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A Year In Summary – 2016

Posted on 12/23/2016 in Featured, News & Events

The end of a year naturally brings about a desire to reflect on what we as an organization have achieved, what’s made us pound our heads on our desks, and what’s inspired our passion to continue the work that we do. What I find myself wondering most is “when will our next batch of Christmas cookies be dropped off by a thoughtful partner?” When I get past the thought of holiday treats, I’m amazed at what we, as a small nonprofit organization, have had the fortune and drive to be a part of this year, due to collaborations with hundreds of citizens, government and private partners, and community organizations. This was an incredible year of implementation and development for Metro Blooms. We nearly doubled the highest number of stormwater management installations we’ve ever done in a year (293 projects!) and we dived in to some new territory surrounding youth engagement, boulevards, and environmental justice.

In addition to the new lands we find ourselves in, this was also the first year since 2011 that we didn’t hold our annual Garden Awards event. We had good reasons for this, but it’s left me feeling like we haven’t done our best to recognize our constituents. So, I’m making this blog all about awards – for the best, the worst, the most interesting, and thought provoking people, events, and projects of 2016 (I know some of you just got nervous – don’t worry, it’s all good things:)

Conservation Corps members and volunteers from the Longfellow Raingarden project

Conservation Corps members and volunteers from the Longfellow Raingarden project

This year we partnered with four neighborhoods in Minneapolis through our Neighborhood of Raingardens program, including Marshall Terrace, Sheridan, Audubon, and the Longfellow Community. These partnerships led to the installation of 60 raingardens. Big thanks to the Conservation Corps of Minnesota, Tree Trust youth crews, and some kick butt volunteers from the Longfellow Neighborhoods, Target, and SEH Engineering, without whom we’d still be pondering just how we were going to get 34 raingardens installed in Longfellow over the course of 4 days.

And the Award Goes To: The two Longfellow volunteers we accidentally sent to begin installation without help from any other crew members, and who we found an hour and a half later exhausted, but still giving hell to a particularly stubborn sod kicker.

Really Cool Time Lapse Video of a Longfellow Raingarden Installation

We continued our Blooming Alleys program this year in the Nokomis watershed, Diamond Lake watershed, and the Lynnhurst Neighborhood. We were also able to expand the program north of Minnehaha Creek to the Cleveland Neighborhood in the Shingle Creek Watershed of North Minneapolis. In total, we worked with 93 properties on 14 blocks this year to install 65 permeable pavement projects, 107 raingardens, and 50 native plantings to protect clean water and create native pollinator habitat in our urban landscape.

In a year of average rainfall, these projects alone capture roughly 1.6 million gallons of runoff, 1.3 tons of sediment, and 10 pounds of phosphorus. This is a Really Big Deal!

Really Cool Time Lapse Video of a Blooming Alley Permeable Pavement Installation

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Business owner Keith Nybakke says “before Blooming Alleys, 100% of my runoff was leaving my property. Now, nearly 100% is captured by my permeable pavement and raingardens.”

Business owner Keith Nybakke says “before Blooming Alleys, 100% of my runoff was leaving my property. Now, nearly 100% is captured by my permeable pavement and raingardens.”

And the Citizen Award Goes To: Alley Captains Nancy & Dennis Wolf of south Minneapolis, who engaged 13 of their neighbors to take part in their Blooming Alley project (that’s 50% of their block!)

The Partner Award Goes To: Our funders of course:) Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, Hennepin County, City of Minneapolis, Shingle Creek Watershed Management Commission, Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment, Borgert Products, and every citizen that participates.

