NO. 1  

Up North is famous for its vast boreal forests. A Grand Rapids scientist is making sure they remain vast as the climate warms.

Most Minnesotans feel a deep calm on their way up north: The air cools and freshens, and foliage perceptively shifts from the hardwoods of the south to the great boreal pine forest of the north. But species like white and black spruce, balsam fir, and quaking aspen are endangered by our warming climate and encroaching pests. The worst-case scenario is that within 100 years the Boundary Waters will be surrounded by prairie or wide-open savanna. Thankfully, scientists at the University of Minnesota, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Forest Service are planning what our future boreal forest will look like. Brian Palik has been stationed at the Grand Rapids Forest Service research lab for the past 26 years. 

“The predictions for northern Minnesota are pretty bleak,” he says about the anticipated 10-degree hikes in winter temps if CO2 continues to grow unabated. “So if we want pine forests 100 years from now, we better look at a range of options.” 

One of the best options is called “assisted migration,” which Palik and his crew have been working toward by planting trees in their experimental forest to determine which perform better in warmer, drier conditions—trees like ponderosa pine from the west and burr oak from the south. 

“We’re trying to demonstrate that people can start planting these species now in these northern pine forests and expect them to do well.”  


NO. 2

An Edina guy parlayed the pandemic into a return trip to the White House. 

Andy Slavitt wasn’t always a health care crusader. After graduating from UPenn’s Wharton School and receiving his MBA from Harvard, Slavitt was settling into life as an investment banker and McKinsey type before his good friend died of a brain tumor. During the process, Slavitt saw firsthand the sort of collateral damage the American health care system can inflict on a family, as his friend’s widow and children were forced to move in with the Slavitts. He jumped into health care and ended up in Minnesota as a vice president at UnitedHealth’s Optum. And when the Obama administration hired Optum to fix the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s Healthcare.gov, he went with the team to D.C. Before long, he became the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Slavitt spent most of the Trump administration fighting efforts to repeal the ACA. That is, until the pandemic set him on an entirely new course. Via his biweekly podcast, In the Bubble: From the Frontlines, he became one of the most prolific real-time sources of credible information and interviews about COVID-19. It even led to a book, Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response, slated to be published in June. Slavitt’s COVID deep dive also got him back into the White House as a senior advisor on President Biden’s COVID response team. 


NO. 3

We repurpose abandoned iron ore mines into aeroponic farms.

Community-supported agriculture (CSA), wherein farms sell their crops directly to individuals and families, is nothing new. Neither are decommissioned mines in northern Minnesota. Marrying the two, however? Now that is a horse of a different color. And yet that’s exactly what Tower-based farm start-up Harvest Nation is readying to do via vertical aeroponic farming in the Soudan Underground Mine. Wait. What? In the where?! Vertical aeroponic farming (a novel method of soil-free farming that constantly mists crops with nutrient-filled water to grow) in the underground physics laboratory of Minnesota’s first iron ore mine. Harvest Nation is the brainchild of Denise Pieratos, Tracey Dagen, Dani Pieratos, and Nikki Love. The women, who are all members of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, have long wanted to establish a four-season indoor farm to provide their community nutrient-rich, fresh, and affordable produce, and a random encounter with an official from the Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park led to the epiphany that the mine’s physics lab room, replete with 40-foot-high ceilings, would be just the place. Now, designs are in place, financing is in progress, and once financing is firmed up, presale produce box subscriptions will be available for around $55 per week. Heirloom, soilless, iron-ore-mine dragon carrots? Don’t mind if we do.


NO. 4

We invented an iron lung… for your head?

Early in COVID, when PPE was at its shortest supply and hospital staff were realizing that N95 masks alone wouldn’t cut it for frontline health care workers, U of M Medical School professors Drs. Kumar Belani and Gwenyth Fischer were inspired by a concept they’d seen in Taiwan and created a rigid cube structure that goes over an infected patient’s head. Their “ventilator box” has ports for workers’ arms to access the patient and HEPA filtration to save negative-pressure rooms for the patients who need them most.


