2019 Community Sustainability Initiative Contest Winners


Big Blue Bookshelves

United Way of Northeastern Minnesota's staff will coordinate and oversee the project which will spread the joy of reading into our Iron Range communities and allow community members the opportunity to increase literacy skills.  We will keep up on stocking the shelves and free libraries with additional books as time goes on.  We will also continue to build shelves and install them in additional locations if there is interest.


Washington School Forest

Our committee wishes to develop the wooded area adjacent to the Washington School site to create an outdoor learning area to be used by all students in Hibbing as well as members of the community.  As educators in northern Minnesota, we understand the importance of helping our students develop an appreciation for the natural resources that surround them. This project will be designed by our school forest committee which is made up of Hibbing elementary school teachers, parents, administrators and community members.  Our group is receiving guidance and support from the Minnesota DNR School Forest Program. Our project will cover the 4.4 acres of wooded area adjacent to the Washington School.


Scenic Rivers Community Garden

The staff at Scenic Rivers—the nursing supervisor, nursing staff and reception staff will launch this new community garden located in a dormant, fenced area at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The church is donating the space. The location is ideal because the garden is in very close proximity to the Scenic Rivers clinic and the local food shelf. Just across the street are the senior citizen/affordable housing apartment buildings (the “Pioneer” and the “Homestead”). The community garden will benefit not only our patients here at the clinic (diabetic, hypertensive and behavioral health) but the Cook community both - young and old. We anticipate vegetables with a sprinkling of flowers to be planted in this garden


SWOP Youth: Growing a Healthier Community


During the summer program of 2019, youth participating in the Summer Work Outreach Project will plant vegetable seeds and plants in two community gardens located at 216 Chestnut Street and the AEOA Youth Foyer in Virginia. The produce will be available for anyone in the community to harvest and enjoy. Youth will distribute flyers in locations visited by those who are food-insecure to increase awareness of where free vegetables can be harvested.  Our project will increase access to locally grown, healthy food for area residents, especially those who are food insecure. It will teach local youth gardening skills and the value of helping others in the community.


KIDS PLUS Learning Garden

Chisholm KIDS PLUS started a learning garden at the Vaughn School to help educate the students on gardening. We have 14 large garden beds and 4 potato barrels. Our main targets are the students at the Vaughn and teaching them skills they can bring home to be self sufficient in gardening. This is the only community/school garden in Chisholm. Last year we visited every classroom 1st-3rd grade to start seedlings to be transplanted to the garden. The students planted seeds in April/May and the last week of school, all the classes got to plant their seedlings into the garden along with seeds that needed to go directly into the ground. During the summer we encourage the students and community to come to garden cub on Tuesdays and Thursdays to tend to the garden, do a garden related craft, and learn some news skills.  By being open to teacher use throughout the growing season and summer, we hope they will use it in the classroom and during the summer.

Community Sustainability Initiative Winners


“Embracing Traditions through Multi-generational Gardening” Mesabi East, Aurora

Students will plan and plant Reminiscence Gardens at the local assisted living facilities and nursing home. They will explore what types of flowers, fruits and vegetables were common during the 1940’s-50’s such as hollyhocks. Both the students and the elders will benefit.

“Helping the Earth With Art” 321 Art Studio, Chisholm

A summer art camp for grades K-6 where children learn to create art out of materials that most people would consider garbage. Held at the Chisholm Library.


“Children and Adults Relating to the Environment” Lincoln Elementary in Hibbing the the College of St. Scholastica

Students in the Master of Social Work program designed a 200x150 foot outdoor learning environment to be implemented at Lincoln Elementary in 2018. The goal is for children and adults to relate to the environment in a healthy way.

“Bike the Heart—Interactive Bicycle event around the heart of the continent” Heart of the Continent Partnership, International Falls

A bike event including an organized and facilitated bicycle ride around the local towns and trails of the Heart of the Continent region in July 2019. The project will partner with the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission’s plan for enhancing mountain biking and winter biking trails in the area



Chisholm Kids Plus - Chisholm Downtown Revitalization

Visit the Chisholm Downtown Revitalization Project Facebook Page for more information.

Hibbing Farmers Market - Site Improvements Project

The location of the Hibbing Farmer's Market has draining problems with heavy rains. Purchasing gravel and other material to fill in the problem areas will allow the vendors and market goers to purchase their goods each week and remain dry. Helping to promote a local and healthy food source for the Iron Range. 


Ely Farmers Market - Ely Community Gardens

The Ely Community Garden is an established area where area residents have access to raised garden beds that are enclosed with fencing to protect plots from local wildlife as well as have access to water. Many of these residents do not have the space, resources or time to build their own garden and the Ely Community Garden provides the space and most resources for these residents to have their own garden plot.  The Ely Community Garden will also act as resource for people to learn more about gardening and growing in our Zone 3 climate.  It will also be a gathering place for the area residents to gather and socialize.

Free Range Food Co-op - Food, Farming, and Co-ops - The Local Documentary Series

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Showing a series of documentaries that focus on local food systems, small farms, sustainable agriculture, and the value of cooperatives in a community.  Each film will be sponsored with other businesses or organizations, creating partnerships in order to collaborate on ways to effectively carry out the documentary experience with our community that fosters learning, and meaningful conversations. There will be a film scheduled each month, starting in May, and going through August. Each event will have food that is pertinent to the film and/or sponsors, with priority being put on recipes featuring local food that we will work to procure from local farmers. Find out more about the film and their exact dates on their Facebook


People's Choice Winner

Northern Lights Community School - Outdoor Wetland Classroom

Designing a wetland restoration project on the grounds of Northern Lights Community School by working with a team to deepen our existing wetland and dig out old soil, rocks and cement pieces. With the goal to restore a natural wetland area to support native plants and wildlife. The finished product will be a self-sustaining Minnesota wetland with native plants to filter road water run-off and a viewing platform to educate other students.  


