Resilient Action Day on Sept. 23

If you haven’t heard (maybe we’re not shouting enough!), we’re hosting our third Resilient Action Day on Friday, September 23. After two (very!) successful RAD events, we thought, “You know what would be awesome? Another RAD event.” So, we (and I use the term loosely, because I only push what we’re doing out to the media) put together a HUGE lineup of workshops

“Resilience is pretty much what I’m about, especially in my day job,” said Steve Dahlberg.

Dahlberg, Director of Extension at the White Earth Tribal & Community College, simply


Homemade sauerkraut 

stated, “Resilience is a verb, or at least it should be. I’m not really into theoretical resilience.” Dahlberg will be instructing a class on homemade fermentation, focusing on foods such as kombucha, vegetable ferment, and sourdough bread.

And, that’s the whole point of these workshops. They are meant to give you the knowledge to head straight home and utilize what you’ve learned.

Other hands-on workshops you can attend include herbal tea, essential oils, and even hoop house growing.

“We are just beginning to understand the…values of high tunnels, like growing fruits that could not ordinarily survive in our zone,” stated presenter Kathy Connell, owner and operator of Redfern Gardens Produce out of Sebeka, MN. “High tunnels are a fun and exciting project for anyone!”

Which reminds of a road trip several years ago that the HDT team took up to Grand Rapids to see the University of Minnesota Extension’s Demonstration Day. We saw several different hoop houses and dozens of different plants & trees growing underneath these hoop houses. The possibilities are just huge.


Jim C. shows off a campus hoop house at last year’s Resilient Action Day.

If you want to get in on the fun, there’s several ways to do it. First, you need to go to our website ( and sign up online. This will BEST guarantee your spot. However, If you’d rather send a check or stay offline, that’s no problem. Simply call Michelle at 218-587-2303 to get your registration started.

RAD coordinator, Quinn Swanson suggested, “With limited space available, we highly recommend early registration. We’ve been sold out in the past.”

The cost for the full day is only $20, with several of the workshops offering optional, take home materials, for an additional fee.

The day starts at 9am and will go until 5pm. There’s a lunch break at 12:20 where you’ll be able to enjoy any of the dozens of options that downtown Pine River offers.

Sign up today!

Nature Notes: Fall Foliage


Fall has unofficially arrived and with it has come cool evenings, dewy mornings, jeans and sweatshirts, fall harvests, pumpkin spice everything, and yes, the first leaves to change color! This month is known as Waatebagaa-giizis to the Fond du Lac Ojibwe, a name that literally means “Leaves Changing Color Moon”. The brilliant colors of autumn are one of the most beloved phenomena of the season, but do you know why the trees change colors?

First we need to understand a little about how trees function. Humans have a circulatory system that pumps nourishing blood throughout our bodies, distributing oxygen and nutrients to all our systems. Trees also have a transport system to move resources throughout their structure. Meet xylem and phloem.  Xylem is a system of tubes and transport cells (vessels) that help circulate water and nutrients absorbed by the roots throughout the rest of the tree.  Xylem tissue dies after a year, resulting in the annual growth rings in the trees. Phloem is the system of transport cells that is responsible for distributing the sugars/carbohydrates (food) and other molecules created by the tree itself during the process of photosynthesis. The leaves of the tree have a complete connection to the rest of the tree through these two systems.

Now, let’s talk colors. Chlorophyll is a pigment that absorbs blue and red light, but reflects green light, causing it to appear green.  This light absorbing pigment is found in the chloroplasts of plant cells, where it helps absorb the energy that is required for photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is a rather unstable compound that can be broken down by bright sunlight. Since leaves need chlorophyll to make food, they are constantly producing more chlorophyll throughout the summer. There are other color pigments in the leaves as well.  Xanthophylls and carotenoids are both pigments that work with chlorophyll to harvest energy from light. Xanthophylls appear yellow in color and carotenoids appear orange, however we don’t see these colors during the summer because they are masked by the chlorophyll. But now autumn is causing some changes in our trees.

At the base of each leaf, where the stem attaches to the branch, leaf-scarthere is an area known as the abscission zone. This area acts like a bridge, connecting the leaves to the rest of the tree through the xylem and phloem, which allows nutrient laden water to enter the leaf and sugars/carbohydrates made in the leaf to spread to the rest of the tree.  The autumn signals (decreasing temperature and day length) cause chemical changes in this abscission zone, resulting in the formation of two layers of cells. The first is the separation layer, which is like a corky membrane between the branch and the leaf stem. This membrane interferes with the xylem, and therefore the flow of nutrients into the leaf.  This decrease in nutrients causes a decrease in chlorophyll production. The bright fall sunlight deteriorates the chlorophyll pigments that are present, causing the green color to fade from the leaf, revealing the other colors that are present – the yellows and oranges.