NO. 5

A company from Burnsville created a way for you to make sure Grandma’s taking her meds when you can’t be in the same place as Grandma. 

Video messaging apps like FaceTime have become indispensable in maintaining contact with Grandma and Grandpa during the pandemic. But what if you actually have to make sure they’re taking their pills at the right time?

Enter Burnsville start-up Omcare’s new home medicine dispenser. Adapted from CEO and founder Lisa Lavin’s smart treats dispenser for pets, the slick new device takes Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and mellows her out by crossing her with a machine that reminds us of Pixar’s adorable Wall-E.

The dispenser’s interactive cameras allow you to not only watch Gammy take her pills when she’s supposed to take them but also to make sure she actually swallows them down. Now all it needs is a spoonful-of-sugar button.


NO. 6

At least one local daily is fighting racism from its newsroom out.

In the wake of the George Floyd uprising, Star Tribune named 20-year veteran photographer and photo editor Kyndell Harkness the newsroom’s first assistant managing editor for diversity and community. “What we want to do at our newspaper is be better about that sense of belonging,” she says, “so that everybody, no matter who they are or where they come from, that they feel they belong here and are being seen and heard, and it feels fair to them.” 

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NO. 7 

We invented the mall, and when it needed reinventing, we did that too.  

The pandemic forced physical retail to embrace a concept that up until now may have been seen as the enemy—the internet. Among the most innovative locally? Malls.

Mall of America partnered with a shopping app to introduce livestream shopping, and the ever-evolving Rosedale Center launched Black Friday shopping on Instagram Live, plus an augmented reality game, Rosedale Dash, a take on Pokémon GO that allowed shoppers to explore the mall and win real prizes from their phones. Galleria created “Galleria to Go,” a same-day delivery service that generated more than $20,000 in sales for its roster of stores during the holiday season, and took its “Holiday Reimagined” window-shopping experience contactless by inviting Galleria-goers to access deals and DIY inspiration from more than 40 local brands via QR code. 

“Retail has always been about creativity—but the pandemic definitely brought the need to ‘think outside the box’ to the extreme,” says Galleria marketing director Rachel Oelke.

Neither Oelke nor Rosedale’s marketing director, Sarah Fossen, see in-person shopping going anywhere, but they do expect new programs designed for ease and personalization to stick around and evolve. Some of Galleria’s tenants have implemented ongoing free shipping programs indefinitely, and Rosedale intends to grow virtual shopping services on its social channels. 

“Much like Zoom conference calls make meetings more efficient for companies, shoppers are growing used to the convenience of pickup, curbside, virtual, and online offerings,” says Fossen. “You never know where your next idea is going to come from. The best ideas aren’t from your own industry but rather something that is disruptive because it hasn’t been tried in your sector yet.” 


NO. 8

Our hotels took room service to a whole other level.

When hotels lost guests indefinitely last spring, it hurt, but losing the local dollars that come from their bars and restaurants was existential. In order to weather the storm, some reevaluated their primary asset—a series of small, private spaces with controlled atmospheres—and turned their guest rooms into private dining suites. Over the winter at the Hewing Hotel in the North Loop, you could book a room for a three-hour tasting menu, and there was no contact, as they left the meal cart outside your door. Across downtown at the just-opened Rand Tower Hotel, you can book a room for a six-course menu for up to six people. And across the river at The Saint Paul Hotel, a four-course dinner for two in a private suite includes wine and parking.


NO. 9 

The smartest guy in Minnesota works for… the Timberwolves? 

When Wolves president Gersson Rosas hired Sachin Gupta, MIT computer science grad and league-renowned inventor of the NBA Trade Machine, to lead the Wolves’ quantitative statistical analysis program, the nerdiest segment of Wolves fandom rejoiced like the squad had just signed LeBron James. Now, almost two years in, Gupta continues to be regarded as one of the NBA’s whiz kids, but it’s fair to say the Wolves’ 2020–21 season would’ve knocked a healthy amount of whiz out of anybody. 

“It hasn’t been easy,” Gupta sighs, recounting the disruption and chaos COVID has brought to everything from the team’s practice schedule and recovery protocols to draft prep and roster makeup. 

