Monthly Archives: May 2014

Toxic Tater Coalition Spreads the Word, NOT the Fungicides

They had me with their branding – the Toxic Taters Coalition.  In my world potatoes are equated with manna from heaven.  And any pesticide that comes between me  and potatoes is toxic by definition!   So when I heard that the Toxic Taters Coalition will be visiting Minneapolis on Wednesday, June 4, it was a call to action.  It didn’t take long for me to discover I had much to learn.

The Toxic Taters Coalition has been gaining strength and fighting toxins in the potato-growing areas of central and north central Minnesota for over a decade.  Their focus is on preserving the massive potato crops of these regions from “pesticide drift.”  Their concerns are the health effects on residents and on domestic and wild animals and the water pollution, the results of the high nitrate levels caused by the pesticides sprayed on potato crops.  Their broad focus is on the 45,000 acres of potatoes grown in Minnesota every year.  Their immediate focus is on the potato fields owned by Ronald D. Offutt, (RDO), the largest potato grower in the world and one of McDonald’s leading potato suppliers.

Providing support for the Toxic Taters Coalition are Minnesotans for Pesticide Awareness and a committed group from the White Earth Nation.  Volunteers have been monitoring the problem of pesticide drift that spreads the toxins far beyond the immediate target.  After lengthy studies in 2012, the Pesticide Action Network (PAN)  released a report documenting the findings from their Drift Catching test in which local residents had collected massive amounts of data.

The data showed that residents and livestock are inhaling a host of chemicals, particularly chlorothalonil, a fungicide widely used on potatoes. The fungicide is touted as protection against late blight, the fungus that is purported to have caused the 1850’s potato famine in Ireland.   Toxic Taters Coalition members hold that chlorothalonil is but the tip of the pesticide iceberg – they warn of the “chemical cocktail” we are breathing in our air and drinking in our water.

They hold, too, that the use of the fungicide is not necessary to grow a robust crop of spuds.

Members of the Toxic Taters Coalition are on a speaking tour this summer.  They will be in Minneapolis Wednesday, June 4, 6:30 p.m. at Walker Church, 3104 16th Avenue South.  Their Minneapolis stop is sponsored by Pesticide Action Network and the Land Stewardship Project.

Future stops are set for Tuesday, June 24, 5:30 p.m. at Rail River Folk School in Bemidji and on Tuesday, July 8, at a site TBA in Duluth.

Catch the non-toxic and people/potato friendly updates  on Facebook and Google Toxic Taters Coalition for details on the project, the studies, and the summer speaking tour.


Remembering Mary Ida Thomson

Once again the hand of Mary Ida Merrill Thomson is quietly at work.   Mary Ida’s family and friends from the many facets of her life have come together – virtually – to remember our mutual friend, to reconnect with long-separated colleagues, to meet her family, and to remember this grand woman whose influence was as wide as it was powerful.  Mary Ida died last weekend – her spirit lives on in those who knew and loved her.  As one admirer observed (online) – “Mary Ida is smiling at the collaborative effort.”

Mary Ida Thomson died a quiet death at an assisted living residence that was her last, but not her real, home.  Troubled by dementia she could not be at peace.  Friends who visited missed the chance to absorb the wisdom of the quiet force that was Mary Ida.

We are sharing memories now – of Mary Ida who was a prime, if backstage, mover in shaping the Minnesota Association of Library Friends, a vibrant organization that now involves hundreds of bibliophiles in making their local library thrive.

Others remember Mary Ida the staunch and steady supporter of the Girl Scouts of America, long-time member of the Board of the St. Croix Valley Girl Scouts.

Friends recall the countless hours Mary Ida spent counting – with impeccable accuracy – the Sunday collection at her church, a house of faith that forgot her when she was unable to serve and needed their support.

There was Mary Ida who loved to tell stories – stories she shared on Fridays when she was the indispensable “Girl Friday” at Metronet – faithfully covering the front desk in exchange for Friends of the Library using the organization’s address and meeting space.  She told stories of her early life in Mankato, of her years working at the bank where she somehow got involved with an “assertive training” program during which she met her friend Linda, of her rides in the executive car with her husband who was a RR executive, of the latest reads her friend Jeanne Fischer was recommending, of the foibles of her beloved Mr Pedro, a formidable feline who had to shift gears when Mary Ida moved out of her gracious Roseville home.

No one knows the number or nature of all the boards and support groups on which Mary Ida served – People, Inc., The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, the board of the St. Croix Valley Girl Scouts (now Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Rivers), the Minnesota Association of Library Friends, the Charities Review Council, the Minnesota Church Foundation and the Harriet Tubman Center – no doubt there others – the list expands with every email message.

What friends and family know today is that there is a blizzard of emails choking the communications channels as an ever-growing circle of “Friends of Mary Ida” share memories of an extraordinary woman whose gentle hand and wise counsel touched so many lives.

Later there will be a memorial service at First Congregational Church in Southeast Minneapolis, a church where Mary Ida’s grandfather once ministered – she had great stories about those early days, too.   For now those who knew Mary Ida are welcome to join in what Mary Ida’s nephew has dubbed a “virtual memorial service,” a joyful digital celebration of a beautiful life well lived by a woman who has enriched this community in untold and unheralded ways.



The OK Cast Shares the Open Systems Message – and Spirit!

To know Alex Fink, even a bit, is to want to share his ideas, his spirit and his work – specifically his amazingly energetic podcast series.  The challenge is to do justice to his work!  So I’m just going to focus on the podcast – an exemplary application of a format with which I am enamored.

Alex Fink is a PhD student in Youth Studies at the University of Minnesota.  His focus is on “methods of making research to document injustice and resistance available to young people to create social change.”  My first brush with Alex’s thoughts was in notes re. social justice he posted on the Code for America/Open Twin Cities  listserv.

Next I learned about his newish podcast venture, a one-person operation in which he explores the range of open information/data issues – “the political economy and ecology of data, including data collection, data use, data access/sharing, data economics, and the ideologies surrounding it.”  In other words, Alex is actually putting a face on open data and open government.

To wit:  The OK Cast (as in Open Knowledge) is a bi-weekly podcast, of which Alex serves as both host and editor. The growing list of podcast topics now includes sessions on global integrity, participatory politics, visualizing information, the possibilities and practice of open planning – and more.

Backing up the podcast is the OK Cast blog, presented “with the goal to explore, connect, use and inspire open knowledge projects around the world to develop the public commons, improve organization and government transparency and communication, and advocate for social justice and social activism.”  It almost goes without saying that Alex is readily accessible on Twitter @TheOKCast

Make no small plans, is a motto that befits the work of Alex Fink.  My hope is that those who care about open government, broadly defined, will check out the visually stimulating blog and the aurally enlightening podcasts that this one visionary is harnessing basic technology to share and to inspire others.