Next Gen: These young people are staking a claim in the future of their fields


It’s always entertaining to guess about the future. What are the trends and movements that will define food, drink, and culture in the next generation? But instead of always asking “what’s next?” perhaps we should be asking “who’s next?” These Minnesotans got in on the ground floor of their industries and movements at a young age—we look at how they’re tearing out the old foundations and laying the groundwork for great things to come. 

Youth Climate Striker Organizers with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders // Photo via The Youth Climate Striker Organizers

Youth Climate Strike Organizers 

Minnesota chapter

For the organizers behind the Minnesota Youth Climate Strikes, the day-to-day schedule has recently looked something like this: 

  1. Study for finals
  2. Prep for a new trimester
  3. Organize the youth revolution for climate justice

That’s a heavy load for a group of people who largely won’t be old enough to vote in the next election. As the state lead for the Minnesota chapter, 16-year-old Juwaria Jama says the balance is difficult to maintain—but the sky-high stakes for her generation make it a no-brainer. 

“We’re going to school, and then we’re organizing like a full-time job. I think the importance of that, and knowing that we are fighting for our future that adults don’t have to fight for, because they already have it,” she says. “A lot of people […] don’t understand why thousands of kids are skipping school every month. We have to do it, because we don’t have anything else to look forward to if we don’t.”

The U.S. Youth Climate Strikes were co-founded in early 2019 by 16-year-old Isra Hirsi—daughter of Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar—and 12-year old activist Haven Coleman, who’s since stepped down to make Isra the sole executive director of the national organization. The U.S. Youth Climate Strikes quickly took the nation by storm, inspiring thousands of young people to join the global movement that originated in Europe in 2018 with Greta Thunberg’s “Fridays for Future” school strikes. 

Minnesota has 10 chapters statewide, with school leads in each area organizing events to address their local issues. The state’s fourth strike was held this past December, in which the group held a sit-in at the State Capitol and demanded divestment from fossil fuel investments—in the past, they’ve gone after corporations like Cargill for its involvement in Amazon deforestation. For Juwaria, the issues can be seen right here at home.

“I live in North Minneapolis […] right next to a lot of factories, and a lot of people in my community work at these factories,” she says. “We get a lot of air pollution and our water is also contaminated, so we are fighting for things that are affecting us right now, and we need to do it at a local level so we can see the change happen.”

Aside from organizing strikes across the state, the Minnesota chapter—coincidentally with an all-female POC board—have turned their focus to pushing local legislation, namely divestment and resurrecting the Minnesota Green New Deal.

But the strikes at the heart of the movement will continue to mobilize young people across the state, snow or shine. “It’s still amazing to know that, even when it’s very cold in Minnesota, people are gonna show up for what they believe in.”  –Lauren Sauer

Britt Saint Clair at Grand Cafe // Photo by Eliesa Johnson and The Restaurant Project

Britt St. Clair

Chef de cuisine, Grand Cafe

Becoming a chef doesn’t happen by accident. Nobody wakes up to discover they can cook a meal that garners critical acclaim. It takes hours of suffering sore knees, chapped knuckles, and thousands of small cuts. So how does Britt St. Clair make it look so natural at such a young age? She started cutting her teeth in kitchens at 15, while most of us were still in braces.  

St. Clair made her Minneapolis debut in 2011 at the Art Institutes International of Minnesota for her culinary degree. Soon after, she became an integral part of some notable kitchens—her resume includes Eli’s East, D’amico Kitchen, Parma 8200, Barbette, and Nighthawks. While working under Landon Schoenefeld at Nighthawks, the chef tapped St. Clair to help anchor the team at Birdie, his critically acclaimed restaurant driven by seasonal tasting menus.

“She was unassuming but quickly proved to be the cream of the crop. I found myself with a hole in the roster when I opened Birdie, a coveted position among cooks around town at the time,”  Schoenefeld said. “She cooked circles around anyone else that I had at the time. I knew from the beginning she was something special.”

These days you can find St. Clair as chef de cuisine at Grand Cafe, the 70-year-old cafe with a lauded new French restaurant inside. “Chef Britt St. Clair is incredibly hard-working with an impressive aptitude,” says chef and owner Jamie Malone. “She is dedicated to precision and excellence. She has an amazing and consistent palate. Those things paired with her leadership skills and ability to think on her feet are the reason she is set up for a bright and shining career!” 

