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Bride plans zero-waste wedding, encourages others to do the same
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From the flowers and linens to decorations and attire, high costs aren’t the only thing that traditionally come with weddings. The amount of waste can be pretty high, too.

According to the Botanical Paperworks site, the average wedding generates over 400 pounds of garbage. With an estimated 2.5 million weddings per year, that’s about 1 billion pounds of trash from weddings and receptions alone.

Northfielder Kimberly Haroldson set out to plan her backyard, sustainable wedding with zero waste. Her Sept. 4 wedding included items either purchased secondhand, rented or borrowed.

About six to seven years ago, Haroldson stumbled upon a book by Bea Johnson about living in a zero waste home. On board with the zero waste approach, Haroldson texted her friend Ashley Kennedy, who was also game for trying it out. They started a private Facebook group in hopes of getting tips on how to reduce waste. Much to her surprise, she became a leader of the group and researched on her own how to go about minimizing what she discards.

Soon after that, Haroldson said they started receiving messages from others wishing there was classes taught on living a zero-waste lifestyle. With Kennedy’s experience as a teacher, the duo began teaching classes. They soon expanded their work, becoming zero-waste activists and even going to the Capitol to talk about the banning plastic bags.

Haroldson says it was easy to work zero waste into her wedding an easy one. Prior to moving to Northfield in May, Haroldson lived in the cities. During that time, she began collecting stemmed glasses and coffee mugs from “Buy Nothing” groups in the area. After realizing Northfield did not have a Facebook page similar to the one in the cities, she quickly created a place for people interested in giving away items to those searching for them. Along with the coffee mugs and and stemmed glasses, an arch and hutch were gifted to her from Buy Nothing groups.

Traditional wedding items like decorations, consisted of flowers from the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market, with arrangements put together by Kennedy.

Part of the zero-waste lifestyle, Haroldson says is to refuse everything first, and compost as a last resort. Instead of using cans, Haroldson opted for kegs of beer and rootbeer, and offered wine in bigger bottles. While she could have gotten compostable plates to use, Haroldson rented dinnerware from a local company since it takes a lot of energy for that many items to compost. Flatware and cloth napkins were also rented, while cake stands for pie were purchased from Goodwill or received from the “Buy Nothing” group.

Other decorations used to accent Haroldson’s decor, like a chalkboard that directed guests to pick a glass to use for the night, was an old piece slate of her grandma’s. The wooden border for the chalkboard was made by her father for a Christmas gift 10 years ago. Pallets, which were used to hold the unique collection of coffee mugs guests could use, were found in a dumpster in Faribault, and stained by Haroldson.

Personal touches

Haroldson’s wedding dress came from a consignment store, and her bridesmaids’ dresses were rented from Rent the Runway, ranging anywhere from $32 to $100.

The suit jacket her now husband, Ross, wore was bought a number of years ago for the first wedding he attended. Focusing on the passion Haroldson and her husband have for the earth, instead of asking for gifts at the wedding, they asked for donations toward a greenhouse or their honeymoon. For those who wanted to buy gifts, Haroldson picked out a few items that she could use from a registry site that allows for the addition of secondhand, handmade and experience gifts. Instead of purchasing wedding favors, the newlyweds made donations to Pheasants Forever and opted out of paper programs and wedding invitations.

The meal, catered from a local establishment, was vegan. Though not following a vegan lifestyle, Haroldson was pleased with how it fit into her goal of zero waste.

Kennedy added that there’s value in reducing the amount of meat that is consumed, especially for such a large gathering, as she says a lot of energy is involved with eating meat (including land, water, shipping and space). Food scraps from the meal were also composted.

Throughout her months of planning and collecting items, Haroldson said it’s been fun hearing the stories people share and relating to them through similar experiences.

After posting a photo of her wedding ring with sentimental value on the Zero Waste Advocates of MN Facebook and Instagram pages, Haroldson said she received messages from so many brides who also shared that their ring was secondhand, and people grew very excited to share more about it. Haroldson’s wedding ring was her grandmother’s, a ring that she remembers trying on and always finding so unique.

Finding that the whole world changed during COVID-19, as people found new ways of doing things, Haroldson feels people are getting more comfortable with change.

Planning a zero-waste wedding is pretty easy, Kennedy said, adding that a zero-waste lifestyle can be applied to many aspects of life.

“There’s so much excess in existence already that there’s no need to add to the waste stream by purchasing new items,” said Kennedy. “The idea is that we all have things we don’t need that others need.”

When beginning the wedding planning, Kennedy says they took a step back and focused on the three important things wanted at the ceremony: good friends and family, good food and good music. She says Haroldson was able to add personal touches by being creative, without having to purchase new things.

“This is something anybody can do,” said Kennedy. “It actually alleviates a little bit of stress to step back and think about what’s really important.”

School districts welcome back students for 1st day
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Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

TCU freshmen have fun while drawing an image of a successful student for class orientation. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

Tri-City United, Le Sueur-Henderson and Cleveland school districts opened their doors on Tuesday to kick off what will hopefully be a more normal school year. Not only were staff and faculty ready to get back to school, students were excitedly anticipating returning to the classroom.

“It feels great,” said incoming Le Sueur-Henderson third grader Farah Weldon. “I’m excited to be in class with my friends.”