“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood” – Robert Frost


The brilliant reds are another, more complicated story. The red or purple color in the leaves is created by anthocyanins, water-soluble pigments that are dissolved in the sap inside of the cells in the leaves. Anthocyanins form from the reaction between the sugars and certain proteins in the cell sap. This reaction cannot take place until the sugar concentration in the sap is very high, which happens in the fall. When the abscission layer begins forming and starts reducing nutrient flow in and out of the leaf, water cannot get into the leaf as easily and the sugars cannot get out of the leaf as easily. This causes the sugar concentration to spike and the anthocyanins to form. These pigments are sensitive to the pH of the cell sap, so if the sap is very acidic, the pigments are bright red; if the sap is less acidic, the pigments are more of a deep purple. The formation of anthocyanin requires sunlight (as does the breakdown of chlorophyll), so it is quite common for the leaves at the edges of the trees, where they are exposed to the most sunlight, to change colors first.


In the fall, trees are trying to recover the last remaining sugars in the leaves before they drop them. Many scientists ponder the evolutionary reason plants would expend energy to produce brilliant fall colors. is of using valuable sugars to create brilliant colors instead of storing those sugars as food for the long months ahead.  There are a few different theories as to why trees produce anthocyanins. Some believe it functions as a sort of sunscreen, protecting the remaining chlorophyll in the leaf in order to keep the dwindling ability to generate energy during this crucial period.  Some believe that when leaves containing anthocyanins fall to the ground and decompose, they release something into the soil that discourages other plant species from growing. Less competition would mean the tree would have more nutrients available to it in the spring, when it needs a lot of nutrients to grow all new leaves! Others believe the formation of anthocyanins may help prevent frost injury to leaf tissues or limit water loss during autumn dry spells.  Some entomologists believe they produce fall colors as a way to warn off pests! Leaves that contain a lot of red/purple color indicate a lot of anthocyanins, which a tree could only produce if it was healthy and producing a lot of food for itself. They believe the bright colors may cause certain insects that lay eggs in the fall to choose a host plant that is drab and weaker in comparison. Neat, huh?!

Whatever the reason for the production of these colors, I am grateful – the result is beautiful! Eventually, the sunlight will deteriorate all the colorful pigments, leaving nothing but the dull brown pigment caused by tannins in the leaf.leaf-scars As the separation layer continues to grow, it weakens the attachment of the leaf to the branch and the leaf eventually falls off. Now, the protective second layer forms from the deposition of fatty materials where the leaf used to be, making a leaf scar. If you look closely at a leaf scar, you can see the bundle scars, which form from the xylem that carried water and nutrients to the leaf. The leaf scar shape and number/formation of bundle scars differs between species and can be useful for tree identification, particularly during the winter.


The best fall colors come to us after wet summers (check), in falls that are warm and sunny by day, but cool (not freezing) and dry by night.  The leaves have already started changing, so get ready to observe the show! The weather forecast looks like we’ll soon be seeing cooler nights, which will hopefully bring out some colors. The yellows will kick off with the birch and sugar maples, followed by the basswoods and aspens. We’re already seeing the red maples and sumac turning red, and later they’ll be joined by the red oaks. Did you know Minnesota has nearly 4 million acres in 50 different state forests, all of which are free to the public? Check one out this fall!  You can track the color change around the state by using the MN DNR’s Fall Color Finder.  So make sure you plan a weekend this fall to get outside and admire the reds and yellows blending together on Minnesota’s awe-inspiring landscapes! Enjoy!

“Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.” – Lauren DeStefano


SPROUT. Not Your Ordinary Market

With over 75,000 farms in the state, Minnesota is the 5th largest food creator in the nation. Yet, in 1978 there were over 100,000 farms in Minnesota and the number is continuing to shrink.

The decline can be attributed to larger farms (over 100,000 acres) taking over for the family run-farms or many current farmers are simply retiring out with fewer people choosing to go along the same profession. But, for those that have picked up the mantle of farmer, they have changed the way local produce is bought.

Let’s take a look at Arlene Jones. Purchasing a farm in Brainerd in 2005, Jones didn’t want to simply be a production farm. She also didn’t want to utilize conventional farming procedures. She discovered that reaching to her community, she was able to create a vibrant food production location.