Gupta says the biggest change to the league since he got his first job in 2006 is that every team has an analytics department now. “Everybody has access to the same information,” he says. “Now it comes down to who interprets it and incorporates it into its decisions the best.” 

And Gupta calmly assures us that the Wolves have one of the most cutting-edge and fully integrated analytical teams in the league. But is there a precise quantitative analytical term for turning a franchise’s historically bad luck around? 

“Yes,” he says. “A regression to the mean.”


NO. 10   

St. Paul made TP haute. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, St. Paul start-up Bim Bam Boo, which makes tree-free organic bamboo toilet paper, made its mark early in the pandemic when major toilet paper manufacturers crapped the bed and left store shelves empty. In a year most people just want to flush way, the purveyor of sustainable toilet paper turned the toilet bowl that was 2020 into a multimillion-dollar company.


NO. 11

Minnesota singles didn’t let the pandemic stop them from looking for love.

The pandemic halted many things, but dating is not one. Thanks to dating apps and good old-fashioned meet-cutes, Minnesotans are still putting themselves out there and hitting relationship milestones—it just looks a little different. “There’s more of a finality to it,” says marriage and family therapist Ben Hoogland. “It takes so much energy to connect with people in general that there’s a new level of seriousness.” So what does the dating pool look like in 2021? We asked a few people in the deep end.

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NO. 12

Thanks in part to the U of M, a badass new climate-champion super grain is poised to save—and feed—the world.  

Kernza. This might be the first time you’ve seen the word, but The Land Institute and the University of Minnesota are ensuring it won’t be the last. The perennial grain, with roots that can measure over 12 feet long, prevents erosion, has excellent water retention, and sequesters significant carbon. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that Kernza makes for a tasty beer. And bread, pasta, scones, and other things you’ve come to love. But even though the grain originally launched quietly, that’s about to change thanks to the U of M and The Land Institute embarking on a five-year initiative called the Kernza CAP. The idea is to create a coalition of farmers, scientists, educators, and food industry leaders to ramp up production and commercialization of the grain, with open lines of communication between farmers and scientists. 


NO. 13

We finally became as cool as we always thought we were. 

“Free to live anywhere, COVID-era migrants are relocating to the Twin Cities,” trumpeted the Star Tribune, relaying the fact that the Twin Cities is the fifth most relocated-to region by folks fleeing pricier places. Meanwhile, the Strib reports Duluth’s housing market is booming as people seek clean water over more hectic city living, driving home prices there to record highs. What will this mean for life around here? Buckle up and scan the 2021 headlines—we’re about to find out. 


NO. 14

Amid far too much death, one local cemetery works to demystify it.

In 20 years, what will we remember about our pandemic experience? The dead, one hopes. More than 6,000 Minnesotans gone too soon, with stripped-down funerals and isolated deathbeds.

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NO. 15

Our restaurateurs made ghost kitchens a thing—and they’re not scary at all. 

See that spectral mass just behind the chef’s table? No, it’s not Slimer scarfing down prime rib; it’s a ghost kitchen, and there’s nothing haunted about it. The idea is to use a commercial kitchen solely to make food for takeout and delivery that is ordered online. No bars or dining rooms, no servers or hosts, no restaurant, just product. And when indoor dining first closed, it seemed like a logical transition for some restaurant owners, like Luke Shimp, who promptly turned his Red Cow in Uptown into a ghost kitchen, which he branded as Kenwood Food and Beverage. He called it a virtual food hall because he and his team created four different menus: Chicken Republic for the hot chicken sandwich trend, Venice Salads and Bowls, Shakee Shakee for shakes and malts, and Red Cow for the burger side of things. “I always wanted this to be an idea incubator of sorts, and some of the items have been selling so well that we’ve introduced them to the other Red Cow location menus for regular dining,” Shimp says. “We never would have done shakes, and now we are selling a ton of them.”


NO. 16

We’re doing our darndest to be where the buffalo roam… again.