Ely Area Bee Club – Honeybee Demonstration Hives to Educate and Raise Public Awareness to the Role of Pollinators in Sustainable Agriculture and a Healthy EcoSystem

The Ely Area Bee Club will establish and maintain demonstration bee hives in areas accessible to community members and tourists.  The hives will be used to teach hive management to those new to beekeeping and provide non club members observation and educational opportunities about the role of pollinators and their importance to wildflowers and sustainable agriculture.  Contact Dan Donnelly (taylorislandmn@gmail.com) for more information.


Kitchen Committee of Messiah Lutheran Church – Common Ground Community Kitchen

The Common Ground Community Kitchen will be a commercial grade kitchen where local food entrepreneurs and others can affordably rent a kitchen in which to prepare food for sale.  The kitchen will be operated such that people could reserve space for one time or ongoing usage.  In addition, this community kitchen will be used to hold classes, especially on food preservation, food preparation, and cooking healthy on a budget.  It will be open for an after school or summer program that not only feeds children but teaches them how to grow and prepare family meals.  Contact Messiah Lutheran Church (218-741-7057) for more information.

The Mayor of Mountain Iron speaks at the dedication of the Community Kitchen on June 22, 2016.

The Mayor of Mountain Iron speaks at the dedication of the Community Kitchen on June 22, 2016.

Mesabi Unitarian Universalist Church – Community Garden Demonstration Plot

The Mesabi Unitarian Universalist Church created a demonstration community garden in their neighborhood in the SE section of Virginia.  They plan to plant berries, fruit trees, and a wide assortment of vegetables in raised beds designed to take advantage of the steam line microclimate running through the lot.  This garden will be maintained by the children and adults of the church, but will be available to the neighborhood as a resource for learning organic gardening, composting, rainwater harvesting, and for sharing of our yields.  For more information contact Bret Alexander (raftwv961@yahoo.com).

Veggies growing in the Mesabi UU gardens on July 12, 2016.

Veggies growing in the Mesabi UU gardens on July 12, 2016.

Mountain Iron-Buhl Public Schools School Forest Committee – Bringing Adventure Back to the School Forest

The MI-B School Forest Committee are busy planning making their school forest safe and inviting for all students, teachers and guests.  From snowshoers to geocachers to MN Worm Watch participants– they want to attract the public and local communities of future generations to experience their beautiful resource and maybe learn a thing or two while they visit.  Contact Kristen Busch (kbusch@isd712.org) for more information.

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Thank You CSI Silent Auction Supporters! 

IRPS wishes to thank Natural Harvest Food Co-op’s Change Within Reach program (and Co-op shoppers) and At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe for their support of the CSI Contest in 2016!


Green Gate Gardens – Sustainable Watering System for Local Organic Garden

Green Gate Gardens (on the property of Green Gate Guest Houses) will create a more effective and sustainable watering system for their organic gardening needs.  They will construct an active pumping system to move water from the nearby Embarrass River to the gardens, rather than relying on hauling water in a vehicle several times a week.  Contact Rich Cummings (katdownunder@yahoo.com) for more information.

Cardinal Alliance Towards Sustainability (CATS) – Hibbing Community College and Community Garden

The Cardinal Alliance Towards Sustainability (CATS) will create a space in which Hibbing area community members as well as Hibbing Community College students can garden and learn.  Contact Peri Bovitz (peri.bovitz@gmail.com) for more information.

Hibbing CC Gardens on August 9, 2016.

Hibbing CC Gardens on August 9, 2016.

The North Woods Grizzly Foresters – Sustainability through Construction and Implication of the North Woods School Forest Trails and Bridge Project

The North Woods Grizzly Foresters will construct the first phase of the school forest trails and bridges project at North Woods School.  This project includes designing and installing the first bridge to cross Flint Creek.  The project will lay the ground work for access to the school forest, and it will provide decades of environmentally friendly outdoor learning.  Contact Richard Pierce at North Woods School for more information.

Northern Lights Community School – School Garden and Community Supported Agriculture (People’s Choice Award Winner)

Northern Lights Community School will develop a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program as part of the NLCS Nature Center and School Garden.  The project will promote health and wellness throughout the school and local community by providing fresh organic vegetables to students and the local community.  Contact Matt Alleva (malleva@nlcschool.org) for more information.


Friends of the Greenhouse – Winter Produce Production

Utilize the Olcott Park Greenhouse and produce food that would be sold either by direct contact or through Natural Harvest.  They also won an additional $200 for the Peoples Choice vote at Earth Fest! Contact Ted Grishaber (greenhousefriends@gmail.com) for more information.


Bear River Farms – Pollinator Project

Plant pollinator-friendly plants to encourage butterfly and bee production on their property.  Species of concern are Monarchs and Honey Bees, but also considering the other species who need a safe harbor. Contact Missy Bakker Roach (bearriverfarm@aol.com) for more information.

Northern Lights Community School – Community Recycling Center

Complete a community recycling area on the school grounds.  Northern Lights Community School (Warba, MN) did not have a place for the community to recycle, and the school had a poor set up to accommodate recycling.  The shed is open 24/7 and includes security lights and proper signage to assist the community.  Weekly pick up by Hired Hands of Deer River.  Contact Donna Hanson (lkhanson@paulbunyan.net) for more information.