By Azra Thakur
Collaboration in food system planning? That's what's happening in southeast Minnesota, where University faculty and students and communities from the region are working together integratively to look at food sustainability in the region.
The Southeast Minnesota Foodshed Planning Initiative (SEFPI), a project of the University of Minnesota's Southeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, is a "means to engage the research and outreach capabilities of our land-grant institution to respond to issues articulated by citizens in an effort to build a vibrant regional food infrastructure." The SEFPI includes involvement from University faculty and graduate students alongside community members to address issues related to food system sustainability and independence in the region.
The SEFPI's first newsletter, released in August 2010, highlights several projects of the year-old initiative, including: food system evaluation and analyses, mapping, food production assessment, economic modeling, and minority population surveys. In the newsletter's introduction, Dr. Randy Hanson discusses how sustainability efforts are collaborative in nature:
Rebuilding regional food systems is seen by cross sector supporters as a key part of a healthier society, providing greater availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, grown in sustainable ways.
Dr. Hanson also mentions the importance of community member involvement in the design of food sustainability efforts:
Food is a commodity, facilitated by market processes; it is also a public good, foundational to our public health, safety and welfare. Food systems can and need to be guided by community input and planning.
The initiative's inclusion of University faculty and graduate students from across several disciplines, along with the inclusion of community members from the region, presents an integrative approach to address the Initiative's goal:
Articulate a set of priorities to create some level of regional self-reliance in our food system. Meaningful, broad-based research is one way to start 'connecting the dots' of over ten years of small-scale, localized projects that have not, as yet, shifted our overall food environment.