The last wild bison in Minnesota was seen almost 150 years ago, but thanks to conservation efforts, today it’s estimated that 500,000 bison exist worldwide. Of that, though, the number that are “genetically pure” is a mere 15,000. And that’s important because it turns out bison just might be crucial to maintaining the biodiversity of Minnesota’s native grasslands and species—and a new project at Spring Lake Park Reserve hopes to track just that. Once it receives its final funding, the project will study the impact that at least 15 genetically pure American plains bison have on a 150-acre environment. Researchers will study the impact of their habits—foraging, grazing, and wallowing on the ground, all of which are essential to restoring native plants, as nearly 80 percent of what is now Dakota County was once covered in prairie and oak savanna. 


NO. 17 

A U of M prof put COVID-sidelined Twin Cities dramatists to work—reading his students’ assignments aloud for them. 

Andrew Elfenbein, chair of the University of Minnesota’s English department, has long moonlighted as an actor in local productions. So when the pandemic obliterated the Twin Cities theater landscape literally overnight, he had an idea. “Much of the literature of which I’m an expert—18th and 19th British literature—was actually meant to be read aloud, in family settings or in public. Jane Austen’s novels, for instance—really interesting things about tone become accessible in oral performance which aren’t as easily caught in silent reading.” U of M staff called in actors from the West Bank’s Mixed Blood Theatre and paid them to read aloud for various English poetry and literature classes. “The reviews have been uniformly ecstatic,” reports Elfenbein. “Students and instructors have been saying how wonderful it was to do, and the actors get to perform and get paid, and they get to stick around so students can ask questions. It creates a more vivid and vital experience of the literature than anyone was having alone.” As for whether the English department will keep this up post-pandemic, Elfenbein says he “would dearly love to be able to maintain it.” Countless literature students hitherto alone with their texts thank him.


NO. 18

A Minneapolis South High grad revolutionized face masks before anyone needed them.

Inspired by the masks he saw utilized to combat poor air quality during his study abroad in Singapore, Minneapolis South alum Max Bock-Aronson began designing a face mask of his own. Bock-Aronson’s would be an industrial-strength, reusable, and sustainable face covering used to protect against air pollution. THEN came COVID-19, and his mask company, Breathe99, took on an entirely different imperative. The company quickly pivoted its production plans, solidifying partnerships with various Minnesota medical device companies. After a few crowdfunding campaigns, Breathe99 generated $750,000 in preorders and is now selling direct to consumer online. “We’re redesigning public health solutions from the ground up,” says Bock-Aronson. His mask, which features two filters and removes up to 99.6 percent of particles, was named one of the best inventions of 2020 by Time and even landed a spot on the magazine’s cover. 


NO. 19

When the live events industry fell off a cliff, a Minneapolis event producer taught it how to fly.

“I thought, OK, Amy. It’s time to sink or swim,” says Zaroff. “As an entrepreneur, I have always believed that being a game changer, a risk-taker, and a rule maker is the key to success.” Since last March, Zaroff has planned and executed successful virtual events—from corporate and nonprofit galas to weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. Her key ingredients to innovation? “When the going gets tough, the tough make things happen. Evolution comes from not being comfortable with the status quo. Opportunities are everywhere if you dream big and show up when the time is right.”


NO. 20 

Our extreme athletes want to feed the world home-cooked meals.

Kenji Yee has done a lot. The pro in-line skater and philosophy grad has also worked at Unideli at United Noodles, 4 Bells, Tori 44, and Kado no Mise. But Yee hit his stride when he introduced his newest concept, The Shui Project, from his Loring Park apartment by posting donation-based, suggested-price menus with an invitation on Instagram.

Shui offered custom takeout meals to essential frontline workers, and when George Floyd was killed, Yee’s Konbini pop-up fed protesters and those offering supplies and help with ready-made takeout, including vegan kimchi rice bowls.

“[The restaurant industry] was already problematic, and the hit it took is going to be hard to come back from. I don’t have a lot of hope in moving in that direction,” Yee, who’s currently based at Keefer Court in Cedar-Riverside, says. “The way that we’ve been doing donation-based is surprisingly effective.” 


