A sense of place with Nik Allen

March 2024

The Clean Energy Resource Teams is excited to welcome Nik Allen! Allen is the new Northeast CERT Coordinator and will support CERTs work in that region. She arrives with rich experience and also carries a unique piece of Iron Range history.

Living in northeast Minnesota, Allen is the most recent member of her family to take ownership of her family farm nestled in the Sax-Zim Bog’s boreal forest. The Sax-Zim Bog is a sprawling nature preserve located in St. Louis County. 

“I don’t like to say I own the land because I don’t think it belongs to me. But I certainly belong to it. I plan to be the best steward of the land that I can,” says Allen.

A generational sanctuary

Shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, racially charged riots erupted in the city of Chicago, Ill. — where the Allen family called home. Riots persisted into the end of the 1960’s, peaceful anti-war protests became violent and homes were burned. Finally, when the military was brought in to walk their children to school each day, Allen’s maternal grandparents decided to move their family out of the city and into northern Minnesota. Like so many other Iron Range families, they scrimped and saved until they managed to put down a payment on the farm in 1969. But unlike most locaAllen family farm aerial viewl families at the time, Allen’s grandparents were an interracial couple.

“They packed up all six kids and moved before my grandpa had even been officially hired at the mines,” says Allen. “They became one of the first multi-ethnic families in the area.”  

Allen’s relatives say that being the first melanated kids at the local high school wasn’t always easy, but the Allen kids also learned to really relax for the first time. Clean air, miles of rolling fields and dense forests completely free of the noise and danger of the city, helped the family heal from the trauma of riots and late night flash bombs. Decades later, Nik Allen grew up in that same space on her family’s farm, blissfully unaware of the troubles of the past.

“I played outside in every kind of weather, all my cousins, aunties, and uncles lived on our same dirt road. I learned to drive a tractor long before I could drive a car,” she recalls.

Today, Allen is proud to take ownership of the farm and stay close to the land. She credits time in nature with sustaining her in many ways throughout her life, including two battles with cancer. She often wishes that more people had access to lush green sanctuary spaces.

Creating spaces

It is that wish that brings Allen to work in clean energy. After she became the first member of her family to get a bachelor’s degree, Allen went on to work with the local Community Action Partnership program. During her time there, she crossed paths with CERTs for the first time. This resulted in one of 8th Fire Solar’s (a CERTs’ partner) early solar thermal furnaces being installed on the farm’s original 1860’s farmhouse. Allen eventually worked with nonprofits across the state and even some national organizations, all with an equity focus. 

“Growing up in a mixed-race family in a place that isn’t very racially diverse, gave me a certain insight. Since I’m light-skinned, blue-eyed, and educated, I’ve also had a level of privilege that I don’t ignore,” she says.

“When I’m invited to tables where even my own mother wouldn’t always be welcome, I try to do my part to make that table more welcoming.” 


- Nik Allen

Allen is ready to bring that insight and equity focus to CERTs.Close up shot of a woman smiling. She has golden curly hair and blue eyes.

“I want to make sure rural Minnesotans aren’t left behind while energy becomes cleaner statewide,” she says. “I especially want to make sure that people in northeastern Minnesota don’t miss out on money savings or chances to update their homes and businesses.” 

Allen says she’s especially passionate about CERTs' work with Solar for Schools and building a clean energy workforce.

“We can honor our history and still build a great future,” she says. 

It’s what she plans to do with her farm. Allen hopes to turn a large portion of her acreage into a tree farm as a part of the Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships Forest Assisted Migration Project. Plus, the family’s original seven acre farm has already been designated “The Gertrude Elizabeth Allen Memorial Nature Preserve,” in honor of Allen’s late grandmother. 

Allen firmly believes that farming, mining, and clean energy can all exist in unison as we move forward. 

“I’m just thrilled to be working with CERTs to help connect my community to clean energy opportunities. I’m really excited to open the door to my northeast neighbors, to learn about their projects and ideas for the future.”

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