Sustainability Semester

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Among the projects funded in part by recent Institute on the Environment Mini Grants is a new course in sustainability being offered this summer at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

Students taking part in this innovative "Sustainability Semester" will make connections between food, renewable energy, history, and culture while networking with peers interested in sustainability and making change. Participants may choose from two complementary courses - Culture, Food and Agriculture and Experiencing Sustainability - or enroll in both.

musacchio.jpgBY MONIQUE DUBOS
In the early years of the new millennium, more than 1,000 worldwide experts compiled a report about the condition of Earth's ecological systems. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment findings "provide a state-of-the-art scientific appraisal of the condition and trends in the world's ecosystems and the services they provide (such as clean water, food, forest products, flood control and natural resources) and the options to restore, conserve or enhance the sustainable use of ecosystems," according to the MA website.

The next step, says Laura Musacchio, is to translate the information for nonscientists, to be applied by designers and planners for the enhancement of urban environments.

Musacchio, an IonE resident fellow and associate professor of landscape architecture in the College of Design, assert that this type of translation is a specialized skill she calls "knowledge brokering." A knowledge broker is a "cross-pollinator of ideas among professionals from different disciplines," she explained at the May 1 Frontiers in the Environment seminar.

Grown to Run

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On Friday, May 10, a group of graduate students and a professor from the University of Minnesota set off for the Minnesota-South Dakota border excited and anxious. The plan: go from farm to farm and school to school by bike and on foot, collecting media artifacts on innovative agricultural practices for 7th-12th grade teachers and students following along.

Toward the end of the first day the "Grown to Run" adventure learning team saw plumes of white and gray smoke drifted across the road. Traffic slowed as flames flickered from a prairie reserve being burned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Armed with cameras, the G2R team videotaped a segment of the daily adventure update that would illustrate the role fire plays in prairie ecosystems.

The team took more video footage that evening of farmer Carmen Fernholz incorporating a cover crop as a green manure into one of his fields. With camp set up on the front lawn, the team gathered with the Fernholz family for dinner.

Over the next five days en route to Stillwater, Minn., the G2R team traveled with stiff winds, rain, shine and temperatures ranging from 29 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Along the way, team members visited four more farms and a handful of schools.

Moonstone Farms, Betsy's B & B, Burns' Farm and Garden Fresh Farms each illustrated different aspects of innovative farming for those following along. Students saw diverse agricultural systems ranging from perennial pasture to the incorporation of grass buffer strips and catchment ponds to high technology.

At schools, the team members worked through complex questions with students. They visited the classroom of Ben Johnson in Clara City. His seventh graders gasped when they saw maps of the decrease in landscape diversity between 1937 and 2002 in the Expert Video by Iowa State University professor Lisa Schulte-Moore.

By the time of arrival in Stillwater, the team had traveled more 200 miles, visited five farms, delivered four lesson plans online to around 300 students, recorded more than 50 gigabytes of multimedia, tweeted more than 100 tweets, and seen a wide variety of innovative ways Minnesota farmers deliver food, fiber and fuel.

To learn more about the project, visit the project website, where you can find farm videos, lesson plans and other resources on innovative Minnesota agriculture.

This work was funded by the Institute on the Environment and sponsored by the Farm to School Program and Coca-Cola.

Bryan Runck is a graduate assistant at the University of Minnesota working on the dissemination of agroecological information and head of the G2R project. Photo courtesy of Bryan Runck.

Give Something to the Future

 Jon Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment, recently delivered the commencement address to the University of Minnesota's College of Continuing Education class of 2013. Below is his speech in its entirety.

The Future of Biodiversity

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laurance-crop.jpgBY MONIQUE DUBOS

Are we on the verge of an extinction crisis?

There's a rule of thumb when it comes to species extinction:  if you have 90 percent habitat loss, you lose half of the species dependent on that habitat. That's what William F. Laurance told the audience at a recent bonus Frontiers in the Environment presentation, "The Future of Biodiversity."

Soil Surprise

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cedarcreek.jpgLiving things that lurk beneath the surface of the soil have huge impacts on living things above, influencing everything from individual plants' ability to obtain nutrients to the integrity of the elaborate food webs that keep animals of all shapes and sizes alive. Now, thanks to research by IonE resident fellows Peter Reich (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences), Sarah Hobbie (College of Biological Sciences) and colleagues, it's clear that what's happening above the surface has a huge impact on the living things below as well.

Not Toba's Fault

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malawibarge.jpgBY CHERYL REITAN

Tom Johnson, a University of Minnesota Duluth Regents professor and Institute on the Environment resident fellow, knew his work on Lake Malawi in 2005 would yield significant scientific discoveries. Now, eight years later, he and his colleagues have announced research that impacts our knowledge of the near extinction of the human race. They have determined that 75,000 years ago, the Toba volcanic eruption in Sumatra did not cause a volcanic winter or the dramatic drop in human population in Africa, as some anthropologists had proposed.

University-Community Collaboration: Cool!

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flash_largeimagecrop_RCP.jpgBY MONIQUE DUBOS

How can we build long-term capacity to produce sustainable solutions and resilient institutions? How can we foster innovation in engagement and cross-disciplinary collaboration in universities? Carissa Schively Slotterback, IonE resident fellow and associate professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, addressed these questions during the April 24 Frontiers in the Environment seminar, "University-Community Collaboration to Advance Sustainability."

Are All Tomatoes Created Equal?

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The warnings about the negative health impacts of consuming food grown using pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals echo across the food movement landscape, with research to back up those claims.
But insufficient studies exist to explain the effects of food nutrients on toxicity.  For example, what effect does dietary folate have on arsenic elimination?

The Case of Too Much or Too Little Nitrogen Fertilizer

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natgeoc.jpgBY PAUL C. WEST

Many of the increases in food production during the Green Revolution can be attributed to a single element in the periodic table -- nitrogen. Begun in the early 1900s as an effort to convert nitrogen gas from the air we breathe into a solid form that could propel ammunition farther, the Haber-Bosch process later became the key mechanism for boosting crop yields through mass production of nitrogen fertilizer. Unfortunately, excess nitrogen degrades our drinking water quality, causes many coastal areas to be oxygen-depleted "dead zones," and adds a very powerful greenhouse gas to our atmosphere. How can we manage our farmlands more effectively?

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