Jone at her St. Mathias farm location. Photo courtesy of Brian Peterson – Star Tribune

She became aware that despite her success, there were many other producers that were struggling to reach new customers. These were smaller farms, farms that were much less than the 100,000 acre production farms that are currently seen as “the norm.”

Jones looked to smaller family founded farms from across central Minnesota and through countless hours of knocking on doors, hoofing from one location to the next, and dialing again and again, helped coordinate over 40 local and regional food producers into a large “hub” of like-minded small-market farmers. This eventually came to be known as the SPROUT Food Hub.

From their website, SPROUT “manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products from over 40 local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.”


Jones in front of the SPROUT food hub truck.

What this essentially means is that SPROUT will take a truck and drive to the markets and even the farms, themselves, and pick up the produce that is ready to be sold. This gives a larger scale market for the producer and a more secure supplier for the buyer. It’s win-win.

But, it always didn’t work so smoothly.

“It didn’t start overnight,” recalled Jones. “It took a lot of time calling up local producers, asking ‘What do you have that’s ready tomorrow? What can be ready this afternoon?'”

Jones also said there were times it was difficult. “Starting out, we also sent a lot of calls to the buyers saying ‘If you can wait a couple of days we’ll have your full order of cucumbers ready.'”

In other words, Jones put the time and effort into the hub so other smaller-scale food producers would have a better chance of success.

With Jones in the lead, the SPROUT Food Hub has been able to fill many retail locations, local restaurants, wholesale buyers, and even six central Minnesota school districts.

It was only a matter of time before another spoke in the sustainable wheel of local food production was deemed necessary. On April 1, 2015, the SPROUT Marketplace celebrated its grand opening to rave reviews. Political dignitaries, both federal and state, made the event.


Jones at St. Mathias Farm. Photo Courtesy of Brian Peterson – Star Tribune

The SPROUT Marketplace is currently serving four areas: As an indoor farmers’ market that will include local artists and crafters, a shared-use licensed kitchen facility, a cooking demonstration kitchen, and a storage place for the aggregation of the food collected through the SPROUT Hub.

Jones hopes to see the Marketplace scale up aggregation and distribution to continue to meet growing demand. She also sees it providing technical assistance to growers so they can continue to scale up production and possibly expand and diversify their products to include meat, cheeses, and more whole grains.

“We’ve created a location with kitchen facilities that can be utilized to create value-added options for growers, value-added by consumers and other food entrepreneurs. We want to see the kitchens used for grower education, as well as consumer education,” Jones forecasted.

Jones sees the Marketplace as a community hub that will help bring producers and buyers together all year long.

The Marketplace is also planning on maintaining the momentum of the summer production months by offering monthly events in the off-season. Dates scheduled for the fall of 2016 are September 10, October 22, November 19 & 26, and December 10 & 17. If you are interested in participating in the any of these market events as a grower or maker, you can download the vendor forms at the SPROUT website.

Jones said, “Our long-term goals [of the Marketplace] are many, but I see us hopefully increasing awareness of the natural bridge between art and agriculture and its importance on social cohesion and economic development.”

So, it’s not all doom and gloom here in central Minnesota. There seems to be hope for the small farmer.

Also, there are a ton of other articles on the SPROUT Marketplace across the web.
Chelsey Perkins wrote recently on the kitchen instruction classes in the Echo-Journal. Early last year, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Tom Meersman highlighted the uniqueness of the food hub in Little Falls. The Initiative Foundation, a fantastic non-profit located in Little Falls, which helps small businesses and communities in central MN, has the story of the necessity of food hubs in an international world in their IQ Magazine.

And, of course, Joe H. and I put together this little video in our series on the SPROUT Food hub.

So, if you’re a vendor, this seems like a really awesome opportunity to show your produce and crafts during the slow winter season. If you’re a consumer, this seems like a really awesome opportunity to get your local produce during the slow winter months, not to mention, get a head start on your holiday shopping lists.

Nature Notes: Feathers are Flying

During the last few days, I feel like I can notice fall slowly approaching. The decreasing day length and dropping temperatures are a signal to birds (and even some humans!)  to start preparing to head south. Despite the misconception that birds don’t like the cold, many birds can survive freezing temperatures, so it’s not necessarily the cold that drives them away. It’s our waning resources. It’s hard to find food – whether that be seeds, worms, mice or something else –  when everything is covered in snow. Migration can be defined as a movement from areas containing few resources to areas containing abundant resources. In the spring birds head north in a hurry, following the emergence of insects, prey, and plants that are important to their diet. The Northwoods provides an abundance of insects throughout the summer, which is a crucial source of protein for nestlings. Now, as fall slowly approaches with winter right behind it, many of these resources are beginning to disappear and our local birds have one foot out the door. But how can they fly hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles? How can they sustain themselves? Their flight? How do they even know where to go? While many aspects of migration still mystify scientists around the world, light has been shed on some of the secrets of migration.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 9.46.35 PM

