Energy resilience group looks toward localizing food production

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Some St. Anthony Park residents who have done what they can to make their homes more energy efficient have turned to “retrofitting a neighborhood,” as one leader of the Energy Resilience Group put it recently.

Lois Braun said “localizing food production” looks like a good first step toward making the neighborhood less dependent on fossil fuels. The group has supported efforts of several projects already under way and continues to look for opportunities. The Energy Resilience Group emerged from the now-inactive Neighbors for Peace, said one of its initiators, Michael Russelle. It has become a subcommittee of the St. Anthony Park Community Council’s Environment Committee.

The group started with discussions about the book Plan C, by Pat Murphy, which describes ways to respond to the twin pressures of global warming and declining availability of fossil fuels, according to Russelle.

Responses can include ignoring the problem or making it worse, he said, but “Plan C is that the community works together to come up with a vision to reduce their footprint.”

Similar efforts are under way in many cities, Russelle said, including Transition Twin Cities (transitiontc.org), through which neighborhoods embark on a mission to build resilience against climate and energy uncertainty.

“We’re part of a broader movement,” Russelle said.

Braun connected the group’s work with “permaculture,” which she described as “taking some of the principles you observe in natural ecosystems and applying them to human activities.”

Given how broad and abstract that definition is, she said, “on a practical level, what most people grab onto is this edible landscapes idea,” planting food in places that have heretofore been ornamental gardens.

Accordingly, the Energy Resilience Group has been looking around for land in St. Anthony Park that might be converted to food production. But rather than trying to acquire land and start farming themselves, the group has chosen to reach out to existing organizations.

Members have been pleasantly surprised so far, Braun said. They recently met with Luther Seminary staff and discovered that “Luther is already very interested in earth-keeping.”

Braun also attended meetings in support of a city STAR grant for the Joy of the People soccer program at South St. Anthony Recreation Center, which seeks $13,000 for a one-third-mile walking path, a community garden and a sand court. The City Council will choose STAR grant recipients at a July meeting. 

Braun and another Energy Resilience Group member did a walk-around of the grounds with JOTP staff to help plan the project, she said.

Another Energy Resilience Group member, Nick Jordan, has been working with parent groundskeeping volunteer Wade Johnson at St. Anthony Park Elementary School, where ideas include an apple orchard.

Johnson, a landscape architect whose specialty is ecological design, said he’s excited about the idea of developing an energy-resilience demonstration project at school, although his experience with public projects tells him there are significant hurdles to be cleared.

For one thing, he said, the school property is small, and there’s long been demand to add parking. “Every square inch of school property is at a premium for doing something,” he said.

And because of the turnover in parent volunteers, a plan for year-round care would have to be in place in order to avoid adding to the already underfunded maintenance burden at the school.

Nevertheless, he said, “we’re trying to figure out if the school is at a point where this could fly.”         

In addition to gardening, Russelle said, the Energy Resilience Group has discussed transportation alternatives, including a “circulator” bus that could ferry people around the neighborhood, possibly under electric power.

Even something as simple as a bench installed near a sidewalk can enhance the neighborhood’s energy efficiency, Russelle said. “A rest area makes it easier to walk.”

Russelle said he’d like to see energy efficiency become a stated priority in the neighborhood’s small-area plan, a document approved by the City Council and used by the city’s planning department to guide future development.

The group is planning a survey of neighborhood residents and businesses in the fall, Russelle said, asking “What is your vision of St. Anthony Park in 30 years?”

According to Braun, the group exists mainly to come up with ideas and help other organizations solve energy-related problems. “Our objective in the Energy Resilience Group is to pass seed around,” she said.

“If other people pick up and run with it, great,” she said. “It may not be our vision, but let’s see what their vision is.”

The Energy Resilience Group welcomes new members. For information, contact Tim Wulling at twulling@earthlink.net

 

Anne Holzman lives in St. Anthony Park and is a frequent contributor to the Park Bugle. Maxine Lightfoot contributed research and writing to this article.