HomeGrants2022 Impact Goal Grants support collaborative, creative sustainability solutions

2022 Impact Goal Grants support collaborative, creative sustainability solutions

Everyone will experience the effects of climate change, which also means everyone brings valued perspectives on climate and sustainability solutions. To advance these diverse ideas towards our shared vision of a future where people and planet prosper together– a future of carbon neutrality, sustainable land use, and clean drinking water for all– we are excited to announce our 2022 Impact Goal grant recipients.

IonE Impact Goals, put forth in our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan, are designed to drive progress in areas where solutions have been slow to develop or have been prevented. They help us and our community focus resources and attention in priority areas and inspire collaborations that serve Minnesota and scale to the world.

In 2021, the University of Minnesota committed additional investments towards a fully sustainable future as an MPACT 25 MNtersection priority area. Because of that investment, and generous private philanthropy from Seeding the Future Foundation focused on sustainable food systems, we were able to award up to $100,000 for projects from across the UMN system that clearly demonstrated how they’ll move the needle towards a more sustainable future. 

We are excited to introduce you to a diverse range of partnerships between University of Minnesota staff and faculty and partners in higher education, K12 education, government, and nonprofit organizations. We look forward to learning from their many ways of knowing about the world and watching them bring sustainability solutions to Minnesota and beyond.


Elevating emerging farmer voices for sustainable food production via soil health planning

Project Team: Julie Grossman, Department of Horticultural Science, UMN-Twin Cities; Adria Fernandez, Department of Horticultural Science, UMN-Twin Cities; KaZoua Berry, Big River Farms; Natalie Hoidal, Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota Extension; Carl Rosen, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, UMN-Twin Cities

Soil is the cornerstone of agricultural production, yet it can feel like a mystery for farmers because soil science concepts are less tangible than ecological concepts such as insect or crop management. In 2021, Big River Farms identified a need for soil test report interpretation tools and other supports for emerging farmers to develop soil health plans. Emerging farmers are those who traditionally face barriers to the education and resources needed to build profitable agricultural businesses. 

This project responds directly to that challenge by co-developing a program for soil health management with emerging farmers and farmer support organizations. Emerging farmers and leaders in emerging farm communities will share their approaches to soil health and management through surveys and interviews. They will also identify their needs and desires for culturally relevant tools and technical support models. That farmer and farm community feedback will inform a train-the-trainer program and associated tools to support emerging farmers to develop a sustainable soil management plan. This project was solicited and developed by the farmers and organizational leaders that it stands to benefit, with technical support provided by University of Minnesota partners.


Food: from field to the future – a collaboration between the University and the Science Museum of Minnesota

Project Team: Jennifer Schmitt, Institute on the Environment; Joanne Slavin, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, UMN-Twin Cities; Rebekah Schulz, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, UMN-Twin Cities; Cari Dwyer, Science Museum of Minnesota; Roi Ward, Science Museum of Minnesota

Embedded in our food systems are environmental impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions, social impacts such as labor practices, and economic impacts such as support for rural livelihoods. However, knowing how food choices impact these factors is difficult to untangle, especially when consumers are given oversimplified choices, such as between ‘organic’ or ‘not organic’. Consumers are showing more interest in how their food was grown and produced. They also want their decisions about what they eat to have a positive impact on the food system and the environment. 

The Science Museum of Minnesota is building a “Food: from field to the future” experience to explore the complexities of our food systems and immerse visitors in the stories of their food choices. This project funds the collaboration between the University and the Science Museum of Minnesota to bring the University’s unique scientific expertise and resources to the planning and implementation of the experience.


Launching the UMN Center for Renewable Energy Storage Technology (CREST) in Morris, Minnesota

Project Team: Bryan Herrmann, UMN-Morris; Michael Reese, UMN West Central Research and Outreach Center; Janet Schrunk Ericksen, Old English Literature, UMN-Morris; Lee Johnston, UMN West Central Research and Outreach Center; Arne Kildegaard, Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, UMN-Morris; Troy Goodnough, UMN Sustainability, UMN-Morris

UMN- Morris and UMN West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) have advanced clean energy solutions for the past decade and have been leaders in energy storage. WCROC has developed an active multi-million dollar research program, which includes a globally-unique wind-to-hydrogen-to-ammonia energy-storage platform. UMN-Morris is currently launching a large-scale multi-million dollar energy-storage program. Given the track record of success and progress demonstrated by UMN WCROC and UMN Morris, this funding will help launch the Center for Renewable Energy Storage Technology (CREST). 

CREST will be a research, education, and public engagement initiative which capitalizes on an expanding matrix of renewable energy and storage test beds and demonstration pilots, the existing research collaborations happening across the University and beyond, and existing and emerging key private sector partnerships that help bring clean energy solutions to scale. CREST aims to accelerate and advance the adoption of energy storage technologies in Minnesota and beyond.


