Minnesota State Mankato, 3 Partners Receive $224,744 USDA Grant
Ag in Action Project will Support Food, Agriculture Education
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Mankato, Minn. – Minnesota State University, Mankato and three non-profit partners were recently awarded a $224,744 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to increase food, gardening and nutrition education for youth in underserved communities.
Over the next two years, Minnesota State Mankato will collaborate with the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches’ Minnesota Venture Farms; MY Place Mankato; and Model Citizen Farm in Paynesville, Minnesota, on a project called Ag in Action.
The partners will provide farm tours, summer gardening programs and work with college students to increase knowledge on career pathways and greater connections between the farm and the food people eat, targeting students of color and communities where exposure to agriculture may be limited.
“It is exciting for faculty across Minnesota State Mankato and statewide partners to have the support of the USDA to collaboratively address significant issues in the Minnesota food and ag sector like racial inequity, sustainability and career exploration,” said Brenda Flannery, dean of Minnesota State Mankato’s College of Business.
Conversations and collaboration led to an opportunity for the University to cultivate new partnerships between disciplines across campus and build service-learning opportunities for its students to become involved in the project, said Shane Bowyer, a Minnesota State Mankato faculty member and director of the Agribusiness and Food Innovation Program in the University’s College of Business.
Minnesota State Mankato will host an Ag in Action career event on campus each year that will bring middle and high school students to Mankato from the Twin Cities and the Mankato area. Model Citizen Farm, based in Paynesville, Minnesota, will host farm tours for K-12 age students to see sustainability and innovative practices in action that build the foundation for future agriculture professionals.
“We look forward to working with partners across the state to provide all Minnesotans with more opportunities to learn about the exciting career possibilities in agriculture,” said Matt Loayza, dean of Minnesota State Mankato’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “Minnesota State Mankato is committed to collaborating on ways to encourage agricultural practices that are sustainable, inclusive and promote good health.”
In Mankato and South Minneapolis, MY Place and Minnesota Venture Farms will offer summer gardening experiences where at-risk youth can experience growing and consuming the healthy foods themselves, as well as learning more about careers in agriculture.
“Our members love exploring the outdoors and learning gardening skills. For those who live in rental or multiunit housing this is often the first time they are able to learn hands on agriculture skills,” said MY Place Executive Director Erin Simmons.
Bowyer and Christine Mollenkopf-Pigsley, a faculty member in Minnesota State Mankato’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, are the grant’s principal investigators.
“Service learning is an important part of Minnesota State Mankato’s educational mission and our students will be leading much of the work on the project,” said Mollenkopf-Pigsley, who leads the University’s Applied Leadership Program. “We couldn’t have better partners in our Minnesota nonprofit sector and the investment from USDA which made this big idea a reality. Building skills in leadership, entrepreneurship, social justice, and environmental stewardship are critical to the future of our communities and closing Minnesota’s equity gap in food and agriculture.”
The grant awarded to Minnesota State Mankato and its partners, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture press release, was part of $2 million in grants awarded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food (NIFA) and Agriculture’s Food and Agriculture Service Learning Program (FASLP) under the new Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Initiative. The press release lists nine funded FASLP projects from across the United States.
Minnesota State Mankato has multiple programs in food and agriculture, including programs in agribusiness and food innovation and agrisciences, with more than 50 related courses.
Minnesota State Mankato, a comprehensive university with 14,546 students, is part of the Minnesota State system, which includes 30 colleges and seven universities.