When citizens get involved and take ecofriendly actions, real change happens for Minnesota communities. Across the state, 40 Minnesota GreenCorps members have partnered with local organizations to preserve and protect Minnesota’s environment while also participating in training to become the next generation of environmental professionals.
Launched in 2009, Minnesota GreenCorps is coordinated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Members serve with local governments, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations to complete projects and outreach focused on four tracks:
Waste prevention and recycling: Reducing solid waste and increasing recycling, composting, and reuse.
Air quality: Reducing greenhouse gases and other air pollutants.
Green infrastructure: Reducing stormwater runoff, improving water quality, improving local food systems, and supporting urban forestry.
Living green: Promoting environmentally friendly actions by local community members.
Partnership with the community is key to Minnesota GreenCorps’ mission and success. Minnesota GreenCorps member Alex Van Loh serves with the Master Water Stewards program at the Freshwater Society in Saint Paul. He explained the value of local environmental education: “It’s not about having an expert come in, fix a problem, and leave. We train community members how to fix the problem, and they remain in the community and continue to work toward a solution.”
Alex is involved in training community members to become certified Master Water Stewards and is also going through the program to become a steward himself. In its first three years, the program certified 80 stewards. Each steward participated in 50 hours of class time and then completed a capstone project to improve water quality and address stormwater runoff. The program has engaged more than 2,000 Minnesotans and impacted countless others through the community projects. The Master Water Stewards program has collected over 1 million gallons of stormwater annually. This year, the program is expanding from one to seven watershed districts and one city, and will nearly double the number of certified stewards.
Alex joined Minnesota GreenCorps eager to give back to his home state of Minnesota where he has enjoyed outdoor activities including biking, hiking, and camping. “Growing up, I didn’t realize how much I love and utilize the Minnesota landscape,” he said, “but as an adult I realize that these places are not guaranteed to be around forever unless we make a concerted effort.” Now, as a Minnesota GreenCorps member, Alex is enthusiastic about taking part in environmental stability projects and outreach to ensure that others can continue to enjoy the landscape responsibly for years to come.
To achieve its preservation mission, Minnesota GreenCorps also teaches younger community members responsible use of resources. Alex recently presented at a middle school Water Day event. He shared facts about water use to get the students to think about ways they could conserve. For example, the students were surprised to learn that growing the cotton for a single pair of blue jeans requires 1,800 gallons of water.
Across Minnesota, Minnesota GreenCorps members engage in similar activities to help local communities preserve and improve their environment. They institute recycling programs, build rain gardens, provide access to healthy food, track energy usage and waste trends, and educate at schools and public events. Minnesota GreenCorps members drive change through local efforts and build a network of advocates who will sustain the environmental protection efforts.