Photo Credit: Cartoonist Group

Birds were born to fly. Not ground breaking news? But really, they are fine-tuned flying machines. Many people are aware of the importance feathers and hollow bones play in the role of flight, but it goes much deeper than that, quite literally. Nearly all of the organ systems in a bird have been modified to aid these creatures in their remarkable mode of locomotion. Their skeletal and muscle systems provide the physical requirements for flight. They have pneumatic bones, meaning there are air spaces in between crisscrossing struts, which allow the bones to be strong, yet light. Many of their bones are fused together, including all of the vertebrae (except for the ones in their neck) providing the rigidity required for flight. The sternum has a large, thin keel (below in blue) protruding from it, serving as an attachment area for the massive muscles involved in flying. The location of the keel helps keep the main mass low in the body, increasing aerodynamic stability during air time.


Even their digestive systems are designed to process an energy rich diet quickly and efficiently. Birds need to eat a lot to keep up with the high energy demands of flight, but they don’t want to be carrying around that extra weight as food moves through the digestive system – so it does so quite rapidly! A shrike can fully digest a mouse in three hours; a thrush can digest a meal of berries in just 30 minutes! The circulatory system has to work fast enough to support this high metabolism. Birds have a four-chambered heart, like mammals, but it’s quite large and strong, comparatively. It also beats extremely fast (a chickadee’s heart beats 500 times per minute at rest, increasing to over 1000 beats per minute while active!) to create a high pressure system capable of keeping up with the high metabolic rates required for flight. How can their bodies keep up with the oxygen demand? Birds have very unique lungs that utilize a series of air sacs for storage that essentially provide the bird with an almost continuous stream of oxygenated air. They also have a very efficient, vascularized system for getting oxygen to the muscles to sustain flight. Even their excretory system is modified to fly! Birds excrete waste in the form of uric acid, which has a very low solubility compared to the urea of mammals. This means they have a much less of a need for water and therefore carry less water weight. Anything that reduces weight is going to make it easier to fly! Lastly, birds have the most developed sense of sight in the animal kingdom – not a bad thing to have if your transportation method is head-first, high velocity flight. Incredible, right?

bird academy

Check out all the cool anatomical features of birds in the All About Bird Anatomy interactive!

It gets better. Their navigational systems give their anatomical systems a run for their money. Bird migration is highly varied – some travel thousands of miles, some travel to the state next door; some migrate in one long continuous flight, others travel more leisurely, stopping many times to refuel; some go one way north, then take a different route back south. But no matter how they choose to migrate, they have to know where to migrate to. Different birds use different methods and many likely use a combination of more than one method. Some birds navigate by visuals – they follow topographical landmarks such as rivers, mountains, lakes, etc. Some birds have a magnetic compass that uses the earth’s magnetic fields to align them in the correct direction for migration. Other birds have an incredible “internal clock” that keeps track of time extremely accurately. They can then use this clock in collaboration with the sun’s movements to figure out directions. But not all birds migrate during the day when they can use the sun. That’s okay, because birds have a solution to that, too. Experiments conducted in a planetarium proved that some birds use the stars as a map, orientating themselves using the location of the constellations that rotate around the North Star! However they complete this magnificent feat, it truly is quite astonishing. The Arctic Tern, the world’s record holder for migration distance, navigates north past the Arctic Circle to reach is summer breeding grounds and then south to Antarctica for it’s wintering grounds – a distance of nearly 12,000 miles! These birds can live to be over 30 years old and the distance they fly in their lifetime is the equivalent of flying to the moon and back… and then there and back again… and then once more.

So it’s time to get outside and observe some of these awe-inspiring birds as they pass through briefly! Unlike in the spring, when birds are singing to attract mates for the breeding season, our fall migrants tend to be fairly quiet. Many species are already on the move, like warblers, great blue herons, nighthawks, swallows, martins, and orioles. In September, we’ll see migration kick up a notch with geese, sparrows, flickers, kingfishers, robins, juncos, grosbeaks, and hummingbirds. By October, many of the lingering water birds will also depart, including mergansers, ducks, loons, and swans. If you want to help, make sure your feeders are full this month as birds need a high caloric diet in preparation for their journeys!

