IRON RANGE – Our region is a little greener, a little better read and a little more connected after a group of innovative people put sustainability grants to work in their communities.
Each year, the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability (IRPS) awards $500 grants to individuals interested in making their communities more sustainable and sustainable. Grants are awarded at the annual Iron Range Earth Fest at Mountain Iron, which takes place on April 23.
Earth Fest, along with the Sustainability Grants, took a few years off due to the pandemic. Here’s a look at how the latest round of grant recipients put these grants to work.
The Community Sustainability Initiative (CSI) aims to provide Northeast Minnesotans with the opportunity to take action in one or more of the three areas of sustainability: local economy, community, and environment.
Students at Washington Elementary School in Hibbing used their 2019 grant to turn a 4.4-acre wooded area next to the school into an outdoor classroom, said Kindergarten teacher Melinda Ruzich. Washington Elementary. Conservation Corps of Minnesota workers cut a trail through the forest, then the school forestry group added gravel to define and secure the trail bed, Ruzich said.
They were able to build a small bridge over a watershed and purchase a collection of books, magnifying glasses and binoculars to improve students’ use of the forestry classroom.
The group also received guidance and support from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources School Forestry Program. The outdoor classroom can be used by all Hibbing students, as well as members of the community.
Cook’s Scenic Rivers Medical Clinic used its 2019 CSI award to build a community garden. They plowed, weeded, planted and grew vegetables for those who worked in the garden and for the patients of Scenic Rivers. Gardeners grew broccoli, cucumbers, pumpkins, onions and tomatoes.
“Our first year has been a success,” said Pam Rengo, a former nurse supervisor at Scenic Rivers Health Services and one of the project’s organizers.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Cook donated the garden space. The soil hadn’t been turned in about 10 years, making building the garden “quite an undertaking”, Rengo said. She added that they hope to continue and even expand the garden space in the future.
“With a bigger garden and more community volunteers, we hope to have a bigger community impact,” Rengo said.
In June 2019, youth ages 11 to 14 who participated in the Summer Work Outreach Project (SWOP) helped plant flower beds in two community gardens in Virginia, former executive director Dawn Trexel said.
The gardens were then located at 216 Chestnut St. and the AEOA Youth Hall. Products from these gardens were available to all members of the community who needed them. SWOP youth harvested some of the produce and brought it to people staying at Bill’s House in Virginia, and residents of the AEOA Youth Center enjoyed the produce from this garden.
Project partners included Lori Schiebe, coordinator of the Growing Together Community Gardens, who helped maintain the gardens. Other community members, including Dr. Keith Peterson and his family, also helped maintain the gardens throughout the growing season.
The United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) used its 2019 grant to create and distribute 10 pallet shelves to help build community literacy. Board members and volunteers worked to build and paint the rustic shelves, said Elizabeth Kelly, director of resource development and events at United Way of Northeastern Minnesota.
Shelves were distributed throughout UWNEMN’s service territory, filled with books from the Imagination Library as well as books collected through the organization’s local book drive.
“The project will spread the joy of reading in our Iron Range communities and allow community members to improve their literacy skills,” said Kelly. “We will continue to stock shelves and free bookcases with additional books over time.”
Project ideas that have been submitted for the 2022 Community Sustainability Initiative include planting pollinator-friendly gardens around the Iron Range, installing and improving pocket parks in downtown Chisholm, planting a food forest in Olcott Park, Virginia; improvements and programs in Hibbing and Ely. Farmers markets, construction of outdoor classrooms and community gardens, and more!
This year’s grant winners will be announced at Iron Range Earth Fest, in a small ceremony held in the lobby of the Mountain Iron Community Center at 12:30 p.m. has a chance to weigh in on the best sustainability improvement project with the People’s Choice Award. Stop by the community center from 10 a.m. to noon and vote for the best project. The project with the most votes will receive a $200 People’s Choice Award! The Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability Board of Directors selects the four recipients of the $500 grants. All submitted projects are eligible for the public prize.
Each of these grants is made possible through generous donations to the Iron Range Earth Fest Silent Auction. Companies across the iron chain are offering auction items and gift certificates to raise funds for these grants.
The silent auction will be filled with a wide array of handmade crafts, jewelry, stoneware, original artwork, heritage objects and furniture, themed baskets and certificates for experiences local. It will also include quality cookbooks, gardening books, art books and how-to books. Minimum bids vary greatly depending on the retail value of the item.
This year’s silent auction will be held in the main hallway of the Mountain Iron Community Center. It will be open until 2 p.m., one hour before the end of Earth Fest. We encourage you to visit the Silent Auction at the start of your Earth Fest day to place your initial bids, then return to check your bids before closing time.
If you would like to donate an article, please email Bobbi Zenner at [email protected] Donation items can be brought to the Mountain Iron Community Center on Friday, April 22 from 4-6 p.m. or Saturday mornings from 7-8:30 a.m.
The Silent Auction at Earth Fest is not to be missed! We can’t be quiet about this and we hope you won’t be either. See you on April 23!
Janna Goerdt lives and runs Fat Chicken Farm near Embarrass and sits on the board of the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability. She can be reached at [email protected]
Reverend Kristin Foster has been a Hometown Focus contributor since its inception in 2008. Retired from ministry at Messiah Lutheran Church in Mountain Iron, she also serves on the IRPS Board of Directors. Pastor Foster lives outside of Cook with her husband, Frank Davis.