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?
That 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.
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.
Draeger, 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.
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.
Porter, 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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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
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
“I should be ashamed of this, but I’m not.”
After spending the last year in rural India building the MyRain business he co-founded with his partner Paula Uniacke, Steele Lorenz (BS ’10) was ready for some comfort snack food. So when I asked him if he wanted anything from the U.S. before I left, he gave me a list that included items like Little Debbie cookies and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. On the trip over to India, I learned that Little Debbie cookies caused TSA more problems than anything else I have ever carried onto an airplane. They seem to be impenetrable to X-rays. “I should be ashamed of this list, but I’m not,” Steele confided to me. The work Steele has done with MyRain over the past year, however, deserves a whole shipping container of cookies.
We use more water for agriculture than for any other human activity on the planet, so water sustainability and food security are closely linked. And as demand for water increases — for domestic, industrial, and other uses, as well as for in-stream flows for nature, fishing, and recreation –demand for food expands as well due to our growing populations and changing diets. This dilemma will only create more pressure to optimize the efficiency of water use in crop production.
But how do we know where we might get more food “bang” for our water “buck”? I recently led a study evaluating how crop water productivity — the amount of crop produced per drop of water used — varies across the globe. We discovered that it varies significantly, even between places that have about the same climate. This shows that there is a “water gap” in some areas, which means they could be getting a lot more crop per drop. Continue reading
On Friday, May 10, a group of graduate students and a professor from the University of Minnesota set off for the Minnesota-South Dakota border excited and anxious. The plan: go from farm to farm and school to school by bike and on foot, collecting media artifacts on innovative agricultural practices for 7th-12th grade teachers and students following along.
Toward the end of the first day the “Grown to Run” adventure learning team saw plumes of white and gray smoke drifted across the road. Traffic slowed as flames flickered from a prairie reserve being burned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Armed with cameras, the G2R team videotaped a segment of the daily adventure update that would illustrate the role fire plays in prairie ecosystems. Continue reading
The warnings about the negative health impacts of consuming food grown using pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals echo across the food movement landscape, with research to back up those claims.
But insufficient studies exist to explain the effects of food nutrients on toxicity. For example, what effect does dietary folate have on arsenic elimination?
IonE resident fellow Randel Hanson, a faculty member in the Department of Geography at the University of Minnesota Duluth, is working to create institutional change around food systems. He has developed a 10-acre organic farm to grow produce for UMD dining services. The farm provides dining services with an opportunity to reintegrate minimally processed foods and move toward procuring more produce from area farmers. It also provides students with experiential learning opportunities around food and agricultural systems. Continue reading
Hamburger or hummus? Organic or conventional? Mediterranean diet or McDonald’s?
If you’re puzzled by which dietary choices are truly the most sustainable when you consider that what we eat affects not just our health but also the environment and the well-being of others, check out Sustainability of Food Systems: A Global Life Cycle Perspective, a new MOOC (massive open online course) developed and taught by IonE resident fellow Jason Hill, McKnight Land-Grant Professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Continue reading
Ever wonder which crops are grown where? Looking for crop and pasture data to use in a research project? Need a map for your report or presentation? We’ve got you covered.
The Institute on the Environment’s Global Landscapes Initiative and McGill University’s Land Use and the Global Environment (LUGE) recently launched EarthStat, a website for viewing and downloading agriculture and land use data developed in collaboration between our institutions. These data have become the standard used by many institutions around the world, and we hope this new site will broaden their use and influence. The site serves data on current and historical cropland and pasture area, as well as more detailed yield and harvested area for 172 crops. Yield potential, yield gap and climate bins are available in NetCDF, Geotiff, ASCII, Google Earth(KMZ), and PNG formats.
We’ll be updating the map viewer and download pages with additional data sets in the coming months. Please take a few minutes to check out the site, share it with your friends, and post comments below.
Special thanks to Peder Engstrom for creating the site!
Paul West is chief collaboration officer for the Institute on the Environment’s Global Landscapes Initiative. Follow him on Twitter: @coolfireconserv Image courtesy of Peder Engstrom.