Category Archives: Food

Study: How existing cropland could feed billions moreRice being grown in rural China

Feeding a growing human population without increasing stresses on Earth’s strained land and water resources may seem like an impossible challenge. But according to a new report by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, focusing efforts to improve food systems on a few specific regions, crops and actions could make it possible to both meet the basic needs of 3 billion more people and decrease agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The report, published today in Science, focuses on 17 key crops that produce 86 percent of the world’s crop calories and account for most irrigation and fertilizer consumption on a global scale. It proposes a set of key actions in three broad areas that that have the greatest potential for reducing the adverse environmental impacts of agriculture and boosting our ability meet global food needs. For each, it identifies specific “leverage points” where nongovernmental organizations, foundations, governments, businesses and citizens can target food-security efforts for the greatest impact. The biggest opportunities cluster in six countries — China, India, U.S., Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan — along with Europe.

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IonE all-stars win MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures grantsGround Beef

Four Institute on the Environment–related research projects won grants from MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures, a state-funded grant program. Four IonE resident fellows, as well as IonE’s managing director, are named as co-investigators on projects that seek to develop holistic and integrated approaches to ensuring a sustainable, safe and resilient food system.

MnDRIVE – Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and Innovation Economy – is a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the state of Minnesota, administered through the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research. Funding is intended to foster discoveries in four of the state’s key and emerging industries: robotics, sensors and advanced manufacturing; global food ventures; advancing industry, conserving our environment; and discoveries and treatment for brain conditions. Continue reading

Campus garden sprouts at U of M CrookstonPhoto by Tashi Gurung

Between the seemingly interminable June rains, ground was broken and crops began to sprout in the Allen and Freda Pederson Garden near the U of M Crookston campus. 

Dan Svedarsky, director of the Crookston Center for Sustainability, says completion of the project is “due in no small measure to support of the garden suppers,” funded through an Institute on the Environment Mini Grant. Continue reading

Frontiers: Global capital & disease hot spotsPigs

Our world is more connected than ever. It’s now easy to live in the United States, buy airfare to Europe, send money to Africa and eat food from Asia. And while this global connectivity comes with a slew of benefits, it also opens the door to the spread of disease and potential for worldwide epidemics.

Portrait: Robert WallaceRobert Wallace, visiting scholar with the Institute for Global Studies, discussed the need to rethink how we define “disease hot spots” from locations where outbreaks originate to global centers of capital that drive disease-causing practices in his Frontiers in the Environment lecture on April 16.

In his talk “Global Capital and Disease Hot Spots,” Wallace presented the concept of One Health, a new public health approach focusing on the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.

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IonE director leads off National Geographic food seriesNational Geographic Covers

Institute on the Environment director Jonathan Foley today served up the first article in an eight-month National Geographic series on feeding the world without destroying the planet.

“When we think about threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and smokestacks, not dinner,” writes Foley in the opening paragraph. “But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet.” Continue reading

Suppers sow inspiration for campus gardenVegetable garden

A series called “Garden Suppers” launched in January on the Crookston campus of the University of Minnesota that aims to sow inspiration for a campus garden. The IonE-sponsored events, featuring guest speakers and brainstorming activities, seek to engage students, faculty and community members in the project.

Discussions have been underway at UMC for the last year to launch a campus garden that would provide produce to be served in campus food service. The garden might consist of smaller garden boxes or plots around campus and/or a larger plot. In addition, there has been interest in having garden plots around the Crookston community, perhaps in vacant lots where houses have been removed to make way for flood protection efforts. Continue reading

Frontiers: Redefining agricultural productivityAgricultural Productivity

Many of us do our best to make healthy food choices, but replacing that burger and fries with fruits and vegetables isn’t just good for your body, it’s good for the environment.

Portrait: Emily CassidyEmily Cassidy, an Institute on the Environment graduate research assistant, discussed the impact of global diet preferences on agricultural productivity and greenhouse gas emissions in last week’s Frontiers in the Environment presentation, “Redefining Agricultural Productivity: From Stuff Produced to People Fed.”

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Frontiers: The importance of food literacyFrontiers: Chris Lambe

When it comes to our food system, it seems everyone has an opinion on how we can eat healthier, feed more people and reduce our environmental impacts. But how can you separate food fact from food fiction?

Portrait: Chris LambeThat was the topic of last week’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture presented by Chris Lambe, director of social responsibility for The Mosaic Company - a crop nutrient production company based in Plymouth, Minn.

In “The Importance of Food Literacy,” Lambe discussed why it is imperative that consumers, producers and policy-makers alike have a basic understanding of how the food system works and the challenges facing food production around the world.
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Frontiers: Land grant university & rural resilienceKathryn Draeger

In 2008, Kathryn Draeger and her husband left their home in St. Paul for a 320-acre farm in western Minnesota to experience life on the rural landscape.

