Ben Swart of Hardshell Fitnes, Thrive Might, and Frost Iron Training.

Meet your Neighbor: Ben Swarts

building community through health & wellness and the importance of strength and resilience in meeting the challenges of living in our current environment. 

Last week, on a chilly late October afternoon, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down and talking with Ben Swarts, founder of Frost Iron Training – the newest gym in the neighborhood.

We sat outside in the sun and chatted. Ben told me about how he sees his space as an opportunity to build community through health & wellness. He also talked to me about the importance of strength and resilience in meeting the challenges of living in our current environment.

“We all know about how physical activity, sleep, nutrition and stress reduction contribute to wellness, but we forget to talk about how important purpose, play, and community are to the equation.”

                            Ben Swarts, Hardshell Fitness, LLC

Until he opened this space, Ben had been offering fitness classes out of his home, or more accurately, his garage. Though it was not the biggest space, these “garage sessions” helped him grow a healthy – pun intended – following. Limited space in the garage meant that Ben held classes outside year round, and with the new space, he was really excited to offer his community an opportunity to train indoors for a change. However, they still wanted to train in the elements. Fortunately for everyone the new building with has these large overhead doors which turn out to create this perfect space for indoor and outdoor training. This new gym space is where the old A-1 Tree Service used to be, on the corner of 38th St. and Longfellow Ave in the Standish Neighborhood. Frost Iron plans to continue providing outdoor fitness training throughout the winter.

The chief disciplines at the gym are kettlebells and weight lifting, but don’t let that scare you. It is not all about building big muscles. He helps his members to build confidence, strength, balance, and mobility. He is not pushing diet regimes or cookie cutter results.

Ben meets you where you are and helps you to achieve your goals and not some industry standard of fitness. As he says “it’s all about empathy, resilience and community.”

People stand, socially distanced from each other, outside on the property at Frost Iron Training.

He is committed to making sure Frost Iron is a place for everyone and every “body”. Regardless of your current state of fitness or ability, he welcomes you to begin a strength and resilience journey. Importantly for Ben, it’s also an opportunity to become part of a community committed to supporting each other. Best part is: he doesn’t just talk-the-talk.

Thrive Mighty is a non-profit Ben started that stems from his professional experience in the disability services field. The values of ability first, inclusion and personal power are at the center of their work building a community of people around wellness that welcomes all. Thrive Mighty encourages individuals to showcase their personal power. Clients first focus on discovering their abilities through social gatherings, then developing those abilities through more group activities, and educational opportunities. “We rely on our events’ Ben says, ”and pictures, etc. for folks to understand it’s for people of all abilities, backgrounds, as we want our actions to tell the story.” While Covid has created some obstacles to Thrive Mighty’s work, there are still opportunities to be involved. Check it out at https://www.thrivemighty.org.

You can become a member of Frost Iron for as little as $80 a month. That comes with two fitness classes a week. Some of his members pay extra to provide opportunities for others who may not be able to afford it.

This is not your typical fitness industry experience. Ben is building a tight knit community of people who want to feel better and do better.

Frost Iron Training is located on the corner of 38th St. and Longfellow Ave. in the Standish neighorhood.

For more information visit Ben’s website:https://www.hardshellfit.com/. Or, send him an email at hardshellben@gmail.com with any questions, or to be put on his email list for future opportunities.


Our Fellow SENA Honey Bees

A story of honey, urban ecology, and mutualism in the city

Nadja’s house sits tucked back from the street further than most. Her front yard is not a mowed lawn, but a mixture of native plants and colorful flowers. A small sign with the words “POLLINATOR CAFE” tilts near the sidewalk. Look atop her roof and you’ll see two purple boxes the size of a dorm fridge. They are honey bee hives, each home to a queen and, in the peak of summer, about 35,000 worker bees. These bees cover a radius of two or more miles, making them key members of our SENA community. They are also an excellent example of a mutualistic relationship between urban man and animal.

Jake Soper

Nadja’s front yard “Pollinator Cafe” sign with her two rooftop hives in the background.

Six years ago, Nadja emailed the University of Minnesota Bee Squad to inquire about hosting honey bees on her Ericsson neighborhood property. She saw hosting as a way to help the environment and give back to her community. “Pollinators are struggling”, Nadja says, “and it’s important for us and our environment that they thrive”.

Nadja pays $975 per year, and in exchange the Bee Squad cares for the hives and harvests the honey. Nadja says, “The early season honey is often Basswood, and is lighter in color with a more delicate flavor. The color darkens and the flavor deepens throughout the summer.” To the delight of her friends and neighbors, Nadja gets to keep and share any harvested honey. She says there is anywhere from zero to 100 pounds of honey per year, depending how the hives fare in a given season. One, five-gallon bucket of honey weighs about 50 pounds.

Some years are a challenge for the hives, and she keeps her neighbors in the loop. In 2019, she and others noticed a great number of bees acting erratically. She messaged her neighbors to let them know she was aware of the activity, and that she’d look into it and be in touch. The Bee Squad investigated and told Nadja that her bees were under attack from another hive, and fighting for survival.

To aid her hive in the battle, the Bee Squad arrived and hung dampened sheets over the hives. This gave her bees the upper hand by reducing the hive’s access points for the attackers. When the battle was over, thousands of vanquished bees blanketed the ground, but her hives survived.


Dampened bed sheets draped over the hives during the 2019 bee battle.

She wrote to her neighbors in a group email, “I am relieved to report that with the thwarting mechanisms put in place by the Bee Squad yesterday, the Bee Battle is over. Smack Down. My girls appear to have won.” She received many celebratory responses.

It’s now October, and our Minnesota honey bees, along with the rest of us, are readying for the long push through winter. First, the female workers kick out the male drones. The drones, whose job is solely to mate with a virgin queen bee on her mating flight, are fed and cared for all summer by the colony’s worker bees. In the winter the drones would be only extra mouths to feed. To help fight the cold, the Bee Squad adds black, wax-covered cardboard to the outside of the hives, and a sheet of particle board under the lid. These measures help with insulation and keep moisture out of the hives, but the bees must generate their own heat.

To do this, the winter bees form an insulating cluster around the queen, shivering their bodies to create heat. The workers slowly cycle from the outside of the cluster (about 48 degrees) to the inside of the cluster (90+ degrees) to eat honey and recharge while protecting the queen and any brood (eggs, larvae, pupae) in the hive. The deep cold is a challenge for the bees. But, with remarkable hive teamwork and a nudge from their human helpers, the bees often survive until spring.

On a cool but sunny fall afternoon, Nadja talks about our partnership with bees and other pollinators, and the essential role they play in our society. She sets a jar of honey on her patio table. It’s a deep, golden color with a thin swirl of tiny bubbles descending through the middle. “Bloom where you are planted”, she says. She smiles at this gift from her rooftop family, and looks forward to seeing them again in the spring.

Jake Soper

A jar of Nadja’s honey.

Nadja’s bee-friendly pointers:

  • Don’t be afraid of the bees. If they’re buzzing around your yard or garden, they’re just grocery shopping for nectar and pollen.
  • Know your bees and other pollinators.
  • Go organic if you can. We live in an interconnected ecosystem.
  • Please don’t use pesticides. If you must, please do so early in the morning.
  • Plant for pollinators. Avoid seeds and plants treated with neonicotinoids, and ask your local garden center about which plants pollinators love.


Learn more here: