Green digest // Lights off for Earth Hour

Lights off for Earth Hour

City municipal buildings were scheduled to go dark for one hour March 27 to raise awareness of global climate change.

It will mark the third year Minneapolis participates in Earth Hour, a global event started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia to draw attention to the role of greenhouse gas emissions in a warming climate. The City Council approved a resolution March 12 to join in Earth Hour activities.

Electricity use is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota and elsewhere. This year, more than 1,000 cities in 100 countries were expected to participate in the symbolic blackout, Earth Hour organizers reported.

In previous years, internationally recognized landmarks like the Empire State Building in New York and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City have gone dark for Earth Hour. In Minneapolis, the decorative lighting beneath the Stone Arch Bridge and lights on the City Hall clock tower will remain off the entire night of March 27.

City municipal buildings will go dark from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., except where lights are essential to security or operations, the city reported. Wherever Earth Hour events take place around the globe they begin at 8:30 p.m. local time.

For more on the history of Earth Hour and various events planned for March 27, visit myearthhour.org.

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More local products in lunchrooms

WHITTIER — More Minnesota school districts are buying fresh, locally grown products from area farmers for their school lunch programs, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy [IATP] reported March 9.

The Whittier-based nonprofit released a report that found the number of districts buying fruits, vegetables, meats, grains and other locally grown products doubled in the previous 15 months. Those farm-to-school efforts benefit both the health of students and the state’s economy, according to IATP officials.

Sixty-nine Minnesota school districts purchased products from local farmers in 2009, more than twice the number who reported doing so in late 2008. Responding to questions on an IATP survey, more than three-quarters of those districts said they planned to expand their local food programs.

Apples were the Minnesota-raised farm product most commonly purchased by school districts, followed by potatoes, peppers, winter squash, sweet corn and tomatoes. More than one-third of districts in the survey also purchased food from farms in neighboring states, most commonly Wisconsin.

Respondents listed some barriers to expanding the use of locally grown foods in school foodservice programs, including their expense and the labor costs associated with extra preparation time.

IATP works in a variety of areas to improve food, trade and farming policies. It conducted the survey in cooperation with the Minnesota School Nutrition Association, a non-profit professional association that draws members from the state’s school foodservice programs.

To read the survey, go to iatp.org.

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Google your bike route

Google’s latest innovation may make it a little easier to navigate the city on two wheels.

The search engine company in March unveiled its new mapping feature for bicycle trips on its Google Maps page. Google Maps now includes information on the locations of city bike paths and can recommend routes for cyclists.

Google wasn’t the first to bring bike path mapping technology to Minneapolis, though.

Cyclopath (cyclopath.org), operated by GroupLens Research at the University of Minnesota, relied on bicyclist input to gather the route-finding information in its wiki-style database. Cyclopath can plot bicycling routes through the Twin Cities and the entire seven-county metropolitan area.

A side-by-side test of the two systems produced different suggestions for a route between Southwest Journal headquarters Downtown and the Lyn-Lake area.

Google suggested a route down Bryant Avenue’s bikeway, while Cyclopath recommended Blaisdell Avenue, a one-way street with a bike lane but higher traffic volumes, especially during rush hours. Cyclopath’s route was just a fraction of a mile shorter.

Cyclists may have to experiment with both sites to see which better suits their riding style.

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View school green reports online

Minneapolis Public Schools is now reporting the energy use at each district school site, as well as the amount of recycling and trash produced by those schools.

The “green reports” indicate which schools are participating in mixed recycling and organics recycling programs. They also show which schools are using green cleaning products and bathroom soaps that are less harmful to the environment.

Waste audit reports for each school provide recent information on how many pounds of waste are produced at each school site, and what percentage of waste is recycled. It also totals waste disposal costs.

To learn more about the green efforts, or to better understand district-wide initiatives to cut waste and reduce energy use, visit mpsgoesgreen.mpls.k12.mn.us/Home.html.