So get outside and watch the action! If you’re looking for an exciting adventure, take a day trip up to Duluth’s Hawk Ridge. This spot is along the primary Midwestern migration route for many species of hawks. If you go on a September day with winds heading south, you are bound to see many – observers frequently count thousands in a day! Even if you don’t see any, you sure can’t beat the view.  While you’re there, there are many hiking trails to explore where you can see many migrating species besides hawks. Or check out one of the many other Important Birding Areas (IBAs) in Minnesota!  Even if you just head out around home, there is a lot to see this month! So get outside and enjoy some brisk hikes in the beautiful scenery of fall!

Odd Stuff, Straight From the Farmers Booth

One of the most fun thing to do at a farmer’s market for me is to talk up the vendors. They talk about the flavors of one veggie compared to another on their table. They joke and they have stories. They’ll let you know when the lettuce in front of you was picked. They’ll make sure you know that if they don’t have it, they can get it for you.

But, what I really like about chatting up stall vendors is that they know they best ways to eat what they’re selling. They’ve put the time into testing and retesting then tasting and re-tasting their produce to be able to tell you what way it should be prepared. And, let’s be honest. Who better would know how a veggie should be prepared than the people whose livelihood depends on its delicious conclusion? No one, that’s who.

For the most part, these veggies, fruits, and plants are commonly known. But, once in awhile, there are things sold at markets that just do not fit into what you’d normally find.

I took the time to ask some of my co-workers what they’ve found at their local markets and I was surprised at what they said.


An air plant can survive with just mist.

Campus & Project Support Assistant, Hannah K. talked about what she’s found at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market. “The one thing that I saw that was really neat were air plants.”

I had never heard of this before, but Hannah said they’re really cool. They’re a plant that doesn’t need any soil to survive. In fact, all you really need to do is mist them daily in the summer and only once a week in the winter months.

Hannah continued, “The care I was told to do was actually to submerge the plant in water for 10 minutes and then prop it on a paper towel for 4 hours. With the higher humidity in the summer, I’ve found I don’t need to care for it at all and in the winter, I cheat. My air plant is in a container with a lid, so I take the lid off when I think of it and let it breathe. It’s perfectly happy that way.”

Janis R, our HR Manager, told me about her local farmer’s market down in the Florida panhandle. The market was full of cool stuff, but what she liked the most were a pair of earrings made out of beer bottle caps.

When I took a trip to Greece with my beautiful wife in 2014, we made it to a large bi-


The Pepino Melon tastes like a mix between a cantaloupe and cucumber. Yum.

weekly market. Among the normal things (that you’d find in a marketplace along the ocean) like fish, olives, and clams, I found some things that just were so odd I had to take a few pictures of them. Like this almond-shaped melon. I discovered that it turned out to be something called a Pepino Melon and tasted almost exactly like a cantelope.



The Guyabano is also called the Soursop Fruit.

When my family took a trip to Hawaii, we found something that looked like a giant spiky green heart. We heard you were supposed to squeeze the guyabano and mix the juice with other juices to drink. It had white flesh, but was pretty sour. I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone, especially if there were any of the other normally found fruits, like pineapples or kiwis. However, if you’re adventurous…


But, enough of these far-flung farmer’s markets! What about the local markets? Well, one of the things that I thought was pretty odd that has been showing up at many of the weekly markets, is the bison meat. That’s a pretty neat thing to find, I thought. Another would be the hand-collected bags of wild rice. It takes a bunch of work, but they taste delicious.

Also, at the Pine River Market Square, you can grab a homemade goat’s milk soap with many different colors and fragrances.

So, what would you recommend to the snob of the world? What is something that you’ve found at your local market that is heads and tails the most unique thing that no one else has seen?


Unique Farmer’s Market Finds

Farmers markets are becoming more popular than ever. It’s a combination of knowing where your food is coming from, shopping local, and eating healthier that seems to be the reason. However, there’s a large variety of produce being introduced that the majority of shoppers are not really interested in trying.

We know that August is the best time to harvest all types of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos, and other familiar produce. These are the staples of our summer. But, it’s time to try new things, to venture out of the familiar and into the unknown. Here’s a variety of veggies that are unheralded, but full of options. They only need a chance!


Daikon is a milder form of radish

1) Daikon Radish

Milder than a normal radish, you wouldn’t be alone in thinking a Daikon Radish looks like it belongs in the neighborhood of a carrot. Growing to be about a foot long, the daikon radish is a long root that looks like a white carrot. It is available at markets in peak times from mid July through the end of September.

But, just what can you do with it? Some people choose to eat them like carrots, preferring the mild spicy flavor. However, here’s something that is simple to do, but can increase the flavor.

