Since the end of June 2010, the Sustainability Studies program has been on its last leg, but grants gave it the cash infusion it needs to stay afloat and provided extra funding to start summer programs.
Bruce Milne, the founder and director of the program, said the W.K. Kellogg foundation provided the program with two grants totaling more than $1.6 million, which will allow the program to continue its work for the foreseeable future.
“It’s been a critical thing for Kellogg to provide this funding at this time, because as of June 31, 2010, we were completely out of money,” he said.
The USDA also gave the Sustainability Studies program $290,000 to be used for travel grants and stipends for minority students to take part in Sustainability Studies’ summer program, pay for faculty salaries and hire a graduate assistant for a year and a half.
Terry Horger, the program coordinator for Sustainability Studies, said the program relied on the College of Arts & Sciences to pay its faculty salaries after June 2010, except for Milne’s salary, which is paid by the Biology department. She said despite receiving help from Arts & Sciences, the program had no funding for some necessities.
“We didn’t have any money to spend on things like office supplies, or if we needed computer software,” she said. “I mean, we had little pockets of money from some other, very small accounts that we had. So we were kind of limping along until we got these start-up funds from the Kellogg foundation.”
The Kellogg money, which was invested in the stock market through the UNM Foundation, will pay dividends and help keep the program going from year to year, Milne said. The USDA money, on the other hand, is being used to start a summer field-school program.
“I’ve had this dream since I started the Sustainability Studies program to have a summer field school,” he said. “If you think about New Mexico, it’s a go-to place for people all around the world. They want to come to see everything from the Earthships to the Taos Pueblo … There’s a huge contrast in architecture, but nonetheless they share a lot of principles of living in collaboration with the Earth.”
The program will take students to parts of the state to see local farming techniques that contribute to the supply of food in New Mexico, Milne said.
“You have all these kinds of attractions in New Mexico, and then to go with that, in the last few years, our mission has been to be part of the development of the local food system, or foodshed, as we call it,” he said. “A foodshed is some area where food is grown, and then it’s collected — usually locally — and it goes into the mouths of people.”
Milne said food and farming techniques are important to the local economy and the global environment.
“In the United States, most people are eating food that’s only about two percent locally produced, and 98 percent of it is shipped in from far away — 1,500 miles, 2,000 miles away,” he said. “By being local, it’s better for the economy, better for the environment in terms of shipping.”
Milne said students participating in the program will work with Milne and instructors Mark Stone, from the Civil Engineering department, and Enrique Lamadrid, from the Spanish and Portuguese department.
He said the students will produce multimedia projects that Milne hopes will eventually form the basis for online courses in sustainability.
The students will also learn valuable information about food production that will help them build careers in local food production, Milne said.
“It’s how do we start to help students see career paths into becoming part of the foodshed,” he said. “And that’s everything from working on farms and ranches, or owning farms and ranches to owning food-processing facilities … to being involved with grower’s markets, being involved with school lunch programs.”
Milne said food is an important part of New Mexico’s cultural heritage.
“The beautiful thing about food is that it integrates everything: land, water, economy, health, nutrition, jobs and culture in the heritage we have in New Mexico of traditional agriculture in pueblos and in the Hispanic farming communities,” he said. “All of that is valuable to us in the sense of being part of the diversity and capability of the local food system.”