NO. 21

We created an elegant, humane way to change the lives of our unhoused population.

When you open the peacock-green door to the tiny house, you feel as if you’ve stepped into an HGTV show. The 140-square-foot pine-hewn home is simple, clean, and tastefully appointed with a gravity-fed ceramic water tank, down duvet, and wool blanket for the lofted bed. There’s even a “tinkerer’s workspace” beneath the bed, a wood-and-leather rocking chair, and an extra chair to have a friend over. 

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NO. 22

We turned our grandparents into tech nerds. 

Seniors have been one of the hardest-hit groups during COVID, especially when it comes to seeing loved ones. Enter: GrandPad. The Twin Cities company, started by father-son duo Scott and Isaac Lien, makes virtual visits easier for those who aren’t tech-savvy. GrandPads have capabilities like regular tablets—video chat, email, photo-sharing, games, internet—but none of the fuss. Features like a soft case, extra-loud front-facing speakers, large touch screen buttons, and a charging stand make it easy for those with hearing or memory loss or tremors to operate. “Even before COVID, we were focused on reducing social isolation and loneliness,” Scott says. “Doing video calls and getting photos and videos from the family can reduce it.”


NO. 23

A Northeast Minneapolis guy is turning Minnesota bogs into Minnesota booze.

Just a few years ago, in a Northeast Minneapolis warehouse basement, Phil Steger perfected the first single malt whiskey in Minnesota. He called it Brother Justus—after the Benedictine monk who spent Prohibition building whiskey stills for broke farmers in central Minnesota—and to this day, whiskey is the only spirit he makes. In that way, secrets have always been a part of his mission. If you looked closely at the shelves in that basement, you might have seen a test bottle called “Recipe X.” It was the beginning of an idea that has bloomed into something revolutionary: cold-peated whiskey. 

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No. 24

We unlocked the vault. 

If you got tested for COVID at home at some point over the last year, you most likely sat on Zoom spitting copious amounts of saliva into a test tube. You can thank Vault Health for both the comparative ease of that experience and the fact that it is a big part of the reason why Minnesota was able to rebound from its dire case numbers in November. Compared to the much more invasive nasal swab PCR test, the spit test developed by Vault’s partner, Infinity BiologiX, was determined by the FDA to be just as effective. And, as per the state’s promise, the tests are free, right down to their pre-posted return shipping bags.


NO. 25

At least one local company saw 2020 as the perfect time to invest. 

Minnesota’s singularity owes largely to the overwhelming amount of innovation that’s originated here. From Earl Bakken’s pacemaker to 3M’s Post-it to Scott Olson’s Rollerblade, innovation and creativity seem woven into the fabric of this place. And it’s that legacy that new Minneapolis-based venture capital firm Bread and Butter Ventures is hoping to carry forward via investing in what it calls “the core backbone sectors…of the 21st century economy.” The seed-stage investment fund run by investor and serial entrepreneur Brett Brohl and Mary Grove, who was formerly an exec at Google working with start-ups (and is married to Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove), invests globally but with the legacy of Minnesota as its north star. And it got off to a fast start. Founded less than a year ago, Bread and Butter already has a portfolio of more than 35 companies, ranging from a maker of supply chain management software for small and independent grocers to a Black-owned salon and barbershop space-rental app. 


NO. 26

A Twin Cities retail exec found real success when she started turning lemons into lemonade.

Former Target executive Rita Katona and her husband, Eric Hall, risked it all to start a lemonade stand. Sort of. Their business, So Good So You, makes cold-pressed probiotic shots and plant-based juices and has gone from a small downtown juice bar to the leader in the functional beverage category in just six years. When the pandemic shot demand for immunity-boosting products through the roof, So Good So You landed $14.5 million in growth funding last fall. Now it’s carried in 4,500 stores across the country. But that’s not even the coolest part. Despite their success, Katona and Hall are still committed to using only certified organic, non-GMO verified ingredients packaged in biodegradable bottles in a renewable energy–powered, zero-waste facility in Minneapolis.


