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Ideas to make Duluth healthier

Canned jam made from fruit grown in a yard near you. Bike trails close enough that you don’t need to pack up your bike on your car. A roll-up crosswalk mat and theater to challenge your perceptions. These were all ideas presented to a full house at Teatro Zuccone on June 24. 

Four groups competed to win $10,000 from the Zeppa Foundation for their ideas to make Duluth a healthier city. These four groups took to the stage at the Healthy Duluth event were Cyclists of the Gitchee Gummee Shores, Seed of Success, The Health and Wellness Table and Healthy Duluth Area Coalition.

“We aren’t fighting over resources, we are collaborating and finding ways to use those resources in the most efficient ways possible,” said Tony Cuneo, executive director of the Zeppa Foundation. He said it was possible that multiple awards could be given out.


First to present was Adam Sundberg from the Cyclists of Gitchee Gummee Shores who shared the idea of the “Duluth Traverse” — a 100-mile bike trail system to connect all of Duluth with varying levels of difficulty. The goal is to connect all the

existing trail systems by creating a very mellow, inviting and

accessible trail that anyone could bike on.

“In a car, you would never be more than five minutes away from Duluth Traverse. On bike, never more than 10 minutes. Everybody has immediate access to the trail system,” Sundberg said.

To illustrate the usefulness of the trail, Sundberg used the example of a family in Spirit Valley going to visit a family in Norton Park.

“Prior to the trail, they’d probably get in their car and drive. But with the Duluth Traverse, they can take a trail every member of the family feels comfortable using. They can get outside, engage in physical activity, experience the outdoors — all of which creates a rich experience for that family,” Sundberg said.

Seeds of success

Michael Latsch, program manager of the Seeds of Success program created by Community Action Duluth, presented their idea to create a “value added food production” system. The program already provides more access to fresh foods in the Lincoln Park area with a farmer’s market. But Latsch hopes to provide locally made “value-added” products such as tomato sauce.

“In a nutshell, value-added food production is where you take raw agricultural products like green tomatoes and peppers, chopping them up, adding some flavor, adding value at the same time and ending up with a finished product like tomato sauce,” Latsch said.

Community Action Duluth is located in the former Lincoln Park Elementary school, so they have access to a professional kitchen, but Latsch said they currently lack the equipment to create and can the products.

Changing the narrative

Simona Simpkins form the Health and Wellness Table focused on “changing the narrative of healthcare in our community” through theater.

“We are having community discussions about health inequities and we are finding, collecting true stories about health disparities and issues,” Simpkins said.

Once she’s gathered enough stories, Simpkins hopes to stage “forum theater” performances. Simpkins will have the actors perform a real story gathered from the meetings, ask the audience questions about the situation and ask an audience member to step into the scene and make the outcome better.

Right now Simpkins is gathering stories at community meetings. Soon she will begin working with the actors and she hopes to stage performances in September.

Tactical urbanism

Lisa Luokkala, director of the Healthy Duluth Area Coalition, spoke about their idea to utilize “tactical urbanism” to create changes in the health of community environments.

“We’ve all been here. Sitting at a community meeting disengaged and frustrated about hearing about how long policy change will take,” said Luokkala as she pointed to a photo of a group of frustrated citizens. “All we want is the crosswalk light in front of our child’s elementary school.

A lot of people want to do something now and see change now.”

Tactical urbanism is a phrase Luokkola described “low-cost, temporary projects that reveal what could be in community public spaces to create long term sustainable change.” Examples include temporary crosswalks and bike lanes. In the example of the crosswalk in front of the school, Luokkola showed a photo of a temporary crosswalk mat that could be rolled out for certain events and times.

As of the Budgeteer’s press deadline, it remains unknown which of these organizations the public chose to receive all or part of the $10,000 funding. But the results should be released within a few days. Cuneo wanted to take some time to go over the results and factor in the anonymous comments and questions. “We want it to be more of discussion between the people who are here and these presentations,” Cuneo said.

Because he plans to at least two more idea festivals, Cuneo encouraged other organizations to add their ideas to the Healthy Duluth Area Coalition website, He says the website is the best way to show the work being done, network with other groups in the area and find potential partnerships.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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