Spring 2011 Mini Grants Outcomes

The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment has selected 10 interdisciplinary initiatives for funding in the first round of awards for its new Mini Grant program.

The goal of the Mini Grant program is to encourage collaboration among faculty, staff and students across University of Minnesota disciplines, units and campuses on environmental themes. Along with $2,500 in funding, each recipient is provided space for meetings, workshops and conferences and some administrative support for a one-year period starting March 15.

Mini Grant recipients for Spring 2011 are:


Art, Story and Infrastructure: A Model for Experiential Interconnection in Environmental Education

Jonee Brigham, Center for Sustainable Building Research (College of Design)

Project Outcome(s): The outcomes of the project extended beyond those proposed. Because the grant was associated with a pilot project, it is difficult to trace which outcomes were from the grant itself. However, throughout all activities, the existence of the grant, the affiliation with the Institute on the Environment, and the advisors brought together by the grant, enhanced and strengthened interest and participation.

Intended outcomes:

  • By its design, the grant helped initiate and bring resources to the curriculum model development. The outcomes of the pilot of the model, and the promise of the repetition and development of them model include improving environmental literacy, self‐nature concepts, and stewardship values. Research in the psychology of sustainable behavior suggests improved outcomes by complementing traditional broad informational approaches with personally relevant and engaging modes of communication and many sources are pointing to the critical role of new environmental narratives. Results and feedback from the pilot are supporting this.
  • The grant enabled the exploration to have more depth, reach a broader audience, and increase its viability as a model to enhance environmental education.
  • The grant fostered connections between faculty and outside partners around common missions to promote environmental citizenship and literacy.
  • The grant created a foundation that helped the project get accepted for presentation at the Minnesota Association For Environmental Education Conference, where the ideas can be shared and dialogue can inform further development.

Added outcomes that the grant helped to support:

  • The project was presented as a poster at the U of MN Student Sustainability Symposium in Fall, 2011
  • The pilot and curriculum model concepts were presented as guest lectures in three course at the College of Design
  • The curriculum model concepts are being applied to a new College of Design course proposal (tentatively for Fall 2013)
  • Connections have been made with the Minnesota Chapter of the American Public Works Association regarding how the project supports public works awareness and outreach goals and a conference presentation is being proposed for the organization’s fall conference.
  • A planning grant proposal, for a “Green School Systems Journey” which would develop a college student‐K‐12 student site‐based learning program at the University was proposed to College of Design in winter 2012. It was not funded, but we are being introduced to a funder of the College to pursue the concept with them.
  • The curriculum model will be incorporated into the team leader’s master’s creative exhibit on display to the public spring/summer 2012 and will be incorporated into her written thesis.

UMore Park Energy Roundtable

Carla Carlson, Office for UMore Park Academic Initiatives

Project Outcome(s): end date 03/15/2013

Sustainable Agriculture Program

Cindy Hale, Natural Resources Research Institute (University of Minnesota Duluth)

Project Outcome(s): The goals of this project, as part of the newly formed Sustainable Agriculture Program at UMD, were to develop a set of courses that, in conjunction with course already developed (i.e. Urban Food System, Ethnobotany, Anthropology Senior Seminar, GIS in Sustainable Communities, etc.) would form the base upon which a Sustainable Agriculture certificate program or minor could be created.

Three new courses were developed and are being offered during May and summer terms 2012. The courses are fully integrated with a student led organic farming initiative that currently includes vegetable and tree fruit production at the newly resurrected UMD Field Experiment station. These foundational courses will provide students with understanding of the social, historical, economic and geographic context that led to the development of our current food system. They will come to understand the multi-dimensional nature of this food system, explore the possible future for regionally adapted food systems and the opportunities and obstacles to change. Each course has hands-on and project based components that directly involve students in the formulation and implementation of business and farming models for sustainable and organic farming with clear links to the community and regional food system. Student learn not only the skills of farming but the ecological concepts that support sustainable farming and the social systems that are integral to vital, local food systems.

ES 3100: (Randel Hanson, instructor) Sustainable Food Systems - Historical and contemporary food systems are examined within a sustainability framework. Students will increase their understanding of food within social, political, economic and environmental contexts. By looking at sustainable production, consumption and processing issues, students will have opportunities to learn tools for formulating future action and community processes based on resilient and adaptive thought.

