HomeGrantsSpring 2022 mini-grants fund inventive regional climate solutions

Spring 2022 mini-grants fund inventive regional climate solutions

For over a decade, the Institute on the Environment has supported cross-disciplinary environmental and sustainability projects across UMN’s five campuses with grants up to $3,000. By doing so, IonE aims to spark new cross-disciplinary collaborations and relationships – particularly those that explore different ways of knowing – in order to develop innovative solutions to regional climate issues. The awards are given out twice a year to select projects that advance these goals. 

This spring, our IonE Mini Grant awardees take a variety of approaches to climate solutions, from researching the most effective climate policy language to partnering with artists to explore alternative forms of environmental education. Learn how UMN researchers, artists, and community leaders are forging new ground in environmental solution-making by collaborating on the following impactful projects.


Evaluating the Sustainability of Local Cut Flower Production in Central Minnesota

More than 80 percent of cut flowers sold in the United States are imported, often traveling upwards of 5,000 miles to reach markets. In addition to the excessive carbon emissions caused by their transportation, imported flowers also require large chemical and water inputs during production. However, there is a great opportunity to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint by increasing awareness of and access to locally grown flowers. 

This project will evaluate the sustainability of local cut flower production by trialing a diverse array of ten cut flower varieties in Central Minnesota. The Bee Squad will assist with the characterization of pollinator visitation and quantification of floral resources throughout the growing season. The Twin Cities Flower Exchange will appraise harvested cut flowers and contextualize current awareness and trends within the local cut flower industry. Finally, an educational report that assesses the sustainability of local cut flowers will be produced and help increase awareness of this issue.


Principal Investigator (PI): Brandon Miller, UMN College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS). 

Team Members: Sarah Anderson (graduate student, Department of Horticultural Science), Christine Hoffman (Twin Cities Flower Exchange), and Elaine Evans (UMN Bee Lab).


Morris Challenge Rural Youth Institute

Similar to the Morris Challenge Youth Institute (MCYI), which supports West Central Minnesota high school students with researching, writing, and presenting to their peers a paper on ending poverty and hunger, the project team will develop a new Morris Challenge Rural Youth Institute (MCRYI). The Morris Challenge Rural Youth Institute will be akin to the MCYI but with two key differences: First, the MCRYI will charge high schoolers to look at food insecurity through a rural community lens. Second, the high school students who participate in the MCRYI will be encouraged to apply what they’ve learned in their own rural communities.


Principal Investigator (PI): Doug Reed, Morris Challenge, University of Minnesota-Morris.

Team Members: Troy Goodnough (Office of Sustainability, UMN Morris ), Eric Sawatzke (West Central Area High School), Argie Manolis (Office of Community Engagement, UMN Morris), Cork Fehr (Bonanza Bean), Ed Brands (Department of Environmental Studie, UMN Morris ), Ben Winchester (UMN Extension Center for Community Vitality), Mary Buschette (CFANS), Joe Dunlavy (YES! (Youth Eco Solutions)), Natasha Mortenson (Riverview, LLP), Michael Reese (UWest Central Research & Outreach Center (WCROC), UMN), and Rick Bleichner (Herman-Norcross Community Schools and Minnesota Association of School Administrators). 


Performing FARM: A visual outdoor ceremony celebrating sustainable farming practices

Sod House Theater will develop and perform FARM, an original site-specific production, on two Greater Minnesota farms in Princeton and Little Falls during the spring of 2022. The play will feature sweeping images of farm life with the theme of sustainable farming practices. The production will be performed by community members, University of Minnesota students, and professional actors/dancers and will feature a live music score performed by four musicians. Through the performances and post-show discussions, participants and audiences will gain knowledge about sustainable farming practices, including the benefits of eating locally grown produce. With this knowledge, their attitudes and behavior may change regarding local foods and their economic, health, and environmental benefits.


Principal Investigator (PI): Luverne Seifert, Department of Theater Arts and Dance, UMN.

Team Members: Fallon Ryan (Sprout), Jenna Wyse (professional musician), Chris Hepola (professional musician), and Berit Ahlgren (professional dancer). 


Nature for New Minnesotans

The Nature for New Minnesotans (NFNM) program seeks to increase the environmental literacy of English Language Learners (ELL) students in the Twin Cities while simultaneously removing obstacles to outdoor accessibility for foreign-born individuals. To accomplish this, NFNM seeks to collaborate with the ELL community as well as UMN and state organizations to develop accessible, hands-on, and experiential ecology-based lesson modules grounded in local outdoor experiences. Each module will be designed to incorporate student knowledge and ELL learning techniques and will culminate in outdoor learning experiences that expose students to Minnesota’s natural resources. 


Principal Investigator (PI): Rob Blair, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology (FWCB), CFANS.

Team Members: Lucas Rapisarda (Conservation Sciences, FWCB), Jen Schultz (Outdoor Investigations in the STEM Classroom), Samuel Wagner Kenosha (Lower Phalen Creek Project), Jessica Jones (Literacy Minnesota), Kate Ronald (English Learning Center, Our Savior’s Community Center), Cara Berger (Neighborhood House), Quyen Dang (International Institute of Minnesota), Natalie Kennedy (Bell Museum), Suzanne Trapp (Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge), and Veronica Jaralambides (Division of Parks & Trails, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources). 


