HomeGrantsIonE Mini GrantSeeds of Hope: Our spring 2020 Mini Grant recipients

Seeds of Hope: Our spring 2020 Mini Grant recipients

These days, there’s a drumbeat of people reminding us of the importance of hope how important it is to both foster and cultivate. At the Institute on the Environment, one of our sources of hope is the critical environmental work being done by our community of University students, staff, and faculty, along with their community partners.

Twice a year, we accelerate this vital work by awarding Mini Grants of up to $3,000 to interdisciplinary teams of staff, faculty, and students from across all five University of Minnesota campuses. These grants can provide projects with the necessary support in starting their exciting work or take an existing project to the next level.

This spring, we’re thrilled to award grants to nine teams and their 16 community partners. The work of our recipient teams reaches across the state and the University of Minnesota system including the Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Twin Cities campuses, as well as UMN Southwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, Weisman Art Museum, and the West Central Research and Outreach Center. 

We think the collaborative work of this spring’s teams will plant seeds of hope throughout Minnesota and beyond, and we’re proud to lend a helping hand. It is with great enthusiasm that we announce the Spring 2020 Mini Grant recipients.


Support and Implementation of Community Resilience Building Workshop in Rural Minnesota
The University of Minnesota Morris is a lead organizing partner of the Morris Model (morrismodel.org) — a community partnership between the campus, city, county, hospital, school, and other community organizations to advance shared sustainability aspirations. The campus has played a leadership role in Minnesota to advance climate adaptation work and experimentation. Our team wants to bring together our partners to participate in a Morris Model Community Resilience Building Workshop in collaboration with professional facilitators at Second Nature (secondnature.org) and Community Resilience Building (communityresiliencebuilding.com). PI: Troy Goodnough, UMN Morris, Sustainability Director, Office of Sustainability, IonE Fellow. Project Members: Blaine Hill (City of Morris), Sandeep Kotala (City of Morris), Bryan Hermann (UMN Morris), Mike Reese (UMN WCROC), Eric Buchanan (UMN WCROC), Sam Rosemark (UMN Morris), Anne Dybsetter (UMN Southwest RSDP), Jacob Selseth (West Central CERTs). 

Samara: A Mobile Community Seed Library
Seed collection and sharing are essential ways for people to cultivate both community and food security. In this vein we plan to design and build “Samara,” a mobile seed library that will collect and distribute seeds and seed growing advice from local, DIY seed savers. Named for the seed pods that flutter to the ground from trees such as maples and elms, “Samara” will primarily spread fruit and vegetable seeds, and document and distribute personal stories associated with those seeds along the way. The seeds collected and distributed by “Samara” will empower people to grow and enjoy their own food with the support of other growers in their community. We see “Samara” as filling a necessary gap between local, small-scale seed savers with an abundance of seeds and knowledge, and folks looking to start cultivating plants in a low stakes, community-based way. PI: Rotem Tamir, College of Liberal Arts, Assistant Professor. Team Members: Anna Van Voorhis (Weissman Foundry, Babson College), Grant McFarland (Department of Art). 

Critical Cartography for Urban Environmental Planning: Participatory Mapping as a Tool for more Environmentally Just Cities 
Drawing on radical urban planning theory and critical cartography, I propose to conduct a participatory-mapping project in order to explore creative solutions to elevate environmental justice in urban environmental planning. Based in Minneapolis, MN, this project aims to incorporate human-scale experiences of the urban environment into environmental decision-making process. By allowing residents to create their own data layers, based on perceptions of environmental quality, housing affordability and displacement pressure, and community-safety, this project embraces tenants of radical planning by shifting the production of knowledge and decision-making to communities. In doing so, it seeks to promote environmental justice and combat green gentrification. In an urbanizing world, developing frameworks for compassionate and humanistic environmental decision-making is essential to advancing sustainability goals and elevating movements for spatial justice. PI: Bonnie Keeler, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Assistant Professor, IonE Fellow. Team Members: Sarah Hobbie (CBS, IonE Fellow), Kate Derickson (CLA, IonE Associate), Adrienne Doyle (JXTAposition Arts). 