ES 2095: (Cindy Hale, instructor) Sustainable Agriculture I - Field Experience in Planning, Planting & Maintenance for Small-Scale Farms - Students will gain hands-on experience and explore the academic issues related to the early season dimensions of small scale sustainable agriculture. Course activities will involve students directly in the planning and planting of market gardens and orchards including topics such site selection, assessment and layout; establishing plants using transplants and direct seeding, companion planting, nutrient management, irrigation methods, cover cropping, etc. Emphasis placed on field dimensions with student lead group projects as the central learning focus. Students will work in groups, in all weather conditions and actively engage in field activities related to seasonal management of small scale market gardening/farming.

ES 2095: (Cindy Hale, instructor) Sustainable Agriculture II - Field Experience in Maintenance, Pest Management, Harvest and Marketing for Small-Scale Farms - Students will gain hands-on experience and explore the academic issues related to the mid-late season dimensions of small scale sustainable agriculture. Course activities will involve students directly in the management of market gardens and orchards including topics such crop and pest monitoring, tool use and maintenance, nutrient management, irrigation methods, organic and integrated weed and pest control, and direct and wholesale marketing of produce. Emphasis placed on field dimensions with student lead group projects as the central learning focus. Students will work in groups, in all weather conditions and actively engage in field activities related to seasonal management of small scale market gardening/farming.

The IonE funding directly supported development of these courses by allowing Dr. Hale to attend relevant workshops (“Water and Agriculture in the 21st Century”– May 6, 2012, University of Minnesota, CFANS; “Midwest IPM training for grape & apple growers and educators” – University of Wisconsin Madison, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems). Three UMD centered meeting we held to inform development of the courses including Deb Shubat, Biology; Randel Hanson and Pat Farrell, Geography; Stacey Stark, Geography-GIS lab coordinator; David Syring, Anthropology; Catherine Winter, Journalism; Mike Mageau, director Center for Sustainable Community Development; Mitra Emad, Sociology. Individual meeting or consultations were made during the project with David Abaz, MISA Endowed Chair in agricultural systems; Nick Jordan, Agronomy Plant Genetics & Sustainable Agriculture Undergraduate; and Kris Johnson, IonE Sustainability Research Assoc. with the Boreal Forest & Community Resilience Project.

Additional outcomes related to our curricular development effort include:

  • As a result of this effort, our dean has asked us to develop a 12 credit certificate program in Sustainable Agriculture. The courses we have developed will form a part of that planned certificate program.
  • We developed a series of well attended public workshops centered around the UMD Seedling Trial Orchard including restorative and maintenance pruning, bench and field grafting, and a 6 part series on orchard and IPM management.
  • The student lead vegetable farm was increased to 3+ acres as a result of UMD dining Services increased project support through purchasing of produce and providing student workers for the summer.
  • Expansion of the Edible Landscapes Initiative with small to large plantings of themed gardens by a wide range of faculty/staff and student groups. In its 3rd year, the program has more than doubled the available planting space on campus as well as visibility and links to courses.
  • New collaboration with
    • the Xerces Society to host a full-day short course on Native Pollinator Plantings for Educators and Conservation professionals, June 13th, 2012. The SAP site will also be field trialing threeexperimental treatments for site preparation of native pollinator plantings
    • “Good Farms” incubator effort to provide land and mentorship to new farmers on land adjacent to the UMD farm
    • Duluth Community Garden Program and Duluth Public Schools to help develop school gardens and orchards paired with sustainable agricultural practices curriculum.
    • Development of collaborations that led to submission of a USDA Specialty Crop Block grant proposal to develop replicated trials of heritage and disease resistant apple varieties in zone 2-3, a 3-day beginning apple school, grower and public workshops.

Linking Land Use, Water Quality and Human Well-being: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Value of Clean Water

Bonnie Keeler, Institute on the Environment; Stephen Polasky, Applied Economics (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences)

Project Outcome(s):

  • Two-day interdisciplinary workshop on water quality valuation involving ecologists, economists, water quality regulators, non-profit organizations, and hydrologists from across the U.S.
  • Formation of a University of Minnesota working group on water quality valuation that met several times from Spring 2011 to Winter 2012.
  • Presentation of a poster describing the template for water quality valuation developed by the working group.  The poster was presented at the National Academy Keck Futures Meeting on Ecosystem Services in Irvine, CA, at the American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting in San Francisco, CA, and at the Ecological Society of America Emerging Issues Conference in Shepardtown, WV.
  • Manuscript currently in review at PNAS that describes a new framework for water quality valuation based on the results of the workshop and working group.