NO. 27

Ramsey County decided to make the prison industrial complex a lot less complex. 

“We’ve never locked people up at the rate that we do today in this country,” says Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. “We’ve been raised to believe that public safety requires us to incarcerate everybody. So it starts by just saying it out loud, that as a chief prosecutor, you believe this country and your community have a mass incarceration problem. Because nobody incarcerates like we do here in America.”

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NO. 28 

Our most hyper-local shops forged a path to an international audience.

Thanks to COVID, you can take Ingebretsen’s Sámi-inspired bracelet-making class with your cousin—who’s in Hawaii. You each get your Sámi bracelet kits—replete with real reindeer hide—in the mail prior to class, then hop on Zoom to learn together. Similarly, Grand Marais’s North House Folk School will teach you to make kouign-amann—with your grandma in Florida. The Loft Literary Center offers classes with a former mystery editor of the LA Review of Books who lives in Toronto or a Pushcart Prize nominee living in Brooklyn. Who said distance learning couldn’t include the whole world?


NO. 29

Fitness folk reinvented the idea of the home gym.

Gyms and fitness studios faced an existential crisis in 2020. “The first time we closed, we didn’t know what to do,” says True Grit Society co-owner Jen Wilson, who opened the LynLake studio with her husband in summer 2019. “Even getting instructors to the gym to film a class was hard.” Many gyms switched from teaching in-person classes to hosting paid workouts on Zoom or free content on Instagram (like True Grit did). And while most are hosting live classes again, capacity limits, mask mandates, and members’ comfort levels mean the online option won’t fade anytime soon. “With the current state of the pandemic, we knew that many in our community would still prefer an at-home option for the foreseeable future,” says Barre3 Edina co-owner Lucy Gardiner. Barre3 offers an option to take classes in studio or Zoom alongside the workout from home. “Our team had to learn how to virtually welcome new and old clients and also how to teach and motivate individuals through a computer screen.” That means those with different schedules (or who live far from a studio) can still get in a sweat sesh virtually anytime. And along the way studio owners have learned a little connection goes a long way. So, if they build it, those who want it will come, in whatever form they can. 


NO. 30

We came together to find an inspiring new way to feed the hungry. 

Locking down restaurants in March of 2020 to stem the spread of the virus meant thousands of workers were suddenly without a paycheck, supply chains were disrupted, and food quickly became harder to find. For the team at Second Harvest Heartland, which has long fought to feed the hungry, the pandemic upped the ante. The idea? The Minnesota Central Kitchen. Partnering with Chowgirls Catering, MCK not only addressed the hunger crisis but employed hospitality industry workers. The kitchen found it could both rescue food from being wasted and support local farmers who had no restaurants to supply with crops and products. Since its founding, MCK has served more than a million meals, re-employed some 200 workers, and saved nearly 1.2 million pounds of food. Now 10 kitchen sites strong, it has no intention of slowing down, because neither does hunger.


NO. 31

A Waconia man is making reefer madness sane. 

Ask Charlie Levine what the future is made of and his answer is simple: hemp. Of course, Levine’s a bit biased since hemp is also what his money is made of, thanks to his farm, Hemp Acres, in Waconia. In hemp, which is a cannabis plant with less than 0.3 percent of the hallucinogenic THC, Levine sees a sustainable plant with myriad uses that’s largely misunderstood. “We’re changing the persona and helping people understand its capabilities,” he says. “We’ll see a global shift now that it’s not a controlled substance in the U.S. anymore.” Hemp’s uses range from foods (hemp-based cooking oils, protein powders, plant “milk”) to 100 percent biodegradable plastics, batteries, and textiles and to construction applications where it could be used to strengthen roadways or to create cinder blocks. Plus, even the act of growing hemp is virtuous: Hemp can absorb more CO2 per hectare than any forest, he says. “It has amazing properties with taking out heavy metals and toxins from the ground.”


NO. 32

MN doctors use hip apps like TikTok with surgical precision. 

