Few sounds herald spring (and environmental health) more audibly than ribbeting frogs. But such sounds had grown scarce in the formerly marshy area of St. Paul known as Frogtown — bordered by Lexington Ave. and I-35E (east and west, respectively), and Pierce Butler Rd. and University Ave. (north and south).

“This area has less green per capita than other St. Paul neighborhoods, often by a factor of hundreds,” says Patricia Ohmans, a 37-year Frogtowner and public health advocate.

Happily, frogs are beginning to trill again at Hmongtown Marketplace, where a retaining pond to collect storm water runoff is under renovation at the Como Ave. edge of the parking lot — part of the mission to bring frogs back to Frogtown. With little recreational water in the area, other than some “ephemeral ponds” along the railroad tracks, Ohmans sees the restoration of the retaining pond as an important part of improving Frogtown’s environmental health. Recently, water tests revealed that tadpoles are re-inhabiting their former neighborhood.

Connecting Frogs, Environmental Health, and Culture

For environmental educator Chee Yang, who runs a “Frog Lab” at the Marketplace on Saturday afternoons from 1-4 p.m., the return of the ribbet is almost spiritual. After all, she says, “Frogs are bio-indicators,” signs of the overall health of the ecosystem. For frogs to be present, the environment must be relatively free of toxins.

Frog Lab signs beckon young people, up to age 12, to learn environmental health and stewardship.
Yang teaches environmental health and stewardship during Frog Labs every summer Saturday afternoon with co-teacher Hannah Whitney (pictured in the banner photo), a recent Macalester College environmental studies graduate.

And Yang is the perfect person to connect environmental concerns to the local Hmong community. An environmental science course at North Hennepin Technical College led this former bank manager to the University of Minnesota and to a major in conservation and resource management. The course was “like a light beaming down,” she says, when she realized the “interconnectedness of things” was fundamental to the way she sees the world.

Yang follows the ribbet, looking for signs of frogs as indications of environmental health along the edges of Hmongtown Market's retaining pond.
Yang looks for frogs — environmental health indicators — along the edge of Hmongtown Market’s retaining pond. The pond is part of the larger Frogtown Green Initiative, which manages six community gardens, farms, and small parks in the neighborhood.

Now Yang, who is Hmong, aims to help Hmong people across generations appreciate and protect the natural world within an urban locale. She says that while many elders were accustomed to hunting and fishing in the mountains of their native Laos and Vietnam, their lives became urbanized when they moved to the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, they often have so much going on that they don’t “stop and think about these issues,” she says.

Language differences also present challenges. There are no direct translations for “nature” and “environment” in Hmong, so Yang’s goal to get more Southeast Asians into nature is often first a description, then a conversation.

“I work the sociological angle,” she says, of a culture oriented to pulling together. “My message is: Let’s work together to make a difference!” And this message starts with the children she teaches to see the connections between frogs, green space, and environmental health.

Creating Frog-Friendly Habitat

To join Yang and Ohmans in encouraging frog habitat (which, incidentally, is also good people and pet habitat), consider creating a frog pond:

  • It can be as simple as a barrel in the ground.
  • Frogs prefer shallow ponds, with edges that gently slope so that they can hop in and out. Flexible liners allow for this.
  • Once the frogs have been attracted to the pond, they’ll need cover; good choices include: swamp milkweed, joe-pye weed, cardinal flower, black-eyed Susans and ferns, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
  • Frogs will feed off the pond organisms that grow when natural debris drops into the water.
  • Don’t use fertilizers or pesticides.
  • Don’t stock with fish, which eat tadpoles.

Learn more about creating frog-friendly yards here: https://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2000/Want-to-Host-a-Garden-Party-for-Frogs.aspx

You can even turn your yard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat!

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