Nathaniel Cunningham of Faribault and Jordan Brennan of Northfield wanted to bring something “mighty fine” to Faribault: an inclusive place that celebrates various cultures while providing local offerings.
Sharing a love of coffee and a combined 40 years of experience in the coffee business, Cunningham and Brennan’s vision translated into a new roastery called Mighty Fine! Coffee Co. Mighty Fine!, which had its grand opening Saturday, operates from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays or by appointment during the week.
“We want to further help Faribault and the community and show them what coffee can do,” Brennan said.
Part of Cunningham’s motivation to open Mighty Fine! Coffee came from hearing a few too many complaints about Faribault, where he grew up. Rather than joining in on the complaining, he wanted to do something practical to improve the town.
Located at 409 1st Ave. NE Suite A, Mighty Fine! is to coffee what a brewery is to beer. In Phase One of the project, Cunningham and Brennan established the roastery piece so they can provide coffee to local clients. Mighty Fine! already provides coffee beans to the Inn at Shattuck and Janna’s Market Grill, which soon opens in the former Bernie’s Grill building. Good Day Coffee, a new coffee shop located in the former Bluebird Cakery site, will also source its beans from Mighty Fine!
The next phase, a project for about two years into the future, is a coffee house with evening hours.
But apart from supplying coffee, Cunningham and Brennan’s vision involves introducing new cultures to Faribault through educational opportunities.
“We will eventually have this place certified as a campus,” Cunningham said. “Jordan and I will become instructors and give classes on roasting and coffee preparation.”
For one of the first classes, scheduled for October, Cunningham and Brennan invited a guest speaker from Ethiopia and her mother to give a traditional coffee ceremony and talk about their coffee culture.
Cunningham and Brennan also plan to offer classes in roasting. Using their own roaster to demonstrate, Cunningham explained that the cast iron drum spins to agitate the beans, which then become heated, dry out and turn yellow before roasting. They track the temperature four to five times per second, and unlike automatic machines used at chain coffee restaurants, they use their own timing skills to pull out the flavors and nutrients. Cunningham said they roast about five pounds of coffee at a time, which takes around 15 minutes.
Besides knowing the ins and outs of roasting, Cunningham and Brennan’s knowledge of coffee spans from a goat farmer’s discovery of coffee cherries in Ethiopia to modern technological practices of tracking coffee growth. As members of the Specialty Coffee Association, they consult a growing chart displayed on one of the Mighty Fine! walls to know when and where to call for an import of coffee beans.
Customers may purchase their own coffee beans, including Faribault French, a breakfast blend, a dark roast from Colombia and chemical-free decaf coffee from Peru. For the holiday season, Cunningham wants to introduce a dark roast combining coffee from Ethiopia and Kenyon. Brennan looks forward to ramping up the cold brew selection for those who want the convenience of a ready-to-drink beverage.
“That I’m really excited about,” Brennan said.
Cunningham said another goal with Mighty Fine! is to support local businesses as often as possible. Local artists designed their logo and painted the artwork inside their building, and they plan to use products like honey and hazelnuts from local farmers and producers.
“We want to make sure the money stays in Faribault as much as possible,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham served 17 years as an intelligence operator in the U.S. Army before going into the coffee business, so he also started a Coffee for Soldiers program in which customers can purchase a $12 bag of coffee to have shipped to soldiers.
To make Mighty Fine! as inclusive as possible to all of Faribault’s residents, Cunningham is becoming certified in American Sign Language and learning Somali and Spanish.
“The idea is to freely interact with every aspect of town,” Cunningham said.
Added Brennan: “We’re here to help. We’re not coffee snobs. We love coffee and we love Faribault.”
A plan laying out a detailed vision for Faribault’s future, covering issues such as infrastructure, economic development, housing and the environment, has received approval from Faribault’s City Council.
The approval of the Comprehensive Plan last week brings a quiet end to a process that took place over several years and included the involvement of an outside firm, Perkins + Will, as well as consultation with numerous stakeholders. In order to prepare for what city planners believe will be monumental changes over the coming 25 years, Faribault opted to get a head start in its planning process, rather than wait for the once-a-decade review required by state law.
In 2014, the council launched a process, which led to the Community Vision 2040 document. In addition to laying out traditional goals, it highlighted five key values that exemplify Faribault — Sense of Community, Sense of Place, Opportunity, Innovation and Excellence.
