DEK: The Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships program
Building a regional infrastructure that helps ensure a healthy, sustainable food system means asking a lot of questions, conducting research and translating everything into a usable framework for making meaningful decisions about food policy. Where do you get your vegetables? What does a local food system mean to you? Are you looking for healthier food options?
Those are just some of the questions being asked as part of the Southeast Foodshed Planning Initiative (SEFPI), one of several ongoing projects of the University of Minnesota's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships program, (SEFPI). Twenty-five faculty members, research fellows and students are currently working on eight different SEFPI research projects.
Areas of focus include: improving healthy, culturally appropriate food access for at-risk populations; quantifying potential regional food production; identifying consumer demand and expenditures; and developing an on-going institutionalized means of food policy making.
Engaging the public throughout the state
The Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships is an outreach program of University of Minnesota Extension working to vitalize Greater Minnesota by addressing community-identified issues in agriculture, natural resources, energy, community infrastructure and tourism.
To date, the Regional Partnerships have facilitated more than 400 wide-ranging projects, including high-tunnel research, downtown vitality, off-the-grid greenhouses, farm-to- school programs and more. "Our mission is to advance sustainability for the people of Minnesota, but we are producing models that are applicable elsewhere," explains Kathryn Draeger, statewide director of the program. "We are developing research tools that have national and international implications."
Planning for the future of Central Minnesota
Regional Partnerships' work on a plan for boosting the economy in central Minnesota and kick-starting sustainable housing and transportation efforts has attracted media attention, as well as interest from dozens of sustainability experts from around the University, including Carissa Shivley Slotterback and Frank Douma from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Brad Hokanson and Virajita Singh from the College of Design.
A two-year effort made possible by an $825,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the plan will be based on input and direction from residents of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties. Using the compiled citizen information, university faculty, staff and students in areas including transportation, housing and land use will work to crystallize the needs of the region and create a plan that will vitalize social, economic and land use strategies.
"The people of central Minnesota have faced an increasingly uncertain future in light of changes in our country's economy, demographics, energy prices and options," says Draeger. "With support of the HUD Sustainable Regional Planning grant, the region is now developing an integrated, long-term plan for sustainable development. This community driven, university-assisted project ensures that planning is done in a big-picture way that will tangibly improve the lives of residents and visitors in this century and beyond."
It is hoped that the plan will help create more livable and healthy communities with increased employment, low-energy affordable housing and transportation options. One early result of the project has been the development of a public database of University experts in sustainable housing, transportation, health care and economic development. Still in development, the final plan will be presented to HUD, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency in December of this year.
Learn more about the individual projects of the Regional Partnerships at: www.rsdp.umn.edu.
Helping to Build an Engaged University for the 21st Century
Through the Office for Public Engagement, the University promotes interdisciplinary collaborations like Regional Sustainable development Partnerships that advance robust community engagement partnerships. Rooted in a comprehensive ten-point plan for public engagement, the University supports the deepening of community engagement strategies through the development of community-partnered research that addresses critical societal issues while optimizing educational experiences for students participating in community-focused learning. Learn more about the University's public engagement agenda.