Daikon Radish Chips


Daikon Radish, washed, peeled and sliced thinly (almost see-through)
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Turn over broiler on to 400
Mix the daikon slices with the oil, paprika, and salt & pepper. (Make sure the oil is lightly used. Too much will burn the slices)
Lay slices on a cookie sheet
Cooking time will vary, so watch closely


Endive is pronounced On-Deev

2) Endive

If you’ve got a hankering for a slightly bitter leafy green, this is the veggie for you. Endive is available through August and into September. You can read about the very difficult process of growing and harvesting the finicky green, but the taste is worth it. Try this recipe for Endive Salad and let us know how it went.

Endive Salad w/ Walnuts, Pears, and Gorgonzola (from Simply Recipes)


3 Endive heads, sliced lengthwise, then crosswise in 1/2 inch slices
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp crumble gorgonzola
1 bartlett pear, cored and chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Teaspoons cider vinegar
Sprinkle of kosher salt

Place the endive in a large bowl. Toss in the chopped walnuts, gorgonzola, and chopped bartletts. Toss to desired mixture
Lace olive oil on salad. Add cider vinegar over salad, next. Toss to desired mixture.
Serve immediately.


Kohlrabi in bunches.

3) Kohlrabi

Kohlrabis are a tricky food to get around. They can be one of the most delicious veggies you’ll find at the market, but you have to be careful. If you pick one too large, the texture and flavor will be off, (some describe it as a “woody” flavor). The key to choosing a good one is to either get your kohlrabi in the early part of the season, when they’re smaller and more juicy. The other method would be to grab a variation called Gigantar, which is exactly like it sounds. These are giant kohlrabis which maintain the crunch and flavor (like a mix between broccoli and a cabbage heart). The only downside to picking these large ones is deciding what to do with all the deliciousness. Here’s a detailed (but delicious!) recipe to help out:

Vegetarian Spring Rolls w/ Shredded Kohlrabi.


1 3/4 oz thin rice sticks
6 oz marinated tofu, cut in dominoe shape
1 medium carrot (shredded)
1/2 pound kohlrabi, peeled and shredded
1 Tbsp ginger, cut julienne
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons mint leaves
7 8in rice flour spring roll wrappers

Place the rice sticks in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 20 minutes, or until the noodles are pliable, and drain. Transfer the noodles to another bowl. Using kitchen scissors, cut the noodles in half, into roughly 6-inch lengths. Leave the warm water in the bowl for softening the wrappers.
Meanwhile, toss the shredded kohlrabi with salt to taste and let sit in a colander placed in the sink for 20 to 30 minutes. Squeeze out excess liquid and toss with the carrot, ginger, chopped cilantro and slivered Thai basil or mint.
One at a time, place a rice flour wrapper in the bowl of warm water until just softened. Remove from the water and drain briefly on a kitchen towel. Place the softened wrapper on your work surface and put a line of tofu slices in the middle of the wrapper, slightly nearer the edge closest to you, leaving a 1 1/2-inch margin on the sides. Place a small handful of noodles over the tofu, then place a handful of the shredded vegetable mixture over the noodles. Lay a couple of sprigs of cilantro and a Thai basil leaf or a couple of mint leaves on top. Fold the sides of the wrapper over the filling, then roll up tightly. Arrange on a plate and refrigerate until ready to serve. – Thanks to NY Times for the recipe.


Jicama has been described as a “savory pear.”

4) Jicama

You are going to be in for a treat with Jicama (pronounced HICK-a-muh). With a taste that crosses snap peas and water chestnuts with the texture of a fresh pear and juicy apple. These are fantastic to eat right out of the basket (after peeling). You can eat them with hummus, in stir fries, or just eat them fresh. These will please most any palate, but here’s a recipe that will please everyone:

Jicama Salsa Recipe:


2 cups peeled and chopped jicama
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp chili powder to taste
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 medium cucumber, peeeled and chopped
1 medium orange, peeled and chopped

In a large bowl, combine jicama, cilantro, lime juice, chili powder, salt, cucumber, and orange
Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours
Serve with chips

Nature Notes: A Magical Micro-Realm

As you look for ways to get outside this month to enjoy the last days of summer, I challenge you to take a closer look at a world we typically take for granted and tend to ignore.  It’s easy to admire a nest of baby birds, a fawn following its mother, a snake slithering through our garden, or any other larger animals that easily catch our eye. But this month, take a closer look at the micro-realm of insects and spiders.