Student Sustainability Symposium

Clarence Lehman, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior (College of Biological Sciences); Carissa Schively Slotterback, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; Jennifer Schmitt, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior(College of Biological Sciences); Beth Mercer-Taylor, Institute on the Environment
Project Outcome(s): not received

Phenology: the Pulse of the Planet – Developing Science and Engagement Initiatives That Explore Plant and Animal Response to Climate Change

Rebecca Montgomery, Forest Resources (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences)

Project Outcome(s): not received

Food Security and Infectious Disease: Seeking Integrated Solutions

Katey Pelican, Veterinary Population Medicine (College of Veterinary Medicine); Meggan Craft, Institute on the Environment

Project Outcome(s): View Project Poster (PDF)

  • As a result of the brown bag workshops we are gearing up for a NSF-IGERT submission with a focus on pathogens.
  • The results of the pilot study will result in a poster presentation, a peer-reviewed manuscript with a third-year veterinary student as the first author (and coauthors from academia and government organizations, including human and domestic animal health), and a future grant submission for further continuation of this project. 

Implementation Strategy for Graduate Sustainability Education

Carissa Schively Slotterback, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs

Project Outcome(s): The intent of the mini grant was to organize the activities of the Network and prioritize them so that the financial and political resources of the Network and its affiliate partners could be trained upon the most important and urgent activities.  Several discrete outcomes illustrate the broader progress toward this purpose:

  • The creation of the Sustainability Education website.  One of the three key opportunities to emerge from the drafting of the Strategy was the strong need to increase internal communication at the University around issues of sustainability education.  With the support and collaboration of IonE Sustainability Education staff, the Network designed and provided critical feedback on the creation of a new site to serve undergraduates, graduates, and faculty.  The Network’s web page was also moved to this site, and its content expanded moderately.  Perhaps due to its dynamic and regularly updated content, since the site’s launch a Google search of “sustainability umn” yields this site as the top result.
  • Presentation of the Strategy at Network meetings and area conferences: the Strategy has provided structure and organization for conversations in several settings, including at the June 2012 Sustainability Across the Curriculum workshop at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Reserve, and the spring Network meeting.
  • Background research for curriculum development: the Strategy has been used by several developing initiatives related to sustainability education at the University, including the Boreas Leadership Program and the Department of Applied Plant Sciences.
  • Reference document for University committees: the Education Subcommittee of the System-wide Sustainability Committee has used the Strategy as an organizational document in its work to scale-up “signature initiatives” around sustainability across all system campuses.  A draft of the document was circulated among members and used for the development of a white paper currently being reviewed by University leadership.

Sustainability Suppers, System Dynamics and Implementing the Climate Action Plan at the University of Minnesota, Crookston

Dan Svedarsky, UMC Center for Sustainability; Scott T. Johnson, Scott T Johnson Consulting

Project Outcome(s): The supper series was a success! Providing a meal was an additional incentive which improved attendance and discussion was generally stimulating and productive.  An average of 18 or so were in attendance. The concept of a “climate action plan” was somewhat abstract for many, especially some students and community members, but if the focus was on reducing energy use and that greenhouse gases were a way to measure it, that improved the relevance. It was especially good to have community members in attendance but few were regular attendees. Highlights included:

  • The joint session with UND was especially beneficial for net-working and comparing notes on where the respective campuses are as far as implementing their climate action plans. UND is quite committed to the path towards Climate Neutrality as exemplified by the attendance of President Kelly, the student body president, and the Director of Facilities.
  • Another session which was especially noteworthy was the session on, “Faith-based approaches to sustainability” which was held at a rural retreat center. The home-cooked, mostly locally grown food was excellent as was the quaintness of the venue. The faith based approach to the topic was novel to many participants as well.
  • The generally low attendance by faculty was somewhat disappointing but student attendance was good.
  • Apparently the U of MN, Morris is following the lead in scheduling a similar series addressing sustainability issues.
  • The grant of $ 2,500 was sufficient to assist with speaker expenses and meals, especially when attendees were able to go through the Food Service line at $ 5.00 per person.
  • There was some variation from proposed topics depending on the availability of speakers and travel complications but the overall quality of speakers was quite good.

Make It Fit: Supporting a Decent Standard of Living within Planetary Boundaries

Stephen Polasky and Joey Reid

Project Outcome(s): end date 07/30/2013