Examining Agriculture-Groundwater-Wild Rice Pathways Through Cross-Cultural Observations

Project Team: G.-H. Crystal Ng, Department Earth & Environmental Sciences, UMN-Twin Cities; Zhaashiigid Nooding (a.k.a. Bob Shimek), Indigenous Environmental Network; Mae Davenport, Department of Forest Resources, UMN-Twin Cities; Cara Santelli, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, UMN-Twin Cities; Zixuan Chen, Water Resources Science, UMN-Twin Cities

What we do to Manoomin (Ojibwe) / Psiη (Dakota) / wild rice we do to ourselves. This tenet compels us to gather stories through water analyses and discussions with local knowledge holders in the Otter Tail Watershed. We will ask what is the relationship between land-use change and declines of Manoomin/Psiη, and specifically, are agricultural contaminants in groundwater reaching and harming Manoomin/Psiη lakes? The project includes an integrated eco-cultural story map that offers adaptation strategies for Indigenous and non-Indigenous environmental stewards, harvesters, and farmers. This will be, to our knowledge, the first academic study of agricultural impacts on Manoomin/Psiη.


Distributed Energy Resource Innovation Initiative: An Engaged Learning Partnership for Energy Transition with Great River Energy

Project Team: Gabriel Chan, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, UMN-Twin Cities; Jeff Haase, Great River Energy; Lissa Pawlisch, University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDPs); Matt Grimley, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, UMN-Twin Cities

This project plans to develop the Distributed Energy Resource Innovation Initiative (DERII), a first-of-its-kind research platform to drive utility business model innovation and clean energy deployment. The University of Minnesota will collaborate with Minnesota’s second-largest utility, Great River Energy (GRE), and its network of 28 member electric cooperatives that together serve 720,000 energy consumers across rural Minnesota. 

New uses for electricity and distributed energy resources (small energy generation and storage technologies that provide energy where it is needed) open up new possibilities for creating value for GRE’s member-owners, but they also present challenges to fairly balancing benefits between the energy system, the utility, and adopting and non-adopting consumers. DERII’s approach will build iterative analysis and peer learning into clean-energy deployment pilots that will support the equitable decarbonization of the power, heating, and transportation sectors in GRE’s system.

There is no playbook for how to adapt utility business models to the rapidly changing technology landscape; market rules and top-down policies are likely to be partial solutions, especially in rural communities. DERII proposes to establish a collaborative learning partnership to implement and research how utilities can drive the energy transition.


Growing the Just Solar Revolution to Scale in Minnesota: A Regional Analysis of Equity

Project Team: Beth Mercer-Taylor, Institute on the Environment; Julia Nerbonne, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, UMN-Twin Cities; Elise Harrington, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, UMN-Twin Cities; Ana H. Munro, North Hennepin Community College; Erika Bailey-Johnson, Bemidji State University; Pam Mahling, Honor The Earth; Bret Pence, Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light (MNIPL); Kyle Samejima, Minneapolis Climate Action

The concepts of equity and inclusion receive a lot of attention from energy project leaders and policymakers, but many projects still move quickly to solutions without addressing root causes and power. Project partners will work with the Just Solar Coalition to determine barriers and bridges to root systems change and true equity in solar energy. Participatory action research teams consisting of students, community mentors and college/university faculty will promote model projects. In addition, a research cohort will analyze emerging issues and help the Just Solar Coalition address the root causes of inequity at scale. The lasting partnerships between community organizations and university partners will hopefully carry on the  lifelong work of connecting climate change and racial and economic justice.


Citizen Science: Science Educators and Researchers Elucidating the Amounts and Distribution of Microplastics in Minnesota Lakes

Project Team: Melissa Maurer-Jones, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UMN-Duluth; Lee Penn, Department of Chemistry, UMN-Twin Cities; Matt Simcik, Division of Environmental Sciences, School of Public Health, UMN-Twin Cities; Andrew Weaver, Stillwater Area High School; Eric Kehoe, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton High School; Claire Hypolite, Thomas Edison High School

Microplastic pollution is everywhere, but data on the amount and distribution of microplastics in our waters are lacking across the state of Minnesota.  A survey of lakes across Minnesota, with particular focus on characterizing urban, rural, and remote lakes, would help us better understand Minnesota’s microplastic pollution in water. However, the process of surveying numerous locations across seasons is unsustainable for a small team of researchers. This project will use a citizen science approach to create a network of samplers who will be able to  collect more samples from a greater number of lakes. 

In collaboration with Minnesota science teachers, the team will design a standardized sampling process  and kit and develop K-12 classroom materials. The combination of field work and classroom work provides students with authentic learning opportunities related to a current problem. Their results will tell us more about the amount and distribution of microplastics in Minnesota lakes and help address an issue that threatens access to and maintenance of Minnesota’s clean water.


Project and team summaries are based on information provided by the project teams.

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