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Convergence Colloquia

Sustainable Food Systems

The sustainable food systems colloquium on December 11, 2015 brought together a wide array of researchers, business owners, advocates, policy makers and many others the U of M and state to hold a focused dialogue about how we can advance sustainable food systems that reduce environmental impacts, are economically viable and ensure equitable food access.

Read the report: Sustainable Food Systems

Serendipity grants awarded

Identifying New Opportunities for Reducing Food Waste in the Twin Cities

Hikaru Peterson, Professor, Department of Applied Economics, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences (PI)

U of M Collaborators: Barrett Colombo, Lead for Education and Policy Initiatives, Institute on the Environment (Co-PI); Kathy Quick, Assistant Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs (Co-PI); Jennifer Schmitt, Lead Scientist, Institute on the Environment (Co-PI); Laura Babcock, Director, Minnesota Technical Assistance Program; Alyssa Lundberg, Sustainability Coordinator, University Dining Services

External Collaborators: Nancy Lo, Waste Reduction and Recycling Specialist, Hennepin County Department of Environment and Energy (Co-PI); Andrea Hills, Sourcing Specialist, the Food Group (Co-PI); JoAnne Birkenkamp, Senior Advocate, Natural Resources Defense Council; Colleen Hetzel, Planner Principal Waste Reduction, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; Erin Hertog, Warehouse Manager, The Wedge Coop and Co-op Partners Warehouse; Brian Larson, Fresh Category Manager, National Coop Grocers; T.J. Hoag, President, Copeland Trucking, Inc.; Jared Walhowe, Produce Specialist, The Food Group; Robert Zeaske, Chief Executive Officer, Second Harvest Heartland

Reducing food waste represents one of the most promising solutions for building a sustainable food system and ensuring all of those in need are fed. Many organizations and research groups are focused on this problem. However, the sources of food waste span the supply chain and the solutions are varied and contextually specific. Existing work represents only a piece of the larger food waste puzzle and there is a lack of knowledge sharing within and between academia and practitioners. This project will create a food waste working group designed to bring researchers and practitioners in the Twin Cities together on a monthly basis. These meetings will provide case study examples of local food waste solutions as well as uncover the barriers and opportunities for broader system-wide food waste solutions. A literature review will reveal best practices in food waste mitigation and address research questions and issues that arise at the meetings. This iterative process will ensure the group’s collective knowledge informs the design of a larger research proposal, and we hope also influence innovative new practices across sectors and stages of the food chain where action will have the largest impact.

Soul Food Monologues

Tracey Deutsch, Associate Professor, Department of History, College of Liberal Arts (PI)

U of M Collaborators: Kristine Igo, Associate Director, Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute (Co-PI); Sheri Breen, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota Morris (Co-PI); Julie Grossman, Associate Professor, Department of Horticultural Science (Co-PI); Mary Rogers, Assistant Professor, Department of Horticultural Science; Karl Hakanson, Extension Educator, Hennepin County Extension Office

External Collaborators: LaDonna Sanders Redmond, Diversity and Community Engagement Manager, Seward Community Co-op (Co-PI)

This project uses a holistic approach to create new knowledge about the causes, and the meanings, of Minnesotans’ challenges in accessing food. In so doing, the project will expand conventional narratives about food insecurity and the groups of people challenged by it and investigate how to produce empathetic, broadminded, interdisciplinary students of food systems. The project responds to the well-known need to study food in its social as well as scientific contexts (i.e., to “embed” food) and also to the dearth of research on the pedagogy of these phenomena. These monologues allow Minnesotans to be at the forefront of new knowledge creation. Participants on the project will produce a series of performances of “Soul Food Monologues,” integrating the theme of food sovereignty, defined as the right of people to define their own food system. Each monologue will be designed in part by U of M students, with the involvement of community members of diverse ages, ethnicities, occupations, and religions. The research team will then study the effect of producing, watching and discussing the monologues on student learning, leading to publication of an article with the results. The project will also investigate the ways that historical narratives shape contemporary food politics, laying the groundwork for more expansive programming and the creation of an archive of Minnesotans’ “food stories.”

