My business cards list my work address as 1101 West River Parkway, Minneapolis. As the Southern Minnesota Community Coordinator, I work from home in Rochester, and traditionally, listing one’s home address on a business card isn’t the best idea. I can’t tell you how many times I hand my card to a person with whom I’ve just had a great conversation about the issues facing one or more of my communities here in southern Minnesota, only to see a look of disappointment flash across their face when they think I’m like so many others who take an interest in greater Minnesota, but choose to live in the Twin Cities.
The truth is, living in the Metro wouldn’t make me care any less about the issues I’m working on down here in southern Minnesota. But, there is a huge advantage to being local. For me, work doesn’t end at 6 o’clock or on Friday because I never know when I’m going to run into a Conservation Minnesota member or local ally at the grocery store, or while I’m out walking my dog. I don’t just take an interest in Rochester’s parks, water, utility or recycling as an organizer, but as a citizen. With Rochester ever present in my day-to-day life, it’s important for me to balance my work and make a point of spending real time in the rest of my communities. Beginning last May, I upped my commitment to making that time.
I can count on needing to go to Saint Peter, Winona, Mankato and Austin (to name the main ones), at least once a month for something. Until this spring, I’d always tried to use those opportunities to schedule more meetings with folks on those days. But, I’ve never liked that I end up making people work around my schedule. I also haven’t managed to create those great opportunities—like I sometimes have in Rochester—to have a leisurely visit with someone and really get into the intricacies of the conservation issues happening locally. This is why I decided to set aside one day a month that is pre-scheduled and deliberately planned out to allow me to spend an entire day in each of these communities. It has been a real game-changer! Not only has it made it easier to let folks know far in advance when I’d be able to meet, but I can be flexible, have two cups of coffee instead of just one, and really dig in to figure out ways I could help.
The reason this is so important is that many of the conservation issues that come up during our legislative sessions pertain more to greater Minnesota than to the metro— for example, wind energy, buffers, agricultural runoff and sulfide mining. Because they get non-metro newspapers, see different newscasts, and geography presents an obstacle to attending committee hearings, greater Minnesota folks are often left out of the discussions and decisions around things that most directly affect them and impact their way of life. These same obstacles make it harder for their state representatives as well. When you don’t get to go home every night to your community, and your constituents don’t have access to you on a daily basis, it’s easier to lose that essential connection between people and policy. That’s why I see my role as a bridge and a megaphone, of sorts. By keeping these local discussions going, keeping the people of southern Minnesota informed, and sharing citizens’ concerns to our legislative team and allies, we’re facilitating inclusivity and fairness in the process that might not otherwise be there.
I had originally planned to see this idea through the summer and then evaluate whether it was worth continuing. Not only do I want to continue it, but I’m strongly considering finding a way to build and expand on these ‘coffee shop office days’. I can’t say enough how much I’ve appreciated the folks who have come out to meet me, given an hour or two of their time to fill me in and make me feel welcome, and armed me with the local knowledge and insight that makes it possible for me to do the best job I can for southern Minnesota. So, be watching for the email with those future dates and I look forward to all of the great discussions I know are yet to come!