Portrait: Kathryn DraegerDraeger, statewide director of the University of Minnesota’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and an adjunct professor of agronomy and plant genetics, discussed her experience in her Frontiers in the Environment lecture, “The Land Grant University and Rural Resilience: A Minnesota Story” Oct. 23.

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Frontiers: Aggregating an agroecosystemAgroecosystem

Paul Porter is a professor at the University of Minnesota, but you won’t always find him in a classroom. He has done much of his teaching from his bicycle, on tours through Africa, South America and, most recently, Minnesota.

Portrait: Paul PorterPorter, professor of agronomy and plant genetics, discussed his experiences incorporating adventure learning into his educational work in his Oct. 16 Frontiers in the Environment talk “Aggregating an Agroecosystem: Novel Approaches to Teaching and Learning.”

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Frontiers: Peak croplandPeak Cropland. Joe Fargione.

Feeding the world’s growing population is shaping up to be the challenge of the century, but where does conservation fit into the equation?

Joe Fargione, senior director for The Nature Conservancy - North America Region, attempted to answer just that in last Wednesday’s Frontiers in the Environment presentation, “Peak Cropland: Saving Room for Nature While Feeding Humanity this Century.”

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Frontiers: The palm oil problemOil Palm Leaf

Think about your morning routine. You may take a shower or wash your face with soap. Afterward, you may sit down with a bowl of cereal, or perhaps you grab a granola bar as you head off to work or school. While you may not think about it, chances are you’ve used palm oil at least once before you make it out the door.

Found in everything from soaps to breakfast foods, palm oil is all around us and becoming even more ubiquitous. Kimberly Carlson, an Institute on the Environment postdoctoral research scholar, discussed the sustainability issues and opportunities of palm oil production in her Sept. 25 Frontiers on the Environment presentation.
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Frontiers: Crossing institutional silosThe Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP) at UMD. Randel Hanson.

The answer to some of the food system’s most difficult sustainability challenges is sprouting up on student farms nationwide.

That was the topic of “Crossing Institutional Silos for Sustainable Solutions,” last week’s Frontiers in the Environment presentation by Randel Hanson, an Institute on the Environment resident fellow and assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
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Frontiers: Frontiers on food sustainabilityA bowl of ring shaped breakfast cereal

Sustainability isn’t simple, but it’s good for the bottom line as well as the planet, General Mills chief sustainability officer Jerry Lynch told University of Minnesota students, faculty, staff and other community members last week as the first speaker of the Institute on the Environment’s Fall 2013 Frontiers in the Environment series.

Lynch discussed some of the sustainability challenges and opportunities the Twin Cities-based food business faces in his presentation, ”Inside Food: How a Consumer Company Works Toward a Sustainable Food Supply.”

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U students buck the status quoJulian Marshall at Acara Challenge

Spirited voices mixed with the scent of Indian spices in The Commons: Meeting and Art Space at Institute on the Environment last Monday night. Dozens of Acara students, mentors and investors were gathered for a showcase of the 2012-13 Acara Challenge contestants.

Attendees supped on fare from Gandhi Mahal and mingled with the young entrepreneurs before settling in for brief presentations on seven start-ups developed by Acara alumni. The goal of each business – in addition to viability and profit – is to address a social or environmental issue at home or abroad. Continue reading

Million-dollar contest winners have IonE edgeIllustration from Urban Oasis proposal

On Monday, September 9, two former Institute on the Environment-affiliated students celebrated a major victory. Eric Sannerud and Ally Czechowicz were on the team that won the Forever St. Paul Challenge, a million-dollar prize for the best idea to uplift a St. Paul community.

Tracy Sides, who holds a Ph.D. in public health from the University of Minnesota, came up with the winning idea to build the Urban Oasis, transforming an existing structure in a city park into a venue connecting food, nature and culture. Continue reading

Take a step backScreen shot from a Big Question video

Whether you’re an environmental scientist working to restore biodiversity in the Amazon or just someone practicing an eco-friendly lifestyle to the best of your abilities, you know the little things are important. However, the day-to-day routine can give you tunnel vision. At some point we all need to step back and refocus on the global picture.

The Institute on the Environment’s “Big Question” video series can help you do just that. These four short animated videos provide a valuable reminder that there are more than a few environmental elephants in our global room – and suggest concrete ways we can work together to address them. Continue reading

Are crop yield trends on track to meet future demand?NeilPalmer CIAT

Several reports estimate that global crop production needs to double by 2050 to meet the demands of more people, more people eating meat, and more crops being used for biofuel production. I previously wrote a post about five strategies for increasing food security while improving the environment. One strategy is quite obvious: Increase crop production. We need more food, so let’s grow more on our current cropland or expand into new areas. Sounds simple, right? Let’s unpack a few of the details to see if we’re on track to meet projected needs in the coming decades. Continue reading