Assessing Environmental, Economic, Productivity, and Social Impacts of Agriculture in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro

Mary Rogers, Assistant Professor, Department of Horticultural Science, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences (PI)

U of M Collaborators: Nicolas Jelinski, Assistant Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate (Co-PI); Hikaru Peterson, Professor, Department of Applied Economics (Co-PI); John Erwin, Professor, Department of Horticultural Science; Karl Hakanson, Extension Educator, University of Minnesota Extension; Helene Murray, Executive Director, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture; and Courtney Tchida, Student Program Coordinator, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture

External Collaborators: Valentine Cadieux, Director of Sustainability and Director of Environmental Studies, Hamline University (Co-PI); Caroline Devany, Owner and Partner, Stone’s Throw Urban Farm (Co-PI); Matt Frank, Director of Regenerative Design and Sustainable Food Systems, Dovetail Partners and From the Ground Up North (Co-PI); Tim Page, Farm Co-Manager, Frogtown Farm (Co-PI); Cherry Flowers, Farm Co-Manager, Frogtown Farm; Michael Chaney, Founder, Project Sweetie Pie; Russ Henry, Owner and Organic Gardener, Giving Tree Gardens; Adam Kay, Associate Professor, University of Saint Thomas; Dylan Bradford-Kesti, Community Based Food Systems Urban Agriculture Organizer, Land Stewardship Project; Eric Larsen, Owner and Partner, Stone’s Throw Urban Farm; Iman Mefleh, Farmer, Growing Lots Farm

Agriculture is rapidly expanding in the Twin Cities Metro Area and is serving a variety of social functions, including alleviation of food insecurity. The City of Minneapolis recently expanded the number of parcels available for urban gardening. Currently, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is seeking input on defining “Urban Agriculture” to better understand key issues and direct future legislation needs. Many new enterprises, such as Frogtown Farm and Stone’s Throw Urban Farm are experiencing significant community interest and are building capacity for public outreach. Many beginning urban farmers and gardeners lack experience in production horticulture and soil and water conservation. Urban agriculture comes in many different forms, and best management practices (BMPs) are lacking or have not been adequately researched or evaluated. As local resource hubs, skill-sharing networks, training programs and U of M Extension are serving this need, and as urban agriculture continues to grow, we need science-based benchmarks for environmental sustainability and production efficiency. This new team of researchers, community organizers, Extension personnel, and urban agriculture practitioners will identify sustainable environmental practices for our city farms and gardens to protect and conserve our natural resources in ways that are economically efficient and socially grounded.

Analysis and Dissemination of Information from the 2015 Rural Grocery Survey to Cultivate Further Collaboration around Rural Grocery Needs

Karen Lanthier, Assistant Program Director, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, University of Minnesota Extension (PI)

U of M Collaborators: Kathryn Draeger, Assistant Program Director, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, Extension (Co-PI); Hikaru Peterson, Professor, Department of Applied Economics (Co-PI); Fritz Ebinger, Rural Energy Development Program Manager, Clean Energy Resource Teams, Extension; Caryn Mohr, Assistant Statewide Director, Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, Extension; Neil Linscheid, Associate Extension Professor, Center for Community Vitality, Extension

External Collaborators: Lance Knuckles, Community Outreach Director, Community Reinvestment Fund (Co-PI); Elyse Less, Campaign Coordinator, American Heart Association

Small-town grocery stores are the heart of many rural communities, in many cases offering the only access to fresh, healthy food. Yet stores struggle with a shrinking customer base, competition from larger box stores, and owners with retirement hopes on the near horizon. In 2015, the U of M Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) conducted the first ever statewide survey of rural grocery stores in Minnesota. RSDP will collaborate with other experts across disciplines to inform analysis of survey results, review creation of useful outreach documents, and assist in the dissemination of these resources across multiple stakeholder networks.