Evaluating Health-Related Appeals as a Communication Strategy to Reduce Polarization around Support for Climate Change Policies

Public support for climate change policies is increasingly polarized in the US. This research study aims to assess the effectiveness of communication strategies aimed at building broad-based support for environmental policy prescriptions. The project team seeks to: 1) test the efficacy of appeals that focus on the health-related impacts of climate change versus more conventional approaches; and 2) gain an understanding of how such messages have a differential impact on distinct audiences. The ultimate goal is to use this research to help guide journalists and NGOs in their efforts to raise awareness about the consequences of climate change.

The project team will conduct its research by recruiting volunteers at the 2022 Minnesota State Fair (at the Driven to Discover (D2D) Research Facility), who will be tasked with viewing randomized social media posts that emphasize varying aspects of the impacts of climate change. Next, volunteers will be tasked with completing a survey that assesses their attitudes about climate change and proposed policy interventions. 


Principal Investigator (PI): Benjamin Toff, Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communication, UMN. 

Team Members: Vijay Limaye (Natural Resources Defense Council) and a to-be-recruited team of undergraduate students. 


Branching Out: Connecting Garden Projects across the University Community to Grow Student Engagement

With this project, coordinators of the West Bank Community Garden (WBCG) aim to enhance urban gardens as spaces for individuals and classes to learn about urban agriculture and strategies for food sustainability. They will do this by establishing a network connecting and supporting new student gardens emerging across the UMN-Twin Cities campuses, including the IP Student Garden Project, the Student Organic Farm, the Native American Medicine Gardens, the Nutritious U Farm, and the WBCG. WBCG coordinators will also share information and learning resources, and will host collaborative events to strengthen understanding of sustainable food systems. The garden network they develop will further broaden opportunities for classroom visits and experiential learning at all of the student gardens.


Principal Investigator (PI): Thomas Michaels, UMN Department of Horticultural Sciences. 

Team Members: Molly Farrell (Department of Food Systems and Agricultural Sustainability, CFANs), Cecilia Pugh (Department of Food Systems and Agricultural Sustainability, CFANs), Claire Cambray (West Bank Community Garden member), Cindy Irons (Academic Health Sciences, UMN), Tom Michaels (Department of Horticultural Sciences, CFANs), and Mary Rogers (Department of Horticultural Sciences, CFANs). 


Re-framing our Relations: Complicating the invasive species narrative through participatory art and science at Franconia Sculpture Park.

The project team aims to help visitors of Franconia Sculpture Park, a 50-acre experiential sculpture park in the Saint Croix River Valley, examine their relationships with non-native plant species and land stewardship. By leveraging the critical engagement of community partners and stakeholders, we will develop a platform that complicates narratives about invasive plant species and invites visitors to help monitor wild parsnip, an invasive plant found at Franconia. 

Interactive signage will identify invasive plants and connect viewers with narratives on them that intersect with science, land use and management, colonialism, reciprocity, and multiple ways of knowing. A curated community meal of local foods, paired with storytelling and discussion, will invite participants to collectively explore their relationships with non-native plant species and discuss responsible and informed approaches to land stewardship. Our aim is to facilitate the sharing of diverse viewpoints and practices of land stewardship, using language and food that is respectful of all life forms, including non-native species. Through sharing a meal, our intention is to build consistent and sustained ecological and organizational relationships that will help ensure respectful stewardship.


Principal Investigator (PI): Christine Baeumler, Art Department. 

Team Members: Rebecca Montgomery (Professor CFANS Department of Forest Resources), Abbie Anderson (CFANS Department of Forest Resources), Chris Bell (RA and PhD candidate in CLA Department of Theater and Dance), Maria Park (RA and PhD student in CBS Department of Ecology, Evolution & Behavior), Stephan Carlson (Faculty in CFANS Department of Forest Resources), Byju Govindan (Researcher 6 in CFANS Department of Forest Resources), Don Porcella (Production Manager, Franconia Sculpture Park), and Ginger Porcella (Executive Director and Chief Curator, Franconia Sculpture Park). 


IonE Geoscience Alliance Mini-grant for “Data in Indian Country” Conference Attendance Support for University of Minnesota Undergraduate and Graduate Students

The project team seeks to fund the registration costs of 10 UMN students to attend the Geoscience Alliance 5 Conference “Data Science in Indian Country.” The Geoscience Alliance (GA), organized and directed by Diana Dalbotten, St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, UMN, is a national alliance for broadening the participation of Native Americans in the geosciences. It supports national conferences bringing together faculty, mentors, undergraduate, and graduate students, elders, and others to discuss issues of high relevance to Native tribes with a focus on problems that can be addressed via the geosciences. This mini-grant will support the participation of 10 local undergraduate or graduate participants at the July 2022 conference, which will be held on the UMN campus. The funds will reduce the barrier to participation in key professional society meetings needed for students to develop networks. 


Principal Investigator (PI): Diana Dalbotten, St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, UMN.

Team Members: Melissa Kenney (IonE), Jason McLachlan (University of Notre Dame and the Ecological Forecasting Initiative), and Antony Berthelote (Salish Kootenai College and the Geoscience Alliance).

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