Climate Change Solutions Simulators Training to Prepare Minnesota Educators to Spark Action in Our Communities
This project will prepare a core team across 6 university campuses and 2 non-profit entities in learning how to use simulation tools for education and engagement that will engage over 1,000 students, educators and community members in at least 6 Minnesota communities. Building on the strength of the successful delivery of this model from UMass Lowell and the expertise of Juliette Rooney-Vargass and Carolyn McCarthy, we will unite this knowledge with our communities using the Youth Eco Solutions (YES!) network of students and educators, and the Institute on the Environment’s proven ability to implement virtual educational events. This project is a crucial step towards empowering communities to host youth-led Climate Action Workshops. The ultimate goal is for communities to implement and complete projects that help Minnesota reduce emissions and foster innovation while completing local projects that help solve real-world challenges related to climate change, clean energy and agriculture. PI: Beth Mercer-Taylor, UMN Sustainability Education Coordinator. Team Members: Juliette RooneyVarga (Climate Change Initiative, UMass Lowell), Carolyn McCarthy (Climate Change Initiative, UMass Lowell), Shellie-Kae Foster (Youth Eco Solutions (YES!) Minnesota), Paul Imbertson (CSE), Troy Goodnough (UMN Morris, IonE Fellow), Kristen Poppleton (Climate Generation), Jonna Korpi (UMD), Katy Chapman (UMN Crookston, IonE Educator).

Uprooting Assumptions in Pollinator Conservation Policy
What does planting flowers for pollinators have to do with race and planning processes? Given the urgency of addressing pollinator declines and growing public interest in pollinator gardens, bridging science, equity and policy will be critical for sustainable and just outcomes for both people and pollinators. Minnesota has comprehensive pollinator protection policies, but bee populations in the region continue to decline, suggesting that current policy frameworks may be inadequate. Additionally, there is a critical need to evaluate the equity in pollinator conservation policies to ensure that these policies do not inadvertently replicate existing forms of power and oppression inherent to various policy-making processes. To better assess how to implement and design improved conservation policy for pollinators, I will examine pollinator protection policies in Minnesota for their scientific merit and long-term efficacy and explore how policy meets practice to implement equitable solutions in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. PI: Kathryn Quick, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Associate Professor. Project Members: Julia Brokaw (Department of Entomology), Daniel Cariveau (Department of Entomology), Marla Spivak (Department of Entomology, IonE Fellow).

Clean Air is Medicine: Assessing and Enhancing Public Understanding of the Health Consequences of Air Pollution in Minnesota
Air pollution is a major driver of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Air pollution poses a significant threat to public health in Minnesota, especially for vulnerable groups. Public awareness of this threat is not well-characterized, and strategies to inform the public are lacking. We seek to: 1) gain an understanding of public knowledge regarding the inequitable health effects of air pollution, 2) assess the efficacy of videos in informing the public on this issue, and 3) evaluate self-perceived likelihood of mitigative behavioral change post-video exposure. Volunteers will be enrolled at the Minnesota State Fair Driven To Discover (D2D) Research Facility and will be shown an educational video on air pollution and health. Participants will take a pre- and post-video survey. Results will help guide future interventions in raising awareness of the health consequences of air pollution and determine if similar videos should be developed for other environmental health hazards. PI: Vishnu Laalitha Surapaneni, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, IonE Associate. Team Members: Brenna Doheny, PhD, MPH (UMD Department of Family Medicine and Biobehavioral Health), Jack Inglis (UMN Medical School), Karly Boll (UMN Medical School), Toya Lopez, MHA (Hennepin Healthcare), Laurie Fink, PhD (Science Museum of Minnesota, IonE Fellow), Nate Ziller (Kindea Labs), Scott Lunos, MS (Clinical & Translational Science Institute). 

