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Teaming up: Greater Minnesota communities and their University of Minnesota

The goal? Sustain Minnesota's natural resources and rural communities. The players? A talented lineup of partners across the state. The University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDPs) are proud to team up with a diverse group of community partners throughout Minnesota and those positioned within the University playing field who offer a wide range of expertise. 

RSDP partnerships with the College of Design (CDES) and College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) provide critical connections between Minnesota’s rural communities and the University. Researchers from these colleges lend the know-how needed to tackle the challenges that leadership in rural Minnesota have identified as priorities in their regions. In return, working with Minnesota’s rural leadership gives researchers an opportunity to see their work and expertise play out in the real-world. This game plan has led to the advancement of many exciting projects in all corners of Minnesota. Countless experts and individual partners have contributed momentum to these efforts, read about a few team MVPs, below. `

Richard Graves

Richard Graves

Richard Graves is the Director of the Center for Sustainable Building Research and an Associate Professor in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. His research focuses on regenerative design, an approach that aims to work with or mimic natural ecosystem processes. He believes this fundamentally new approach is required of architecture across scales to achieve sustainable and resilient urban development. Graves feels that the relationship between CDES and RSDP has been rewarding for all involved.

“RSDP projects provide fantastic opportunities for students and researchers to provide their expertise to communities and co-create impactful projects with a range of stakeholders,” says Graves.

The range of projects between CDES and RSDP fit into three goal areas. The first is work developing metrics to track the value created by sustainable and regenerative designs. Second is efforts that specifically focus on building solutions to provide sustainability to all communities. Lastly, creating regenerative and resilient communities not only to be sustainable, but also to respond and adapt to a dynamic global environment.

Hikaru Peterson

Hikaru Peterson

Hikaru Peterson is a University of Minnesota researcher and professor. She teaches food systems, food marketing economics, and agricultural markets and policy at CFANS. She started her position with the University in 2015, but her connection with RSDP goes back even further. In her previous role at Kansas State University, Peterson was involved in several rural grocery projects, one of which was in collaboration with a grocery store in Randall, MN and RSDP. Since joining CFANS, she has worked with RSDP on several projects, including Rural Grocery Survey, Farm to Rural Grocery to Wholesale, Somali grocer-led healthy food intervention in St. Cloud and Statewide Cooperative Partnership for Local and Regional Markets. 

Today Peterson is working with RSDP to initiate a new project on improving food access among immigrant communities in the rural Midwest.

“Since joining CFANS, RSDP has been my go-to partner whenever my research involved rural food system issues,” says Peterson. “We share a similar vision for how our work can help improve rural livelihood related to food and agricultural practices. RSDP has a well-regarded outreach network rooted in Greater Minnesota that parallels to none. I also very much appreciate the RSDP's can-do, ready-to-help and collaborative attitude.”

Daniel Handeen

Dan Handeen

Daniel Handeen is a Research Fellow at the Center for Sustainable Building Research in the College of Design and teaches in the UMN Architecture Program. His expertise is in energy efficiency and high-performance building. 

Handeen has worked in partnership with RSDP for over ten years in two major areas. The first, Design for Community Resilience, works with community members in the creation, development, or re-imagining of a resource, asset, or space, with the goals of environmental sustainability and increased quality of life. The second area is the Deep Winter Greenhouse program, which has partnered with designers, builders, and farmers around the state in the development of greenhouse prototypes that are designed to provide hospitable growing environments throughout Minnesota winters.

Hanseen says, “The Regional Partnerships create a crucial link between the University and the rest of the state, legitimately and authentically fulfilling the mission of Extension. I am continually impressed by the genuineness, insightfulness, organization and networks of RSDP staff, who create an invaluable bridge that connects the abstraction and specificity that can happen in academia to the ingenuity and need for practicality outside of the University. Working on projects with RSDP staff and the brilliant, fun, and inspiring people across the state of Minnesota has been a consistent highlight of my career. It has provided the opportunity to collaborate with real people on things that make real differences.”

Hye-Young Kim 

Hye-Young Kim

Hye-Young Kim is a professor in the Retail Merchandising Program at the University of Minnesota College of Design. She also serves as the Founding Director of the Center for Retail Design and Innovation. Kim’s research interests revolve around consumer behavior and strategic retail management. She is committed to conduct research that empowers marginalized communities, describes the complex characteristics of ethnic minority communities and incorporates the views, concepts and visions of the communities she studies.

Kim has teamed up with RSDP for multiple interdisciplinary projects, including research and reporting on rural grocery stores and farmers markets. 

"Collaborating with RSDP has been extremely valuable for me as a community engaged scholar at the College of Design,” says Kim. “RSDP has deep connections to rural communities that may not be available through my traditional academic networks. RSDP colleagues help identify impactful research questions that are relevant to the needs of rural Minnesota, provide access to community partners including farmers and business owners, and help disseminate research findings to broader audiences. I cannot speak highly enough of my RSDP colleagues. Their dedication, professionalism and positive attitude made our collaboration a truly enjoyable experience."

Chengyan Yue 

Chengyan Yue

Professor Chengyan Yue holds the CFANS Bachman Endowed Chair in Horticultural Marketing, the first endowed chair in the country devoted to research, study and teaching related to horticultural product marketing. Yue's research focuses on two major trans-disciplinary areas: horticultural marketing and global horticultural trade. Her research provides important guidance and implications for marketing horticultural products in strategic ways, which can greatly increase the products’ success in the marketplace. She actively interacts with industry groups to understand their needs and challenges and select research topics to help address their challenges.

Working closely with RSDP, Yue recently authored a paper relating to her work on Kernza, a multifunctional wheatgrass crop. Professor Yue notes that RSDP’s industry connections have contributed greatly to her work. 

“Working with RSDP is a great experience to get connected with Extension and to understand the industry stakeholders’ needs,” says Yue. “Kernza is an excellent product that has many health and environmental benefits. The marketing research we have conducted enables us to learn what Kernza attributes are important to consumers and how much more or less consumers are willing to pay for Kernza mix compared to other products, who should be the target market for the product and what are the best labeling and communication strategies.”

Maya Benedict

Maya Benedict

Maya Benedict is a University of Minnesota student pursuing a master’s in public health. As a graduate research assistant, she serves on a team that works closely with the CFANS Meat Lab addressing bottleneck issues in small- to medium-sized meat processors across Minnesota. The research addresses local growers who need livestock slaughter and processing services, but are faced with very few, and sometimes zero, options. Meat processors are having a hard time hiring and retaining trained employees to keep businesses open, which is also contributing to the bottleneck. This was an issue before COVID-19, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. 

Benedict feels that having the Meat Lab as a resource over the past few years as her team has engaged in RSDP-funded community work has been incredibly helpful. 

“I value the relationship between RSDP and CFANS because community and organizational partnerships are critical for strengthening our local food systems,” says Benedict. “Knowledge-sharing and resource-sharing makes a real difference in communities across Minnesota.”


Learn more about RSDP’s food systems projects

We support multi-region food systems work across Greater Minnesota. Explore and learn about projects related to supply chains, Deep Winter Greenhouses and rural grocery stores.

Learn more

Emily Haeg Nguyen, May 2023

Emily Haeg Nguyen works as a statewide sustainability storyteller with the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) and Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs).

Banner photo credit: University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural Science and Natural Resources

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