 With her tenure at Grand Cafe proving to be just as impressive as the rest of her resume, there is no plateau in sight for chef St. Clair. As she continues to dazzle in the kitchen, building respect on her name, don’t remark on the age—marvel at the dedication.  –Eli Radtke

Leah Meyers // Photo Courtesy of Cannon River Winery

Leah Meyers

Vineyard Manager, Cannon River Winery

Leah Meyers was 16 years old when she took a summer job in the vineyards at Cannon River Winery. One of her main tasks was canopy management—a critical effort that involves positioning, trimming, training, and hedging the vines and their leaves, in order to achieve the best wine fruit.

“I felt really comfortable with that work,” she says. “I started to handle that on my own while my manager took care of other things.” Later, in her college years, she was in charge of her own crew of vineyard workers.

She attended UW-River Falls, majored in business but minored in horticulture. Right as she graduated, the previous vineyard manager, for whom she’d worked for six summers, moved to California. Perfect timing. 

Now at 22, Meyers finds herself as very likely the youngest full-time vineyard manager in Minnesota—and at one of the state’s largest estate vineyards (40 acres), no less.

“I have experience and I think that helps me, but now there are things to do in the wintertime that I don’t have as much experience with,” she says. “Dormant pruning, that’s something I’m trying to wrap my head around. Being in charge, you make the final decision, so I’m constantly doing my own research so I make the right decision—it’s not just doing what I’m told anymore.”

Now she’s working to expand her expertise beyond the vineyard by interfacing with the winemaking side of things. “It’s something I haven’t been around for, or tried, or had the chance to learn about,” she admits. (She’s just barely of drinking age, after all.) “I know a lot about our grapes and what I’m growing, but I don’t know how it’s getting put into our wine.”

Looking towards the future, Meyers sees the spread of viticultural knowledge as crucial to the success of Minnesota wine. “There are a lot of mom-and-pop smaller vineyards popping up,” she says. “Educating growers is going to be very important—people are just starting, they don’t know the reasoning behind what we’re doing.”

But for now, the Cannon Falls native is content to grow in her role in a place she loves. “My commute is on gravel back roads, I couldn’t be happier about it,” she laughs. “I grew up here, so I treat my workplace like my home—I can go out and do yard work and not be mad about it. It’s just where I am, and I’m happy.”  –John Garland

Head Coach, Ryan Saunders of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on during the game against the Washington Wizards on November 15, 2019 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. // Photo by David Sherman courtesy the Minnesota Timberwolves

Ryan Saunders

Head coach, Minnesota Timberwolves

When Ryan Saunders was officially appointed the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves on May 20, 2019, he became the youngest head coach in the NBA. At the time of this writing, Saunders’ Wolves were playing with renewed energy that had them in the Western Conference playoff picture and exceeding the expectations of just about every national basketball writer. 

Considering Saunders’ coaching pedigree, this shouldn’t be too surprising. Ryan started his first NBA coaching job for the Washington Wizards at just 23 years-old under his late father, Minnesota basketball legend Flip Saunders. But Ryan has put his own stamp on the game. During Ryan’s time in Washington, he helped develop Game Time Concepts, a basketball analytics app that remains an essential part of his coaching toolkit to this day. 

“Game Time Concepts came about as something to make our lives as coaches a little bit easier,” Saunders says in the Game Time Concepts video demo. “We found a way to create a web application that works on all platforms […] that will provide real-time, in-game analytics. Numbers that coaches will use.” Using the app, Saunders explains in a Star Tribune interview from 2014, a coach can identify what plays work, what defensive coverages work, while the game is going and make adjustments in real-time. 

Prior to the 2010s, it was uncommon for teams to hire full-time staffers charged with studying hard data, or for dozens of cameras to be installed in the rafters of every arena as all-seeing eyes collecting every shred of data imaginable. Now it’s considered the norm across the league. 

Saunders may be considered young compared to the rest of the coaches in the NBA, but in analytics years he’s already a crafty veteran. And the 33-year-old has turned his experience to the Wolves’ advantage and has his team ahead of schedule.  –Terry Horstman