Biological remediation strategies for mitigating downstream phosphorus pollution within agricultural buffers
With the implementation of the Minnesota State Buffer Law, hundreds of thousands of miles of buffers were installed along public waters in 2017. Riparian, or streamside buffers are zones of perennial vegetation intersecting uplands and waterways acting to filter nitrogen, sediment and phosphorus. While proven effective for nitrogen control, riparian buffers may be a less effective measure for mitigating phosphorus pollution to downstream waterways, exacerbating the occurrence of harmful algal blooms. Phosphorus management is of importance in farmland settings where high levels of residual soil phosphorus often exist as a results of past management activities. Agricultural management activities may also serve to alter natural soil microbial communities diminishing the potential for plant uptake of phosphorus. Through university, industry and governmental collaboration this work proposes to explore the use of a soil mycorrhizal fungi amendment for increased plant phosphorus sequestration on a southern Minnesota agricultural buffer demonstration site. PI: Chris Lenhart, Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, Research Assistant Professor. Team Members: Laura Bender (Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering), Lydia Elhadi (UMN), David Legvold (Private landowner), Dan Shaw (BWSR), Tom Gile (BWSR), Mark Dittrich (MDA), Efren Cazares (Mycology consultant). 

Greening the Margins: bioremediation of the Shoreham Yards in the NE Minneapolis
The artist Gudrun Lock lives in Northeast Minneapolis, three blocks from the Canadian Pacific Railway Shoreham Yards: a massive trucking and bulk-distribution site embedded in the otherwise residential neighborhood. Independently since May 2019, and recently as an Artist in Residence at the Weisman Art Museum, Gudrun has been exploring the possibility of mitigating air, soil, water, and noise pollution at the site by introducing heavy metal eating bacteria into the earth, planting a dense row of trees, and using fungal textiles to reduce erosion along existing buffers between the site and residential housing.  Asking what it means to use living beings to clean up such a complex parcel of land, Gudrun Lock is in dialogue with geo-engineers, an anthropologist, and a forestry researcher, as well as the Canadian Pacific Railway on the possibility of partnering on a long term ecological research. This grant will support further project development and seed the research. PI: Boris Oicherman, Weisman Art Museum, Curator for Creative Collaboration. Team Members: Gudrun Lock (Artist), Stuart McLean (CLA), Chad P. Giblin (Department of Forest Resources), Mark Borrello (CBS), Xue Feng (Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering, IonE Associate), Paige J. Novak (Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering, IonE Fellow).

Design and construction of an engineered compost system on the UMD farm for undergraduate research, class demonstrations, and local farmer and community outreach for sustainability education
The UMD Farm provides excellent opportunities for sustainability education. With the support of this mini-grant, our team of interdisciplinary researchers and students propose to build an engineered compost system on the UMD Farm. Composting is important for sustainable farming because organic farmers have always been encouraged to produce and use compost rather than raw manure. Composting is also considered as a method to address the negative impacts on agriculture caused by a changing climate because it can increase soil organic matter, sequester carbon, and hold water. The new engineered compost system will provide learning opportunities for students in environmentally related disciplines including environmental science and engineering, biology, chemistry and chemical engineering, and sustainability and geography. It will support a wide variety of activities including independent research courses, UROP, master’s thesis research, sustainability internship, class demonstrations, and community programming and research to support local farmers for years to come. PI: Tsutomu Shimotori, UMD, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, Assistant Professor, Teresa Bertossi (Co-PI, UMD, College of Liberal Arts). Team Members: Jonna Korpi (UMD), Cole Grotting (UMD), Mealat Worku (UMD), Anna Tosch (College of St. Scholastica).


Grace Abifarin is an IonE student communications assistant.

Grace Abifarin is a senior majoring in Marketing and Supply Chain and Operations Management and minoring in Leadership at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.


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