On Thursday March 16, 2017 the people of Minneapolis were given a glimpse of the benefits a more responsive, publically responsible Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) would provide to the city and its residents. The Innovation Lab, organized by candidate for MPRB Commissioner at Large Russ Henry and his campaign, brought together a large group of local food producers, urban farmers, neighborhood activists, and the people of the city to share ideas, thoughts, and concerns about how the Minneapolis Parks system can work to more effectively address critical issues that impact our city, the environment, and our health. The public forum filled the Food Building with a large number of people interested in improving MPLS parks by innovative means that will harness the power of our nationally lauded parks to move forward with big ideas that will provide significant and sustainable benefit for people in every neighborhood in our city. This short video summarizes just a few of these ideas:

The most popular ideas among the presenters and public revolved around using the park land to grow healthy food for the people of Minneapolis, particularly in neighborhoods that have been chronically underserved and underrepresented by the planning and policies of the MPRB and other branches of Minneapolis government. One of the strongest advocates for bringing the resources of the MPRB to bear on these critical issues was Michael Chaney, one of the activists that developed Project Sweetie Pie. This important project aims to establish an educational urban farm campus in North Minneapolis by working with the MPRB. Locating the campus in North MPLS will bring much needed resources to a disadvantaged part of Minneapolis, but the impact of Project Sweetie Pie, especially the proposed greenhouse space, will be felt citywide and benefit local organic farmers all around the region. Michael said it plainly, “We cannot be serious about sustainably growing local food when we are limited to farming from April to September, and greenhouses are the best way to extend the growing season”. Chaney was not alone in advocating for the MPLS Parks Board to dedicate its power and resources to growing healthy food on a larger share of the land they control. Take a couple of minutes to listen to some of the other ideas put forth by your neighbors:

Given the obvious value and tremendous public support for the ideas brought to the Innovation Lab any rational person might conclude that the Parks Board would be working alongside the people of Minneapolis to bring them to fruition. Unfortunately, that logical assumption is only partially accurate. The most recent example of the MPRB working against growing healthy food in the parks is their plan to rebuild the Hiawatha golf course despite sustained efforts by the community to create a food forest while respecting the natural state of the park as a wetland. Unable to defend their decision to continue pumping massive amounts of groundwater contaminated by toxic chemicals that have been banned by many nations around the world and declared a likely carcinogen by the World Health Organization directly into Minnehaha Creek and Lake Nokomis, Commissioner from District 5 Steffanie Musich have demeaned those that advocate a more sensible, healty approach. Under pressure from local communities the MPRB has begun to explore the possibility of growing food in the plans to redevelop the Hiawatha park land, but instead of working with concerned members of the community they have contracted an outside consulting group to plan the future of your neighborhood park. On surface, the approach championed by Musich and her cohorts on the MPRB seems a workable compromise. Yet, only a few moments of critical thought exposes the major flaws in their plan. No matter how the ground water is pumped off the proposed golf course, the cost of doing so will likely ensure its operating at a loss. Moreover, because the MPRB has exempted golf courses from the recently enacted ban on toxic herbicides theĀ  water will be contaminated. Can the current MPRB Commissioners assure the people of Minneapolis that the fruit and nut trees growing next to a rebuilt Hiawatha golf course will not be laden with the herbicides used to kill dandelions on the fairways? No they cannot. I wish I could say that this is the only example of the current MPRB failing to take significant steps to listen to the people of Minneapolis and build on the success of our award-winning park system, but theĀ  thoughtful people at the Innovation Lab tell a different story:

It was encouraging that 5 progressive, visionary candidates for the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board made an effort to show up and listen to the public. It was telling, yet expected, that not a single incumbent MPRB Commissioner or their hand-picked successors could be bothered to meet their constituents and listen to their concerns. Remember my friends, every one of the 9 seats on the Parks Board will be on the ballot in November and it is up to the voters in Minneapolis whether we support candidates like Devin Hogan, AK Hassan, Kale Severson, Chris Meyer, and Russ Henry or allow the MPRB to continue to be the unresponsive, insular, and elitist organization it has become under the leadership of President Anita Tabb and Vice President Scott Vreeland. Remember too, that these progressive candidates need your support at the caucuses on April 4 and the City Convention on July 8. Get active! Together we can remake the MPRB into the innovative, inclusive, and socially conscious elected body we deserve and that will uplift the people in every neighborhood of our city by supporting public workers, maintaining our public lands, and growing healthy parks for everyone.