One of our new projects this year was working in the Harrison Neighborhood of Minneapolis to install a demonstration “Blooming Boulevard” project at Redeemer Lutheran Church (creative naming is hard, so we’re sticking with a theme…). North of Glenwood Avenue, about 90% of the boulevard trees in Harrison are ash trees. As part of the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s Ash Tree Replacement program, all of these trees will be replaced in the next 5 years in response to the spread of Emerald Ash Borer. While it’s not ideal to lose hundreds of mature trees, this provides an opportunity to turn boulevards from compact, mounded turf grass beds into excavated swales planted with low growing natives. This not only allows runoff to infiltrate in the boulevards, but creates more of that much needed urban habitat. To install the demonstration at Redeemer we worked with youth Conservation Corps crews, Step Up Interns, and the Mississippi River Green Team. They kicked butt, and spent some time each day learning about stormwater management, environmental justice, urban forestry, and career pathways. Working with the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission and the Metropolitan Council we’re expanding this project throughout Harrison Neighborhood and are building on the success of the youth crew education to implement a sustainable land care maintenance program in 2017.

Sheltonn Johnson of Northside Economic Opportunity Network learns the quick way to excavate boulevards

Sheltonn Johnson of Northside Economic Opportunity Network learns the quick way to excavate boulevards

And the Award Goes To: The youth crews who spent over 75 hours throwing shovels and pick axes at boulevards that we’re fairly certain had concrete mixed into the soil. Did I mention it was in the 90s those two weeks? and because they were treeless boulevards, there was no shade.

Mississippi River Green Team plants Harrison boulevards

Mississippi River Green Team plants Harrison boulevards

Completed demonstration boulevard at Redeemer. This one was planted with June Grass

Completed demonstration boulevard at Redeemer. This one was planted with June Grass

We were able to continue our Blooming Schoolyards work in North Minneapolis with the help of a Hennepin County Green Partners grant this year. We switched it up a bit and partnered with Pollinate Minnesota to combine lessons about bees, native plants, and raingardens. Our GreenCorps member John (now staff member) led lessons for over 180 5th graders at Nellie Stone Johnson and Bethune Community school. Our goal was to help classrooms become comfortable using their existing raingardens for education and we’re now working to develop raingarden signage complete with student drawings of the plants in each garden to help facilitate this.

Metro Blooms Staff member John Bly leads a lesson on native plants for students at Nellie Stone Johnson

Staff member John Bly leads a lesson on native plants for students at Nellie Stone Johnson

Two Awards for this Category: First, to Pollinate Minnesota for getting 5th graders to talk about bee sex and dancing for a week straight and allowing us to build on that excitement when we switched the topic to water quality (perhaps not QUITE as exciting as dancing bees).

Second, to the land care maintenance staff at Bethune school, who do NOT mow their raingarden (that’s a not so subtle hint, Nellie Stone).

We also continued our raingarden workshops this year, in conjunction with the Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water program. While our focus for marketing was planting for pollinators and clean water, we find the top reasons people attend are still “to learn the benefits of raingardens” (66%) and “to learn how to excavate and plant a raingarden” (57%). Which is great, because that’s exactly what we want them to do. And they did! As of November, 30% of workshop attendees had either already installed or were currently working on a raingarden and another 51%! are planning to install one in the near future. They’re also working on other healthy yard care projects, like keeping leaves and grass clippings out of the storm drains (33%), using less salt and sand to manage winter ice (18%), re-directing downspouts to a planted area (21%) and actually cleaning debris from the nearest storm drain (20%).

And the Award for Most Honest Survey Response Goes To: The two workshop survey respondents who when asked “how could we have assisted you in the months following the workshop” responded “I want free plants” and “give me a free sign for my garden.” We appreciate your frankness.

The Award for Most Interesting Survey Response Goes To: The respondent who when asked “what was the most important new item you learned today” answered: “Fcow Management.” We’re not sure what you’re talking about, but it sounds VERY important.

