Volunteer Spotlight: Pat Thompson

Streets.mn is starting a new series featuring our magnificent volunteers and the incredible work they do to build a stronger community of writers, readers and other contributors. Our first spotlight is about Pat Thompson: Climate Committee founding member, St. Anthony Park Community Council Transportation chair and gardener extraordinaire. 

Pat first began to find her way into the world of transportation through doing graphic design for nonprofits and grocery co-ops, including Transit for Livable Communities (now Move Minnesota) and Center for Neighborhoods. Pat also volunteered with Transition Town, a nonprofit focused on building community resilience and working toward low- and no-carbon lifestyles, where she discovered a particular interest in transportation’s role in climate change.

Following her retirement from graphic design, Pat sought out new opportunities to get involved with community-based work, focusing in particular on climate change. This budding curiosity was further piqued when Pat joined the St. Anthony Park Community Council and the Twin Cities urbanist twittersphere, through which Pat discovered streets.mn. Pat is a daily reader on the site and was eventually recruited to write for the blog, starting with an excellent critique of slip lanes in Saint Paul. More recently, Pat joined the newly formed Climate Committee, which is focused on advancing the streets.mn mission by encouraging posts and fostering discussion related to the climate emergency. 

Inspired by Pat’s involvement with the Friends School Plant Sale at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand, in early 2020 she and the Climate Committee began planning an event to sell 250 chestnut, hazelnut and hickory-pecan trees (or 125 pairs, so that the trees can reproduce) from Badgersett Research Farm in southeast Minnesota as part of an effort to respond to the interrelated challenges of climate change and the long-term need for sustainable food. The hazelnut variety required 30 years of research to develop a variety that is hardy enough for the harsh Minnesota climate and still edible. Similarly, significant effort was dedicated to breeding a variety that is hardy, edible and resistant to the blight that killed the American chestnut. These trees were chosen because, as Julia Curran and Pat wrote in early June, they provide a high-calorie food crop year after year and provide shade, wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration — all with mostly passive effort on the part of the people who plant them. 

COVID-19 derailed plans for an in-person event, but this did not deter the hosts; they quickly pivoted to organize an online plant sale, after which tubelings would be delivered to their new homes via bicycle. This new format was not without its difficulties, though. As noted in the food tree post, the event was originally scheduled for June 6, a time at which Twin Cities residents were taking to the streets each day in an uprising against police brutality and systemic racism.

The organizers also faced logistical challenges: The baby trees were supposed to arrive in uniformly sized tall, narrow tubes, yet they were delivered in plastic bags in a variety of shapes and sizes and had to be individually potted. Pat met this challenge head-on and was able to deliver 11 pairs of hazelnut tubelings, six pairs of chestnut tubelings and six pairs of hickory-pecan tubelings. An additional eight pairs of hazelnuts, six pairs of hickory-pecans and four pairs of chestnuts were delivered to food deserts to contribute to long-term food sustainability in these areas. 

Through all the trials and tribulations, Pat stated that her favorite part of the event was simply learning about chestnut trees and their food potential, citing Twitter user @BuildSoil as a source of inspiration who shares unique culinary treats, including chestnut pasta. Pat said that the easiest way to get involved or begin writing for streets.mn is with smaller commitments such as a photo post or observations about experiences on a certain street or in a specific neighborhood, and for those who are interested, she shared parting words of wisdom from sci-fi writer Cory Efram Doctorow: “Just start!”

About Alicia Valenti

Alicia is the chair of the 2021 streets.mn board. A transplant to the Twin Cities who works on small and large transit projects across the Midwest, she likes to write for streets.mn about bikes, winter and fun things to do on transit.