Building hubs of sustainability: Rail River Folk School and Harmony Food Cooperative

In partnership with Beltrami Wellness Education for Long Life (B-WELL), the Rail River Folk School (RRFS) and Harmony Food Cooperative (HFC) in Bemidji, Minnesota recently completed energy audits with help from CERTs.


On February 18, 2014, Affordable Energy Solutions—a local Bemidji business—conducted energy audits at both RRFS and HFC. The audits began with basic information gathering from energy bills and facility dimensions, and proceed to take a look at the building envelope, heating and cooling systems, appliances and equipment, and behavioral practices. Additionally, solar site assessments were conducted at both facilities in January 2014 with the help of Diana Kuklinski and seven Leech Lake Tribal College carpentry students.


In addition to demonstrating the community partnership between RRFS and HFC, the CERTs funded energy audits created an educational opportunity for Bemidji area residents considering alternative energy options. RRFS hosted four energy-focused Sustainable Tuesday gatherings including: Harvesting the Energy of the Sun; Light and Energy; Home Energy Audit/Audit Results; and Build Your Own Energy Competition: Lessons from Bemidji State University.

RRFS was able to act on several large and small recommendations coming out of their energy audit. As part of a remodeling project, their spaces will be weatherized while preserving the original wood walls. Photos and videos will be captured throughout the process to support the development of a weatherization unit being taught at Leech Lake Tribal College carpentry program.

HFC is also taking the project to the next level and is committing several additional resources to upcoming improvements based on the findings of the energy audit. They are in the process of receiving recognition from ENERGY STAR for their accomplishments in improving their building’s energy data. They were also featured in an October 2014 Greater Minnesota Energy Tour. HFC also installed a solar canopy as the “crown jewel” of the CERTs energy audit project.

Together, RRFS and HFC engaged more than 40 community members and students in the energy audit process and related educational programs. LED bulbs were installed at both locations, improvements and repairs were made to buildings to increase thermal barriers and conserve energy, and the organizations were left with concrete next steps to continue their journey to reduce their environmental footprints.

After working together on this collaborative grant process, participants are gearing up to put Bemidji on the map as the “1st Green City” on the Mississippi River. Through projects like the CERTs energy audit project, community partners have been able to create a foundation for collaborative growth with an emphasis on sustainable community education, creating lasting environmental change and building more resilient communities.


Beltrami Wellness Education for Long Life: Beltrami Wellness Education for Long Life (B-WELL) is a health initiative of Beltrami County and the Northwest Minnesota region, dedicated to cultural transformation promoting health and well-being of residents of the County and surrounding Communities. B-WELL promotes healthier indoor and outdoor environments, and advocates for advancing public policy to impact overall community resilience.

Rail River Folk School: Rail River Folk School (RRFS) was founded in 2011 to provide Bemidji residents with a hub for the exchange of ideas, education and advocacy in sustainability and artistry. Entirely volunteer-directed, RRFS hosts regular programming such as Sustainable Tuesdays. The Farm to School program, a local CSA, the Headwaters Food Sovereignty Council and Bemidji’s Natural Choice Farmers Market also utilize their space. RRFS founders are committed to using their space as a model education and demonstration site – a great way to share information from the energy audit.

Harmony Food Cooperative: Member-owned Harmony Food Cooperative (HFC) evolved from a community buying club to a cooperative in 1977. With a goal to promote and restore healthful, sustainable, environmental practices, HFC only stocks socially responsible and humane products. HFC is constantly seeking out new ways to reduce their environmental footprint, making them an ideal candidate for an energy audit.

Project Snapshot:

  • Location: Bemidji, MN
  • Activity: Implementation, Education, Outreach
  • Technology: Energy Efficiency (Low-Cost/No-Cost Upgrades, Behavior Change, Building Envelope, Lighting Upgrades, Comprehensive Weatherization), Solar PV
  • Total Cost: $23,400 (includes solar awning)
  • NW CERT Grant: $1,875
  • Estimated Energy Saved: 40% savings on electricity and 50% savings on natural gas
  • Solar PV Production: 4,693 kWh the first year
  • People Involved & Reached: 100

Want to learn how your community can get a CERTs Seed Grant to advance your work? Applications for the next round of grants are available and due October 26th. To get started, visit the Seed Grant page and see other awarded projects from past years.

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