Perhaps no other app exploded in popularity over the last year quite like TikTok. And Dr. Rose Marie Leslie, who works as a family medicine resident at the University of Minnesota, took full advantage, spending her free moments giving medical information to her nearly 900,000 followers on the short-form video platform.

“I think many teens and young adults on TikTok are curious and want to learn, particularly about their health,” she says. “However, many people in this age group rarely see their doctor. On TikTok, I am able to bring this information to a place where they are spending a large amount of time.”

Now Leslie is one of the foremost health care workers on the app, offering guidance on everything from the health risks of vaping, menstrual cups, anxiety, and especially COVID-19. Recently, she was named the number one most impactful creator on TikTok for 2020.

“I try to show what life is like as a family medicine resident doctor working at the hospital,” she says. “The spirit of TikTok is creativity, fun, and showing off your unique talents. That’s why it is a perfect place to discuss health education and public health topics.”


NO. 33

A U of M neuroscientist reads minds—literally.

When neuroscientist Damien Fair first encountered the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, he was studying to be a physician assistant at Yale. “It allows you to use this noninvasive MRI to look at brain activity instead of brain structure,” he explains. 

So basically, as our neurons fire and blood flows into those areas of the brain, the magnets pick up on the single iron molecules in our red blood cells, allowing the machine to make an image of how we think. 

“As soon as I got a taste of the technology,” Fair says, “I knew I wanted to use it for my career.” 

Last fall the 45-year-old was awarded the MacArthur “genius grant” for his research using the fMRI. And the timing couldn’t have been better—Fair had just moved back to his native Minnesota (along with his urogynecologist wife, Dr. Rahel Nardos) after being named codirector of the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain. 

Fair and his colleagues at the institute use the fMRI to help us understand atypical brain function, like that associated with ADHD and autism, and to develop treatments and courses of teaching to help society develop the healthiest possible brains. 

“What’s clearly shown is that everybody’s brain is extremely unique,” he says. “So much so that it’s like a fingerprint—you can tell everyone apart from their functional organization of their brains.”


NO. 34

Our most famous drag performer utilized the pandemic to make bingo cool again. 

“We all thought, It’ll all be over by July. Can you believe it?” says Miss Richfield 1981 over the phone. “I have a mailing list, and 35,000 Facebook followers, so I thought: bingo! I mean literally. We do about three cards in the hour, interact with the audience, and my guy in Fort Lauderdale, Chris, wrote code so it functions really well.” Minnesota’s scion of drag is talking about the epiphany that kept her and her crew entertaining and employed when live performances screeched to a halt. Every Monday at 7 pm central time, roughly 500 people visit PlayBingoBonanza.com for an evening that’s one part improv, one part bingo. “We have people overseas that play,” Miss Richfield adds. “It’s helping me too—some people are so alone, they’re really afraid to go out, so Miss Richfield comes to them, with some great costumes. As we say, all you have to do is grab your balls and play.” 


NO. 35 

Local thrift stores tap modern means to sell vintage clothes.

With people spending more days at home, thrift, consignment, and vintage store owners are waist-deep in goods from diligent closet cleaners. According to Arc’s Value Village marketing manager Molly King, it feels like spring-cleaning mania at drop-off locations. Arc’s was the first to reopen for donations, but with a new, strict, contact-free system that requires donators to remain in their vehicles, plus a mandatory quarantine period for all donations. 

Additionally, vintage purveyors have had to rethink their brick-and-mortar presences as we become more accustomed to virtual experiences. Leaning on social platforms—like Facebook and Instagram Live—to sell vintage loot isn’t exactly novel, but it’s as relevant as ever. According to King, Arc’s more robust online initiative has helped sell goods while dressing rooms remain closed for in-store try-ons. 

Meanwhile, Tandem Vintage owner Amanda Baumann has posted goods on Instagram for years, but after closing her pop-up inside Northeast’s FindFurnish, Story sales helped her not just survive but thrive. Today, Baumann focuses most of her efforts online and has even opened up her porch for contact-free buying and selling appointments. “If you’re open to rolling with the punches and trying new strategies,” Baumann says, “you may end up pleasantly surprised.”


Originally published in the March 2021 issue.