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Going Green in Cook County

Solar power and growing food in Cook County. Photo by Joe Friedrichs

Joe Friedrichs

The people who call the North Shore home are often recognized for their creative and innovative thinking and lifestyles. In addition, a strong connection to the environment and the natural world are often associated with the people who reside in the far reaches of northeastern Minnesota.

In this series, WTIP explores how people and local businesses are incorporating their lifestyles or business models in a way that could make for a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable lifestyle for generations to come. From family farms near Lake Superior to staff housing for local businesses that are powered by solar, this series shares a variety of stories from the people who are embracing the notion of going green in Cook County.

Support for this series comes from the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

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What's On:
Cook County forest. Photo by Jaye White

Going green can help the planet, and your bank account

Solar panels on rooftops. Electric vehicles. Growing your own food.

These are all common themes when it comes to “going green in 2019.” Be that as it may, not everyone is realistically in a position, be it financially speaking or for other reasons, to embrace these industry trends. However, one doesn’t have to check the status of their bank account or even overextend themselves to embrace environmentally-friendly practices in Cook County. Tasks such as such turning off lights when leaving a room, installing proper insulation and even walking to check the mail rather than driving can save energy and benefit the planet.   

Media reports during the past several years, including on WTIP, have focused on the fact solar panels are more affordable now than at any point in history. And while the cost to install renewable energy to power a home is no longer the eliminating or deciding factor it once was for some Cook County residents, it would be highly inaccurate to assume that everyone on the North Shore is in a position to start slapping solar panels on their rooftops. However, solar and other forms of renewable energy are not the only means to reduce one’s carbon footprint.

Joe Sullivan is the Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Energy Resources at the Minnesota Department of Commerce. He too supports the notion that there are a number of things people can do in their day to day lives that will have both financial and environmental benefits for themselves and society as a whole.

This feature explores how people are going green in Cook County. From hunting guides purchasing energy efficient coolers to local residents driving electric vehicles, what has become apparent is the financial perks of going green in Cook County are now catching up with the environmental benefits as well. 


General Manager Jennifer Stoltz stands atop the Cook County Whole Foods Co-Op. Photo by Joe Friedrichs

North Shore businesses find the benefits of 'going green'

A variety of local businesses in Cook County are finding firsthand some of the benefits within the green movement. From restaurants that rely heavily on locally-resourced foods such as fish or fresh produce, to bed and breakfast operations that stay lit via solar power, the variety and diversity of the green movement in local businesses is energizing in its own right.

Joe Sullivan is the deputy commissioner for the Division of Energy Resources at the Minnesota Department of Commerce. He says more small businesses across the state are embracing the concept of going green into their business model for both economic and environmental reasons. 

And while businesses have an assortment of reasons to embrace green technology and renewable energy, on occasion these efforts get noticed on a national scale. A recent example of this includes the Cook County Whole Foods Co-Op in downtown Grand Marias. In September 2019, the co-op found out it was the recipient of an achievement award from the US Environmental Protection Agency for the local grocery store’s effort to reduce its refrigerant emissions and thus decrease its environmental impact.

It’s possible, and even likely that more local businesses will embrace green technologies and renewable energy into their operations as time rolls along, according to Sullivan and the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

In part three of this series, WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs finds out what local businesses are doing currently and planning for in the future when it comes to ‘going green in Cook County.’


Bob Padzieski charges his electric vehicle at home before a ride up the Gunflint. Photo by Ginny Padzieski

Electric vehicles find a home on the Gunflint Trail and Highway 61

Bob and Ginny Padzieski of Grand Marais purchased a Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid car in 2019. They did so for a variety of reasons, including both environmental and economic factors.

Bob took WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs for a spin up the Gunflint Trail as part of the ‘Going Green in Cook County’ series.

As the duo discovered traveling up the Gunflint, there happens to be an electric vehicle charging station at Bearskin Lodge that was beneficial during their quick summer road trip.

As evidenced by the charging station on the Gunflint Trail, the future of transportation has arrived to even remote areas of Minnesota. Indeed, when one can charge their electric vehicle on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness at places such as Bearskin Lodge, it appears the times are changing.

Erik Bigelow is a senior engineering consultant based in St. Paul who works for the Center for Transportation and Environment. He says electric vehicles are appealing for a variety of reasons and that more people are going to be buying electric in the coming years because it will actually be less expensive than engines with a strictly combustible engine.  

Learn more about electric vehicles and their place in the future of Cook County and North Shore life in part two of this WTIP original series looking at what it means to “go green in Cook County.”


Nick and Mary June Wharton at their Good Nature Farm in Cook County. Photo by Joe Friedrichs

Family farms a growing branch of North Shore's green initiatives

Even by Cook County standards, Nick and Kristin Wharton, along with their three children, live in a remote setting in Cook County. It’s here on this remote homestead that the family runs the local business known as the Good Nature Farm.

There are not many farms operating in Cook County. A lack of quality soil and remarkably long winters make it a challenge to grow crops, particularly when it comes to a scale that involves selling to the goods to consumers.

The Good Nature Farm operates under the consumer-supported agriculture model, known commonly as a CSA. This business structure includes “market shares” where customers pay a fee up front and then collect an allotted amount of fresh produce from the farm each week. Nick says the CSA model works great for his operation.

While things like electric vehicles, solar panels on roofs and eliminating use of plastics often grab headlines, producing and eating locally-grown food is an important green initiative on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Whitney Place is an assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Place grew up on her family’s farm in rural Minnesota, and says a business like the Wharton’s Good Nature Farm is a valuable resource on the North Shore for many reasons.

In this installment of the ‘Going Green in Cook County’ series, we learn more about the role of family farms in Minnesota and where they fit into discussions on everything from climate change to a sense of community.