To be sure, the city’s commitment to the traditional goals of continuing strong economic development and addressing housing and workforce challenges are at the heart of the plan, but so too is the broader goal of improving quality of life.
Faribault City Planner Dave Wanberg said a holistic approach is the clearest way to attract both businesses and a qualified workforce. So far, the city’s approach seems to be working, with new investment increasing in recent years and population growth easily outpacing projections.
In and of itself the nine chapter plan was expansive, highlighting the city’s assets and potential ways to grow and accentuate them. It included a focus on areas such as “Human Assets,” which Wanberg said are generally not included in most Comprehensive Plans.
That section focused on how to ensure that “all residents must have access to food and water, healthcare, education, a safe environment, and shelter.” Wanberg highlighted quality education and health care in particular as assets that attract people and businesses to a community.
Another key portion of the Comprehensive Plan highlights specific areas of town for potential development or specific use. Over the next year, the city’s Planning Commission will be able to rezone specific areas to bring them more in line with the plan’s vision.
For example, the portion of the city to the west of I-35 alongside Highway 60 is highlighted as a key spot for development, with a mix of commercial and residential uses. A similar mix is suggested along Highway 3 on the north end of the city.
Other areas identified as potentially underdeveloped include an area near the intersection of Division Street and Prairie Ave. The plan notes that current zoning “promotes the status quo,” but Wanberg would like to ultimately see a mix of commercial and residential.
Highlighting specific areas could prove a savvy way to promote the city. To promote the Comprehensive Plan as a whole, the city is planning on creating a brochure and video with basic information, tailored to investors and developers.
While the city is in the midst of a comprehensive housing review, Wanberg’s plans include plenty of room for additional housing. Increasing access to housing has long been a top priority for the city as it seeks to continue attracting investment.
The market remains tight, especially for single family and affordable housing. The Council has authorized a housing study to see if things have changed due to several large-scale housing projects that once complete, will bring more than 300 units to market.
Crucial to maintaining Faribault’s prosperity in the coming years is striking a “delicate balance” of prosperity with the Twin Cities, and to a lesser extent Rochester and Mankato, as the communities compete for investment.
Wanberg has said that in the future, his models suggest about half of Faribault’s workforce will live in the Twin Cities, and about half of Faribault’s residents will work in the Twin Cities. If the city can maintain that kind of balance, it could continue to best expectations.
In addition to the Comprehensive Plan, the city approved the Parks, Trails and Open Spaces Plan and its Downtown Master Plan last year. While most cities of Faribault’s size don’t focus on their parks and downtown areas separately, doing so was a priority for Faribualt.
According to the city’s vision, as honed by Perkins + Will, the historic downtown and commitment to more and better parkspace would exist side by side. With additional housing, the downtown area could become a community hub.
Along Central Avenue, the city estimates that one in five storefronts in its traditionally industrial downtown are either vacant or have been “converted to unsupportive use.” Currently adding little value to the area, they could be repurposed for housing and other amenities.
A greener city
In order to accommodate the increased housing, the city is focused on increasing walkability and adding bicycle routes, and greening up downtown with extra parks and green spaces, ideally utilizing the Straight River to bring amenities to downtown.
As noted in the Parks, Trails and Open Spaces Plan, Faribault has more park land than most cities of comparable size. However, at $49 per capita, the city’s park budget comes in well below the national community average of $78 per capita spent on parks.
The report states that many of the city’s park facilities are aging and in need of replacement or significant repairs. Other parks currently sit undeveloped or undeveloped many years after they were acquired, due to a lack of funding.
As an aspirational goal, the Parks Plan recommended not only improving park facilities themselves, but connecting parks to each other by building more trails, creating gathering spaces, making parks more accessible, and connecting parks to their natural surroundings.
Measures that call for additional fiscal investment are likely to be difficult for the city, which struggled to fund needed park and road improvements even pre-COVID. Nonetheless the city has a clear sense of direction, at least for now.
Councilor Jonathan Wood, who reviewed the plan and provided thoughts and suggestions, was very pleased with the final outcome. Wood, who owns his construction business, said that he is often unimpressed by comp plans he reads before building in other cities, but likes Faribault’s.
“A lot of times, (Comprehensive Plans) come off as generic, and there’s not a lot of substance or vision” he said. “Ours is very different. You can tell that the city staff and locals that worked on it put a lot of thought into that plan.”
