Randel Hanson

Department of Geography
University of Minnesota Duluth

Randel Hanson holds a faculty appointment in environment and sustainability at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, where he teaches courses in food systems, organic agriculture, urban ecology and ecological history. Before joining UMD he held faculty positions at Arizona State University (Tempe, Ariz.) and Rice University (Houston, Texas). In addition to his work on regional food systems development, Hanson has published on challenges associated with siting and managing high-level radioactive waste, particularly with reference to American Indian communities.

Hanson’s current focus engages organizational and institutional development and change in building small and middling-sized food and agricultural systems for creating better outcomes in human health, economic development and ecological resilience. He is interested in ways of networking actors within institutions, communities and regions to create ideas, policies and actions recognizing the cross-sector mission around expanding production of and access to “good food.” In particular, he is focused on integrating “anchor institutions” such as education, medical and other placed-based organizations that have become increasingly important in local and regional sustainable development against the backdrop of deindustrialization (undermining manufacturing bases) and corporatization (centralizing power and resources) for many urban and regional economies. Colleges and universities have a special responsibility in preparing future leaders for a world of rising challenges around, but not limited to, sustainably produced food and health.

To carry out his action research, Hanson has coordinated food summits, co-founded a farm incubator program and a food policy and action network, chaired regional planning processes around food and agricultural development, and consulted on sustainable food systems with experimental stations, correctional facilities, public schools and institutions of higher learning. He serves on the statewide Community Transformation Grant Steering Committee for the Minnesota Department of Health, acts as a convener for Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Healthy Eating Minnesota Network and sits on numerous other boards. As founder, coordinator and “farmer in chief” of the Sustainable Agriculture Project at UMD, he leads a faculty collaborative and platform for systems change that includes a 10-acre organic transition field site and a 5-acre orchard on the former Northeast Experimental Station.

Under the umbrella of the IonE resident fellows Program, Hanson will assemble the food system players at UMD to help create a plan to procure, serve, teach about and model food behaviors 10 years hence. Drawing upon the tools associated with The Natural Step (TNS) methodologies developed for creating sustainable change in Sweden, he will engage an institutional backcasting exercise that allows participants to chart change without barriers based on contemporary trends, designs and systems; instead, TNS asks that a vision of the future be created based on best possible outcomes. Once this social vision is created, it becomes possible to work backwards to identify policies and programs that will connect the future to the present.