While young learners were still being oriented for the upcoming year, high schoolers and middle schoolers were back on Tuesday for their first day. Le Sueur-Henderson and Cleveland Public Schools welcomed all their 7-12 grade students, while Tri-City United had a two-day phase-in for the upper classes. Grades 7-9 started on Tuesday, while grades 10-12 came back on Wednesday.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Master Sergeant Jason Strauch of the Minnesota Army National Guard teaches TCU freshmen about team building. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

TCU High School Teacher Carey Langer instructs a class of freshmen on the first day of school. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

The phase-in allowed freshmen to adjust to the new expectations of high school. The incoming students were split into two groups, Titans Blue and Titans Silver, and spent part of their day going through their class schedule while the other group participated in orientation activities.

The unique activities focused on familiarizing students with the building itself and how to succeed in high school. Freshmen navigated the building in a school scavenger hunt, learned about the high school experience in a Q&A with TCU upperclassmen in the National Honor Society and received insights on group and team building from Master Sergeant Jason Strauch of the Minnesota Army National Guard.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

TCU freshmen share their drawing of a successful student. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

“Today’s Sept. 7 Freshmen First Day, something that we started last year as we were in Hybrid Learning due to COVID-19, had all of our ninth graders on the Tri-City United High School campus,” said TCU Principal Alan Fitterer. “This is a great day for our freshmen to be high school students and to ask their questions without having grades 10-12 on the campus.”

Weldon’s classes didn’t start until Thursday, but on Tuesday she got a first look at her Park Elementary classroom and her school picture taken at the welcome back parent teacher conferences. Outside Park Elementary, school-themed signs and sidewalk chalk art welcomed students back. Kids could even get their picture taken while poking their heads through face cut out boards of a police officer, firefighter, astronaut and princess.

Cleveland’s 7-12 graders went straight back into the classroom on Tuesday while PK-6 graders took an open house tour of their classrooms. As the bell rang and students took their leave on the school buses outside, Superintendent Brian Philips felt students were smoothly transitioning back to learning.

“There was a lot of excitement with new families coming in,” said Philips. “It was good to see elementary students in the open houses, that was a good start. The secondary kids fell right back into a normal routine, so for the most part everyone’s ready.”

As the year begins, school districts not only have the responsibility of adjusting students back into the classroom, but also keeping them in the classroom as the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have yet to subside. As of Sept. 2, Le Sueur County saw 206 total confirmed cases in August and 20 new cases in the first two days of September.

Seeking to bring back a normal learning environment, local districts have all opened for in-person learning where masking is recommended, but not mandated. Districts have also implemented case follow up and quarantine plans when a case is detected and distance learning options for students uncomfortable going to class.

“We’re trying to make it a normal year as much as possible,” said Philips. “Some kids are masking, some aren’t, masks aren’t mandated.”

Commissioners asked to fill $325,000 funding gap for housing project

A Northfield housing project appears to hinge on Rice County Commissioners approving $325,000 to meet an unanticipated funding gap.

According to Chris Flood, community development officer for Three Rivers Community Action, which is leading the Spring Creek townhomes II project, the agency was initially awarded $8.6 million to construct 32 housing units. Eight are scheduled to have two bedrooms, 22 are planned to as three-bedroom units, and two are to have as four bedrooms.

Four units will be allotted for the Northfield Community Action Center. Another four will be for people with developmental disabilities through a partnership with Rice County Adult Services and Laura Baker Services Association.

To ensure the project’s affordability, 24 units will be home to residents making below 60% of the area median income. Eight will be at 30% or under.

But when Three Rivers first solicited bids for the Spring Creek II project, they came in about $2.7 million higher than estimated. But due to cost increases surrounding the pandemic, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency tax credits Three Rivers received also increased, allowing the nonprofit to accommodate the unanticipated hike.

According to Flood, the agency then had issues with its contractor and had to rebid the project in July, hoping that a stabilization of markets would earn it lower bids. But that, Flood said, didn’t happen. Bids were another $750,000 higher than the first round of bids in March.

And while there have been about $215,000 in cost reductions and the tax credits fill some of that gap, there’s still a sizable hole.

Flood told the board during its Tuesday meeting that while other reductions could be made, doing so would jeopardize the tax credits, awarded based on the size and number of units and its energy-efficient appliances, equipment and construction. Exterior finishes can’t be modified either, as they’re required by Northfield city ordinances.

According to documents given to commissioners, the Housing Finance Agency appears disinterested in upping its contribution further. The city has stepped up, providing tax increment financing; its Housing & Redevelopment Authority donated land, about 4.5 acres.

That leaves the county as Three Rivers’ best hope for the project in a county with a vacancy rate hovering around 1%

Flood hopes that the board will use some of its federal American Rescue Fund dollars allotted by Congress to help minimize the financial impacts of the pandemic, but board members had questions about timeline and why the project requires amenities like energy efficiency that the housing market typically doesn’t.

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Commissioner Jeff Docken.

Flood explained that the project received a score based on the inclusion of those amenities, and that excluding them now would likely threaten the tex credits, thereby killing the project.

Three Rivers hopes to break ground next spring, so it needs an answer fairly quickly.

The project is supported by the community, County Housing Manager Joy Watson told the board, adding that these units will give some Northfielders a place of their own.

“It will provide housing for individuals that might otherwise be in a group home,” she said.

The Board of Commissioners are expected to vote on the request later this month.