Faribault’s Environmental Commission is looking to double down on its environmental protection efforts through a program the city joined some four years ago but has done little with since.
The city’s newest commission, created after more than 70 city residents signed a petition calling for its creation, has already gotten off to a strong start. Although the precise direction of the commission was again a topic of discussion at Monday’s virtual meeting, there’s little dispute that the commission, which acts in a strictly advisory role to the council, will have plenty to do.
One topic discussed in depth was the city’s involvement in the GreenStep Cities program. In its resolution, the council noted the program could provide invaluable resources to help the city fulfill its long-term vision. GreenStep Cities grew out of a 2009 report by the Minnesota Legislature and is governed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. However, representatives from nonprofits like the Great Plains Institute, Izaak Walton League and League of Minnesota Cities also sit on its board.
In total, 140 cities throughout Minnesota are a part of the GreenCities program, and they include nearly half of Minnesota’s population. City Planner Dave Wanberg, the Environmental Commission’s staff liaison, said that roughly 100 cities joined before Faribault.
Since then, the program has largely shifted to the backburner even as the city has worked with Xcel Energy and local organizations to boost energy efficiency, which was the original cornerstone of the GreenStep Cities program and remains key.
Still, the city has logged just four official actions with GreenStep Cities over those four years and remains stuck as a “Level 1” GreenStep city. By contrast, Northfield has logged over 50 official actions and now has reached “Level 4” out of five.
To learn more about how the GreenStep Cities program could benefit Faribault, members of the newly minted commission invited Chris Meyer, Southeast Minnesota Coordinator for CERT (Clean Energy Response Teams)
Meyer covers an expansive 15-county region of the state, from Winona and Red Wing along the Mississippi River all the way to Mankato. In her role, she’s helped cities to adapt policy approaches that save both taxpayer money and the environment.
Meyer said the central focus of the GreenStep Cities program is to help individual cities find solutions that work best for them. Thanks to efforts initiated through GreenStep, cities across the state are now saving $8 million annually on energy costs.
A key portion of the program’s efforts to green up the environment has also been through replacing inefficient lighting with LEDs. Working closely with Xcel Energy through the Partners in Energy Program, Faribault has also moved to replace old lightbulbs with LEDs. Despite the higher sticker price, LEDs save consumers money quickly. That’s because according to the U.S. Department of Energy, they use only 20-25% of the energy and last 15 to 25 longer than incandescent bulbs.
Most GreenStep Cities have now installed LED streetlights. Other breakthroughs include more than 130 electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state, more than 229 certified green buildings and more than 587 renewable energy sites.
For those cities that do want to invest in making their communities more environmentally friendly, Meyer and her team work on plans tailored to the needs, priorities and desires of each individual participant.
That level of flexibility and assistance has won the group a favorability rating of 90% from participating cities, according to a recent GreenStep cities survey. Through the program, cities have access to webinars, workshops and even grants they wouldn’t otherwise.
Even though it hasn’t been an active participant with the GreenStep program, Faribault has worked closely not only with Xcel but also the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to adopt environmentally friendly policies.
With concerns about climate change on the rise, Faribault was chosen by the MPCA to put together a Climate Adaptation Plan. It’s just one of four Minnesota cities receiving such assistance, which Wanberg says highlighted Faribault’s strong commitment to the issue.
The plan, a focal point of discussion for the Environmental Commission, will be designed to help the city weather flooding, storms, excessive heat and other extreme weather events and patterns that are expected to occur more frequently as a result of climate change. The new plan will build off the work that Faribault did from 2017-18 on a climate change impact study. As was the case with the earlier study, the Climate Adaptation Plan will be led by a consultant team and staff at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency at no cost to the city.
Given the hard work put in by community stakeholders, Wanberg said he believes the city could easily be considered at least a “Step 2” or “Step 3” city by GreenStep. Being certified as such could easily open up funding opportunities, according to Meyer.
“We’ve been told by cities that their participation in GreenStep has helped them to win grants because it showed commitment to action and made their grant application more competitive,” she said.
While having a staff member focused on environmental issues can be crucial, Meyer said the real linchpin is often having active, engaged citizen volunteers who are concerned and knowledgeable about the environment.
“It’s great to have city staff involved and most of all, citizen involvement,” she said. “Those cities (that have both) seem to be the most successful.”