Do/should Minnesota farms and agribusiness REALLY “feed the world?”

Last Saturday was “Celebrate Ag & Food Day” at the Gophers game. It was a day to laud the U of M research resources and the benefits thereof to the economic health of the state’s agribusiness sector. The celebratory pitch should also give pause for Minnesotans who support that symbiotic relationship to think about the businesses themselves as well as the food products they create, produce, promote and profit from, the hype and the reality. Continue Reading

Ethanol is a not long term solution

In Minnesota, ethanol has become part of our everyday lives. It is blended into our gasoline and is available for flex fuel vehicles in the form of E85, with the intention of lowering our fossil fuels dependence. Ethanol also helps keep corn demand and prices high to support our farmers. But corn ethanol is increasingly becoming a controversial topic. Continue Reading

St. Anthony Park Transition Town update

District 12’s Energy Resilience Group is leading a grassroots effort to consider what we can do to limit climate change, enhance the local economy and strengthen our sense of community.Several action groups were formed at the community meetings last winter.Here is a snapshot of their work and opportunities to get involved.Local power and foodVolts! Amps! Watts up? Community Solar! This refrain at the Fourth of July parade down Como Avenue highlighted the SAP Community Solar action group, which plans to limit our carbon footprint by generating local, sustainable electricity.The group is drafting budgets and plans for large solar photovoltaic arrays to be installed on the roofs of large local buildings with funds from St. Continue Reading

University of Minnesota students push for more sustainable, transparent food purchases from University Dining Services

Students have pushed for more sustainable food and purchasing transparency at the University of Minnesota for two years. Conversations have increased, but some still aren’t satisfied.The student group U Students Like Good Food has increasingly worked with University Dining Services to bring more sustainable foods on campus in the last year, but the group is still hoping to implement the Real Food Challenge calculator.The RFC calculator would track UDS food purchasing and make the information available to the public.“There’s a huge interest in changing the food on our campus,” said Laura Dorle, president of the group and an environmental sciences, policy and management senior.UDS has been working with the student group more frequently in the last year, and they’re hoping to move forward with the food calculator this summer, Dorle said.UDS officials were unavailable for comment.In 2012, UDS purchased about 176,000 pounds of local produce, 26,000 pounds of local meat and 1.2 million pounds of local dairy products, according to their website. However, the website did not give an exact definition for “local.”Jason Hill, bioproducts and biosystems engineering assistant professor, said “local foods may be good in some ways and bad in others,” because it could be preferable to buy food from a sustainable company far away than from a large, local corporation.The University’s Andrew Boss Laboratory of Meat Science has maintained a “fairly regular order” with UDS, said Ryan Cox, assistant professor of meat science and faculty coordinator for the meat lab.UDS hasn’t purchased quite as regularly from Cornercopia, the University’s student organic farm.Last year, UDS purchased $50 worth of food from Cornercopia. The year before, it spent about $1,000. The student farm is trying to establish a better relationship with UDS, said Courtney Tchida, Cornercopia’s farm manager.Cornercopia and UDS planted about 80 pounds of potatoes last month, which Tchida said will go to dining centers in the fall.Executive Chef Thomas Boemer of Corner Table, a Minneapolis farm-to-food restaurant, said there are a lot of opportunities for the University to incorporate local foods.“You have to take small steps to head in the right direction,” Boemer said. Continue Reading

Groups ask “what will come after ‘peak oil’?”

Whether it’s challenging each other to see “how low you can go” with the home thermostat in February, or looking at swaths of public turf grass for their potential to hold community vegetable gardens, sustainability and Transition Town groups are popping up all over.Jon Freise, a national trainer on the subject, told a recent gathering that the Transition Towns movement came out of concerns about three things: Climate change—temperature extremes brought on by pollution, “peak oil”—fossil fuels running out, and economic instability.There are many things individuals can do to immediately decrease fossil fuel use and in many cases, save money. There are also macro, policy level things that could be done, but these groups admit those changes will take a lot of elapsed time and perhaps a few more crises. “Transition” refers to transitioning “from oil dependency to local resilience,” says Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement.Sustainability groups, instead of being “apocalyptic,” in the words of one organizer, strive to build a sense of community and hope for an improved quality of life. They do it by both informing individual change and, in some groups, encouraging public officials to pursue broader policy changes or specific infrastructure changes. Freise said Milwaukee Avenue in South Minneapolis is a perfect example. Continue Reading

Farming, learning, traveling with Erin Schneider, Hilltop Community Farm

After a long, long winter, the sun was finally showing its face again when Erin Schneider and I chatted during this Deep Roots Radio interview. Her attitude – about farming, on-farm research, and learning from peers in Africa – was as welcoming as the warming weather. And maybe it’s that quality that draws visitors to the farm she’s building with her husband, Rob McClure in LaValle, Wisconsin. Continue Reading