happen. When I vote for any elected official, including school board, county commissioners, mayors, etc., I will ask them what their stance is on climate change action. If they stumble, or deny it is a problem, I will make sure I tell them that it is – and that they need to address it. In addition, I won’t shame those who have been deniers, but are trying to come back to reality. I will praise them for being leaders and offer them the opportunity to make up for their past transgressions.

    4) Stay positive and hold on to hope. This is hard work that we do, with a high emotional toll. It is of utmost importance that we continue to enjoy our lives, hug our kids, play outside, take time out, and do what we need to reboot. Despite all of its inadequacies, the Paris Agreement gives me hope that the world does recognize this: that climate change is the issue of our time, and that we truly do stand together, around the planet, in working collectively towards a cleaner, cooler, more resilient future.

    Kristen Poppleton is an outgoing board member and Director of Education for Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. Kristen spent the last two weeks in Paris, France, at the Paris Climate talks or COP 21 co-leading a delegation of 10 education ambassadors to observe, learn and communicate back to their classrooms. To read their blogs and watch past webcasts visit

  • 15 Nov 2015 2:03 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Boys in leaves

    By Jennifer Elsen, MAEE Board Member

    Baby it’s cold outside! Fall is here and winter is on its way to Minnesota. So dress warm and get outside to experience the joys of nature and the changing of the season.

    Like many of you in the EE profession, I grew up spending most of my childhood exploring the outdoors and our natural environment. The outdoor world was my playground. My family was the main influence in creating my love for nature. I grew up spending my summers in the north woods. I spent hours with my maternal grandmother picking wild berries, hiking through the forest, observing wildlife, and appreciating the beautiful land. 

    boys in rain

    One of my favorite memories is when we’d walk quietly through the forest tracking animals by their footprint or scat, or when she would name a bird we heard calling from the treetops.

    Childhood memories like these are what drive us to teach about; advocate for; and make the natural world part of our daily lives.

    Today my focus is on working with early learners sharing my passion and building a love for nature in others. For if someone loves something they will cherish it. Children are our hope and future for this world. As Dr. Jane Goodall says to all her Roots and Shoots youth members, “I hope you will be inspired, as I was, to do all you can to make the world a better place for all living things.” I know that I am.

    Since infancy, we have learned about the world through our senses. Being out in nature heightens those senses and stimulates us to the wonders of our natural surroundings. So don’t just get yourself outdoors, encourage others to get out with their friends and family members to explore natural areas just outside their doors this winter.

    Have you ever heard the saying there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing? So, don’t forget to bundle up!

  • 14 Oct 2015 11:36 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Callie Recknagel, MAEE Board Member and Farm to School Coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture

    October is National Farm to School Month! What’s so important about Farm to School, and how does it relate to environmental education? 

    The National Farm to School Network breaks down Farm to School into three parts: 1) Local food procurement, 2) Education, and 3) School Gardens.

    Most people identify Farm to School with getting local foods into the cafeteria. While that is a big part of it, there is so much more that is included in this big umbrella of Farm to School. It’s about helping people understand where their food comes from, how it is grown, connecting them to who is growing it, and helping them appreciate the work that goes into providing them with healthy food everyday. It’s about the hands on experience of getting your hands in the dirt, planting a seed and watching it grow, learning what goes into making plants thrive, and being able to harvest that food from the garden and taste the freshness and the flavor and feel the pride of eating something that you grew yourself. 

    Seeing the look on a child’s face when they pull a carrot out of the ground for the first time will never get old. Those looks are full of wonder, disbelief, awe, and excitement. All of that makes those students more eager to try that carrot, and increases the likelihood that they will enjoy it! Involving students in the act of growing their own food, or connecting them to the process in some way can have a deep impact on building their long term healthy food habits. 

    There are so many ways to integrate farm to school and school gardens in all subjects. Check out some of these resources to learn more and get inspired to celebrate Farm to School month!

  • 21 Sep 2015 9:11 PM | Anonymous member

    Fall is quickly arriving with the crisp evening temperatures, still warm and sunny days, and that autumn feeling in the air.  Another phenomenon in the air in fall is the seasonal bird migration!  It's a spectacle to behold, and coming this October 3rd, MAEE is hosting an event in which you can choose to visit one of North America's premier bird-of-prey migration spots.  You don't have to travel far, however, since this amazing spot called Hawk Ridge is in Duluth!  Fall is one of the best times to be in Duluth with the migration and the fall color display underway.  Don't miss it!

    On Saturday October 3rd, MAEE is hosting a Feast Forward at Hartley Nature Center in Duluth from 9 am to 3 pm.  The event will include an expo of Duluth area environmental education organizations in the morning, lunch at Hartley Nature Center, and a choice of afternoon outdoor programs at Hawk Ridge or Hartley Park. 

    Find out what is happening in the EE world in the Northland and get out to enjoy the fall colors.  We hope to see you there!

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