Insect and spider abundance is at a high this month, as we reach peak temperature and vegetation abundance. There is  an overwhelming diversity of species filling every habitat in Minnesota! Giant swarms of moths, caddisflies, and a myriad of other small insects are attracted to our porch lights, facing the danger of lurking spiders, frogs, and toads eager to catch meal.  Mosquitoes, deer flies, ants, and orb weavers fill our forests. Our meadows are alive with butterflies, grasshoppers, grass spiders, crickets, bees, leafhoppers, cicadas, crab spiders, and beetles. Our ponds, lakes, and wetlands are spotted with dragonflies, damselflies, horse flies, whirligigs, water striders, and fishing spiders.

Many of us think of these “creepy crawlies” as the worst part of summer. Sure, we might enjoy a beautiful butterfly fluttering by, but wasps, mosquitoes, gnats, ants, and flies? No, thank you.  During our time spent despising their annoyance, we are missing out on an opportunity to appreciate an incredible diversity of life, an unimaginable array of adaptations, and most importantly, a fundamental source of energy for much of the Northwoods wildlife we love!

These “pests” provide food for many species of wildlife in Minnesota.  Insects feed an unbelievable array of birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and even mammals! They feed our song birds, shore birds, frogs, toads, turtles, snakes, small fish, bats, and shrews.  Insects make up a massive portion of the lower end of the food chain, providing plenty of food for our smaller animals, which in turn become food for our larger predators, like osprey, eagles, herons, raccoons, otters, and more. Even many of our seed-loving songbirds put their plant diet on hold in favor of a more protein-rich insect diet during nesting season. Raising young requires a lot of protein, and insects are a perfect source of this much-needed nutrient!

I recently took my niece and nephew on a bug hunt near our house. We quickly found well over 30 species of insects and spiders in under an hour.  I made a comment about a particularly beautiful butterfly and my wise-beyond-his-four -years nephew told me, “Auntie, all bugs are beautiful in their own way”.  And he was right. These tiny organisms are amazingly well adapted to their own tiny niches in our environment. It is easy to overlook them, but once you start to notice their remarkable diversity and innovative life strategies, it’s hard not to feel in awe of them.  So take a moment this month and instead of cursing this new wave of mosquitoes, immerse yourself in the micro-world of insects to see what beauty awaits you!  Here are some of the wonders I’ve found. Click on the images for more info and to enlarge them.

Dragonflies & Damselflies


 Grasshoppers, Crickets, & Cicadas

 Butterflies & Moths



What better a way could you spend the last days of summer than taking your family outside to get close to nature? A fascination with bugs is innate in many children, so get outside and search for wonders of your own in the micro-realm of insects and spiders!

Just the FACs, Ma’am.

Happy Dancing Turtle is excited to launch it’s new Family Adventure Club! Once a month we will gather families together for fun-filled, low-cost, local adventures that focus on getting your families outdoors and exposed to nature.  The cost is $5/family/event, unless otherwise noted on the online registration form (we may have to pay a rental/equipment fee for some events).

We’re kicking off Family Adventure Club with a trip up north to Longville! Join us Saturday, August 27th at Camp Olson YMCA for a day of fun in the sun! You can either meet us at Camp Olson at 10:00AM or meet at the Pine River Chamber at 9:00AM to caravan there.  Once there, we’ll have some introductions, get the need-to-know on equipment, and the rest of the day is yours to swim at the beach, roll on the lumberjack log, play in the sand, play a game of beach volleyball or bean bag toss, or even try paddling a canoe, kayak, or stand up paddle board! Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in the shade.  At 2:00PM, you can choose to take an optional tour of the rest of the camp or head on home!

Sign up is required, and you can do it here! 

The rest of our Fall Schedule is as follows:

Grab your hiking boots on Thursday, September 15 for our Geocaching Extravaganza! We’ll be using GPS units in this modern day treasure hunt as we search environmental-themed caches hidden on campus! How many can you find?


When the fall colors hit, you’ll want to be outside! Join us on Saturday, October 8 for a Fall Colors Walk as we explore the beauty of the season. We’ll meet at the Pine River Chamber and caravan to a nearby park, admire the colors, learn about some of Minnesota’s native trees and the animals that call them home, and play some games.

Can you find the Big Dipper? The North Star? Orion’s Belt? Have you heard the stories behind the stars? Joins us on Friday, November 11th for a Night of Astronomy as we explore the mysteries of the solar system and the night sky above. Be dressed to go outside, weather permitting.

What is a Complete Street

After doing some research on the topic of biking in MN, something came to my attention that I had to write about. This concerns the “Complete Street” movement. But first a succinct (but thorough) definition: Complete Streets is a program designed to make our transportation grid as accessible as possible to all forms of travel; looking at the needs of cars, bikes, autos, baby strollers, skateboarders, unicycles, and pedestrians.

