4th Annual Earth Fest

The Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability, or IRPS, has been working for nearly a decade to promote environmental and economic sustainability on the Iron Range.

Volunteer board members and an executive director plan and presents Iron Range Earth Fest each spring — a marquee event that features speakers, vendors, exhibitions, demonstrations and much more.

This year’s Iron Range Earth Fest is set for Saturday, April 21, at four locations in Mountain Iron. It’s a family-friendly, free event and is open to all.

Earth Fest is a celebration of local traditions and practical resources for sustainable living in northeastern Minnesota. The event offers opportunities to:

• Explore how we can all strive to live in a more sustainable way at home and in our communities.

• Learn about new and existing technological approaches as well as rediscover some of our long standing local traditions.

• Tap into the knowledge of local experts to share their expertise on regional products, services, foods, traditions and our wilderness.

An emphasis is placed on local products, local services, local foods, local entertainment and our local wilderness.

Each year Earth Fest is host to two competitions: Green Innovator’s Expo for Iron Range area students and the Community Sustainability Initiative contest for anyone with a unique sustainability inspired project idea. Visit the IRPS website at www.irps.mn.org to learn more, or to submit online applications for the Community Sustainability Initiative.

While Earth Fest may be the most well-known event offered by IRPS, it represents only a part of our efforts to promote sustainability.

In recent years, IRPS has also helped launch Growing Together, the Rutabaga Project and the Virginia Market Square farmers market.

Growing Together is a project created to develop community gardens in Virginia and offer gardening educational opportunities to all residents.

It is part of the Rutabaga Project, which was developed through a partnership between IRPS and AEOA and is funded by Essentia Health with the goal to increase access to nutritious, locally grown food for all residents.

During the summer of 2016, the City of Virginia provided the use of four sites around town, and Growing Together began developing them into community gardens. About 60 plots at these four sites, plus at the AEOA Youth Foyer garden, are now available to rent.

Budding gardeners can start growing on one of the rental plots, and volunteers can share some of your gardening knowledge and experience with a beginning gardener. You need not have your own garden plot to participate. The schedule and time commitment is flexible.

Growing Together will offer occasional workshops and other gardening educational opportunities throughout the year. To receive notices of these opportunities, get on our email list or check out our Facebook page.

Growing Together hopes to develop community gardens in other Iron Range communities.

The Rutabaga Project aims to get nutritious and local food to everyone in the City of Virginia and beyond. Through community engagement, local residents are invited to get involved, share ideas and determine solutions for making nutritious and local food more accessible and affordable.

The Rutabaga Project is a shared initiative between the AEOA, IRPS, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAPEd), Essentia Health, Healthy Northland and numerous other community organizations, local food producers and residents of local neighborhoods.

Some of the Rutabaga Project highlights include: Local food made available to all market patrons at the Virginia Market Square, Hibbing Farmers Market and Cook Area Farmers Market (beginning summer 2018) through SNAP-EBT, $10 Market Bucks, Power of Produce (PoP) club for kids 4-12 and other incentives; $9,426 invested back into the local food economy through these programs in 2017; the Growing Together-Virginia Community Garden Program was established with five gardens available to anyone who wants to learn more about growing food.

In the summer of 2018, IRPS will also help get local communities involved in the “One Vegetable, One Community” project with this year’s chosen vegetable: the tomato.

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The Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability remains dedicated to bringing fresh ideas to a long-term goal — making the Range a healthy place to live for the long-term. We are always looking for volunteers to help with this process. If interested in joining the board of directors, check out our website at www.irpsmn.org or contact our executive director at brian.bluhm@irpsmn.org.

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