Maintenance is a hot topic in the stormwater world right now. We have thousands of installed stormwater management projects throughout the Twin Cities and they ALL need to be maintained. Metro Blooms helps with this in a few ways:
• We contract with organizations and cities to actually do the maintenance. In 2016 this included our work with Minneapolis Public Schools, CommonBond Communities, and the City of Champlin
• We share maintenance resources to help property owners do their own maintenance (thanks to the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District for funding the development of those resources!)
• We’re developing a sustainable land care maintenance program for facilities staff, youth and entrepreneurs to create an affordable, well-trained, and accessible cohort of maintenance professionals for hire

And the Award Goes To: Todd Tuominen at the City of Champlin, for his dedication to and passion for stormwater management and native plantings. In the words of our Landscape Designer Andy Novak, “he’s really inspired!”

Conservation Corps crew maintains Champlin raingarden

Conservation Corps crew maintains Champlin raingarden

In 2015, Metro Blooms became the licensed operator of the Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water program and we maintained that title in 2016. What does this mean? It means we have the fortune of working with 40+ public and private partners including governments, private contractors, nurseries, and nonprofit organizations to advance our shared goal of addressing polluted stormwater runoff by educating, encouraging, and enabling property owners to plant for clean water. The partnership kicked off the year with the launch of the Pledge to Plant – 10,000 plantings by 2020 campaign. In just one year, more than 19 acres have been committed to native plantings through this campaign! We also have a new program website where you can find grants available for clean water projects, sign the “pledge to plant,” and find help for the design, installation, and maintenance of native plantings, raingardens, and permeable pavement.

Blue Thumb partners studying native plants and pollinators at Maplewood Nature Center

Blue Thumb partners studying native plants and pollinators at Maplewood Nature Center

And the Award Goes To: Surly Brewery, for hosting Blue Thumb’s recognition event for the Finest on Earth Blue Thumb partners, and for the great beer. The partner award goes to Blazing Star Gardens for being the first partner to sign their partner commitment for 2017!

In addition to the programs I gushed about above, we took part in some other pretty awesome projects too. These included working with the Pohlad Foundation to install gardens around Fighting Chance in North Minneapolis, a few raingarden projects in Northfield and Faribault with Rice County, St. Dominic’s Church, Blazing Star Gardens, and Nook & Cranny Gift Shop, working with the Conservation Corps and Audubon Neighborhood to install a raingarden at Turbo Tim’s Anything Automotive in northeast Minneapolis, starring in a music video about raingardens, and wrapping up a neat project at the Black Forest Inn with Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center, Earth Wizards, and Twin City Contracting. Due to all of this work, our staff expanded again too. This includes John Bly, GreenCorps member turned Environmental Program Manager; Anna Bierbrauer, Graduate Landscape Architect; and Kim Carpenter, Community Engagement Coordinator. The welcome party is a little late, but we are thrilled they’ve joined our team.

We also continue to run the Garden Evaluation and Awards program (we may not have had an event, but the evaluations live on!), and had nearly 100 volunteers evaluate about a bajillion gardens (actually only 764 but still, pretty impressive).

And the Award Goes To: Carol Kuechler (literally, she won the Nate Siegel award for neighborhood engagement AND the best Environmental Stewardship garden this year). Carol is a Master Water Steward and Alley Captain extraordinaire living near Lake Nokomis who continues to be one of the best advocates we know for clean water and healthy habitats.

Next year we’re looking forward to wrapping up some Blooming Alley projects and beginning others, continuing our work with neighborhoods, delving into the world of stormwater research with a permeable alley monitoring project, piloting a sustainable land care maintenance program and seriously expanding our work with commercial properties, among other things.

And finally, the traditional inspirational quote (or pat on the back) to wrap up the year:

Throughout our expeditions, we always find that it’s the organizations like yours that give us the greatest hope for engaging enough citizens to create the change we need.” – Alexandra Cousteau

Our work is only possible through all of our supportive partnerships with organizations and citizens that care enough to make a change in their little piece of the world. We value you and we look forward to your continued partnership and support in 2017.

Metro Blooms staff and workshop landscape designers at a summer barbecue

Metro Blooms staff and workshop landscape designers at a summer barbecue

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Metro Blooms Blue Thumb program is a public-private partnership promoting the use of native plants, raingardens and shoreline stabilization to improve water quality.