Institutional partnerships and community collaborations to create field based projects that advance mutually beneficial sustainability goals
Across the United States, communities are rebuilding food and agricultural systems at regional levels to embrace the social, health, economic and ecological benefits that they provide. Communities within our Western Lake Superior region have also embraced this transition. A community food systems approach guides these activities in which collaborative networks that link public and private sectors, government, farmers and eaters within a community. Together they acknowledge the benefits of sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management in order to enhance the environmental, economic and social health of a particular place.
Given its impactful role in innovation, purchasing, and education, institutions like the University of Minnesota play an important anchor role in fostering the transition to more sustainable systems across food, water, energy, and biodiversity. Accordingly, the UMD Land Lab uses the ‘community food systems incubator’ approach, fostering collaboration in on-site experiential opportunities for food and agricultural systems development and learning services for both campus and community. The following projects reflect this approach:
- A Teacher Training Garden was installed at the UMD Land Lab in 2012 in a collaboration with the St. Louis County Health Board, the Duluth Community Garden Program, and the Duluth Public School system. Hundreds of teachers have participated in workshops at this facility related to how to site and manage school gardens. School gardens have subsequently been installed at most of the public school in Duluth and region, bringing those educational opportunities to K-12 students.
- The UMD Land Lab collaborates with Healthy Northland Farm to School, hosting all Duluth-area 7th graders annually for experiential learning about healthy food and sustainable agriculture. In-class instruction on sustainable agriculture and community food systems preceeds these experiential learning opportunity. Area farmers host learning stations to provide the educational services for this event.
- The UMD Land Lab collaborates (4 years running) with the Intertribal Agriculture Council, growing several varieties of flint corn (Oneida; Bear Island Flint; Meskwake; and Pink Lady) to adapt it to this region. We host field days around planting and harvesting the corn for tribal communities and people and others interested in issues of tribally held seeds and related food and health concerns. In 2017 we will launch a collaborative program using these seeds to explore larger scale production for hominy and masa.
- The UMD Land Lab hosts a western honeybee apiary in collaboration with the Northeast Beekeepers Association, bringing pollinator and educational services to the farm and its visitors.
- The UMD Land Lab won via crowd-sourcing a 50 tree heirloom variety apple orchard in 2012. This orchard is used for regional research and produce is donated to the area food shelf. We also use the cuttings for grafting and gifting to area schools for planting in their school gardens.
- The UMD Land Lab hosts the ‘Steve O’Neill Rhubarb Garden’ in partnership with CHUM, which provides rhubarb for the O’Neill-founded ‘Rhubarb Festival’ held annually in June.
- The UMD Land Lab hosts multiple annual field days on site, inviting the public to engage the research and production underway. We also host an annual September UMD Food and Farm Fest and 5K race that brings in diverse community and campus members to enjoy locally harvested food, a 5K run through the farm, a farmers market, live music, a petting zoo, and community group tabling. This event also allows our Student Farmers to showcase the learning they have acquired over the course of the season.
- The UMD Land Lab is establishing ‘Regeneration Garden’, a five acre site devoted to ‘stacked infracture’. This garden will include a solar garden, native pollinator habitat, art installations, and an open air classroom to foster education around integrating human and natural infrastructure. Students will be trained as ‘citizen scientists’ to encourage our campus and community to build habitat in urban and rural areas for native pollinators in conjunction with the White House/NSF initiative. We will be partnering with the Solar Commons and Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) in this project, among others.