The ultimate goal is to make getting from one place to another as safe as possible with as many choices as possible. Currently, when you look at a road there is one mode of transportation that is considered and valued above all others, and that of course is car traffic. City planners are focused on getting traffic through from point A to point B as quickly as possible.


NE Brainerd

Let’s take a look at this street. (Nice pic, Chuck Marohn. Thanks!) Here you see a wide avenue in northeast Brainerd. It’s wide (for the area) and can easily support four lanes (two for traffic, two for auto parking) of autos. But, one glaring omission would be any designated route for bikes. Since it’s a residential area, there is limited traffic and any danger from car traffic is minimized simply because of the residential nature of the area. However, this street offers one choice, or at least it is structured for one choice, (cars, baby!) If I were riding my bike down this street, I would have to brave one (of four) car lanes.

Now, if we look at this picture, we can see a little more busy street. However, can you see the difference in the street layout? Where there were zero lines to differentiate between car and bike traffic in the last picture, this street has clearly marked lanes for bicycle and car use. There are curb cuts on the sidewalks for pedestrian use and if you look in the distance you can see a roundabout. It also has narrow lanes which keeps traffic moving in a safe (*read slow) manner. These details make the difference and clearly define this street as “complete”. It offers more choices for the residents.


A “Complete Street”

So, here’s my observation. It can be very difficult to actually define what a complete street needs; too difficult, I think, to maximize each dollar needed for renovation. With so many ways to create and maintain a street, how, in other words, can we define the ultimate goal for each street?

Is creating as many choices as possible for the residents the final goal? I think that, ultimately, city planners have an obligation to create neighborhoods that meet as many residents needs as possible. But, at what cost? I had a chance to talk with a Complete Streets representative last year at the Living Green Expo and he offered up this theory: Every street in the state has to meet the needs of its residents. But, that does not necessarily mean that every street must have bike lanes, defined curbs, sidewalks for pedestrians, or other flair. A rural county road serves its purpose as a means for getting cars through and is in a sense “complete” in that they offer a need for the majority of the users. If 95% of the users for this county road choose to use their vehicles there is little need for alternative choices.

This is where my confusion comes in. If a road is designed for the one choice, how can we be sure that other choices are needed? Now, I’m all about offering up every alternative to the gas chugging beasts to other low emission (high fun!) modes of transportation. But there is only so much available tax revenue we can use on transportation. So, how do we decide what a street needs to be defined as a “complete street”?


A Dual Mode Street

I love this picture. First off, it shows how beautifully simple a street can be. But more importantly, it shows that a compromise can be made in terms of modality. On the right side, you can see your basic county road that offers service to all motorized vehicles. Yet, on the left side, snuggled safely on the other side of a boulevard, you can see a bike/walking trail.


Up here in central MN, we have the Paul Bunyan trail, which has the same basic layout as you see in this picture. A recommissioned railroad trail was paved over and now runs parallel to Highway 371 for about half of its 112 mile length. Now, it took loads of money and backing to get this trail in the condition it is now (wonderful!). And before the trail was made, there was very little bike traffic along the highway. But! Now that the trail is in place and offers that alternative to car, Highway 371 is bustling with bike traffic. The small towns (trail towns, they’re called) along the trail are using this increase in choice as a way to supplement their vitality. Repair shops, restaurants, recreation areas, and lots more attractions are making the choice to bike an attractive one.

Now this is just a single case study, but I think the conclusion holds true. If you build choices into your streets, these choices will be used. Or as my ghostly voice says, “Build it and they will come.” So, it comes down to what you want to include in your community. Do you want increased bike usage? Do you want to limit car fumes or traffic related injuries? Do you want a healthier community? These are things that you must consider when designing a complete street. Because once these streets have attractive choices, people who crave these attractions will come and use them.

What’s Goin’ On 06/24-0626

Weekly Events!
Friday – Farmers’ Market (Pine River Market Square – Farmers’ & Crafters’ Market), 2:30-5:30pm, Downtown Pine River. See Facebook for updates.
Friday – Duck Races!, 2pm, @ the Dam

Saturday – Ideal Green Market Farmers’ Market – Ideal Corners next to the Old Milwaukee Club; 9am-1pm. Facebook for info.

Special Events!
Friday – 371 Flea Market, 9am-3pm, Near the Depot and Chamber Info. Center, off 371

Thursday – Sunday – Cass Co. Fair!, LOTS of family fun! Check out the schedule here.

See you at the Market! OR Fair.🙂