Tapestry: An Evolution in Our Ecosystem

commentary about how people connect with the environment

Catherine Fleming: Project Sweetie Pie and Beyond

I am the treasurer of Project Sweetie Pie (PSP), which began as an urban agriculture- based group focused on providing low- income folks and minorities with free access to healthy food. Over the years, we have evolved to become a recognized voice for environmental issues that disproportionately impact our community.

PSP’s primary goal has been to provide access to healthy food, healthy environment, adequate housing, living-wage jobs, and opportunities to build generational wealth. I want to educate the African American community about how climate change disproportionately impacts our people. Many studies confirm that low-income and minorities are primarily impacted by climate change.

White folks are the direct beneficiaries of slave labor. Although they may condemn racist behavior, they enjoy the benefits of white privilege. White folks need to be active participants in addressing racial and economic inequality.

Providing access to healthy foods is even more critical, with the current pandemic. PSP’s partnerships with Safe Routes to Healthy Foods, the Minneapolis Foundation, The Family of Trees, Northside Green Zone, the Environmental Justice Coordinating Council, and others, enables us to continue to inform our community.

It is critical that our community stay focused and united. Stay safe, stay informed, stay alert, and continue in love.


Angela Dawson: Supporting Black Farmers

I got into food security and cooperative economics in 2003 when I helped organize food co-op meetings in North Minneapolis. I have longed for a co-op model that serves the needs of my community. In 2019, a group of us Black farmers and business owners put our financial and social capital on the line to create Forty Acre Co-op, a nationwide organization with a mission to support socially disadvantaged farmers.

I am a third-generation farmer, and went into farming full-time after a long career in academia, public health research, and legal writing at a university. At Forty Acre Cooperative, we conduct research, collect data, and publish research reports. We are in the process of developing our own Minnesota tolerant hemp seed strain.

We started with the goal of helping Black farmers enter the hemp business with technical and financial resources. We have the additional issue of the criminalization of Black people as it relates to hemp and cannabis, and the presumption, by some, that we are growing illegal plants and we are not a legitimate business. This excludes us from some banking access.

We were able to launch the co-op without a lead funder, the USDA, SBA, or any government grants, which for middle-class Black people is rare. Our vision is grand, and our mission is imperative, especially when we examine the dynamics that play into significant health and wealth disparities in Black communities. Agriculture and food security impacts our quality of life on a daily basis.

We are a women-led co-op and are training members around Minnesota. We are working with tribal members in northern Minnesota who need technical and financial assistance to take their business to the next level. We have farmers as far south as Halifax County, Virginia. One client is a physician with a specialty in pain management. Another is a tribal member and single mom who wants to offer healthy food and medicinal plants to her family and community.


Ashley O’Neill Prado: Carving My Path

I can remember a time when I did not even like camping in an RV trailer let alone backpacking on a remote trail.

Oddly enough, memories of discomfort are part of what motivates my work in the environmental and food justice fields. After I learned what the natural world has to offer, it changed how I see myself as one tiny piece in a complex and interconnected whole. Today, I love to see faces light up when people learn something new about how food grows or how the “weeds” you see everyday are delicious on a pizza.

I continue to uncover new interests and balance them with the work I find in a competitive and underfunded field. I want to inspire curiosity. I witness regularly the importance of empowering rather than lecturing people, young and old, so that they can discover their own entry points to nature, stewardship, and advocacy.


Julie McDonnell: Survival

Several years ago I visited Vaxjo, Sweden, and saw how their leadership has taken climate change seriously and integrated effective strategies to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Sweden’s leadership inspired me toward a path focused on education about our changing climate and helping communities prepare for dire impacts.

I think my desire to act comes from seeing my feminist mother, who was active in the movement to end violence against women.

Working in environmental science exposes me to great people who care for the earth. I am inspired by younger generations who do not accept the absurdity of conspicuous consumption. The momentum around improving our human- centered way of existence is undeniable. I see conscious people all over the planet rising up and making change.


Shay Lunseth: How to Create an Organic Yard


My husband started a traditional lawn care company in 2007. After our children were born, we decided to go organic on our home lawn because of concerns with chemically based lawn care products. Eventually we started an organic division of the business, called Organic Lawns by Lunseth. I went back to school to get a Master’s degree in horticulture.

I have learned ways that all of us can improve the soil and our lawns, such as:

1) Recycle grass clippings back into the lawn, which provides free fertilizer. One-inch grass clippings decompose quickly and provide nutrients to the soil.

2) Mow your grass high by setting the deck at 3 inches or higher. Longer grass retains nutrients, which leads to deeper roots, absorption of water, and protection of the grass plant.

3) Overseed with a diversity of grass species and cultivars. This thickens the grass to crowd out weeds, and protects against disease, insects, and weed pressures. It attracts a diversity of insects, which are necessary for nutrient recycling. If we take out diversity of insects from the soil food web, this creates a break in the system.

We encourage lawns with flowering plants (clover, wild violets, creeping thyme, and self-heal), which provides pollen and nectar for pollinators.

4) Water deeply and infrequently. Soak the lawn with one inch of water per week at the same time and only if it hasn’t rained. This trains the grass roots to travel further into the soil to chase the water, thus making the grass roots stronger and more drought resistant. This reduces runoff and helps the soil absorb and filter the water appropriately.

5) Use non-chemical management tools to improve your soil’s biodiversity. These include biochar (highly porous carbon), manure-based nutrition, plant-based nutrition, compost, and microbial stimulators.


Candia Lea Cole: Earth Healing

For the past 30 years I have been evolving my “thinking and doing” around our environmental ecosystem by creating Eco-Mentor Leadership Trainings for women (ages 18-45) that support them in using their personal journeys as a catalyst for planetary healing and transformation.

My evolution of “thinking and doing” around our ecosystem began during my teenage years when I found myself dealing with a number of serious health challenges that no allopathic doctors had the training to diagnose or treat. Along with my mom’s support, I embarked on a self-healing journey, to see if I could unearth the root causes of my symptoms, and find natural, drugless remedies that would support me in getting well.   

On my journey, while studying about different ancient healing practices, I began to realize the many ways that I had been living out of balance and harmony with the natural world. My mind began to fathom how my health issues were a direct reflection of Mother Earth’s health issues. I saw that the earth’s terrestrial body had become sick with the symptoms of environmental illness, due in large part to the toxins that humans unconsciously dumped into it. And, I knew that my body was also dealing with this burden of toxicity on a microcosmic level.  

That’s when I made a conscious decision to adopt a clean, green, non-toxic lifestyle that I imagined would serve to detoxify and heal my body, as well as the earth’s body.  This new lifestyle, I’m happy to say, enabled me to get healthier and more grounded, and grow into a more spiritually awake woman. It also empowered me to cultivate a deep and sacred connection to nature, and use my eco-intelligence to serve as a lifestyle mentor for others by founding Eco-Learning Legacies.

August Topic: Body & Soul

How do you nourish your body and soul?
Send up to 300 words by July 10 to editor@womenspress.com

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