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A Conversation with Dr. Raj Shah, President, Rockefeller Foundation

January 15, 2019

It was delightful to welcome Raj Shah to the ASU DC campus and interview him about the work of the Rockefeller Foundation and his insights on how we meet the challenge of achieving global food security. You can watch the entire interview here.

I first met Raj when we served together in the Obama Administration. He was the first Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics at USDA but was eventually kicked upstairs, as they say, to be Administrator of USAID. Raj has had a marvelous career and so it was not surprising to find our 8th floor pavilion full of people engaged in international development anxious to hear what he had to say.

One thing we talked about is the power of “food systems” as the organizing frame for conceiving solutions to food and agriculture challenges. I have found increasing recognition that food systems analysis can lead to better decision-making by policymakers and other actors seeking to understand potential trade-offs of proposed interventions, technologies, and policies by taking into account the many aspects of food and agriculture typically studied -- agricultural land, inputs, fisheries, infrastructure, labor, and the like -- and placing these component parts within an integrated social and environmental context.

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ASU food entrepreneur program ready for 2019

View Source | January 10, 2019

Man sells drinks outside of a food truckThe Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University is excited to learn more from one of our sister food programs on campus, Prepped, in 2019. ASU recently announced that Prepped has secured funding for the next two years for its incubator program helping entrepreneurs in food-based businesses.

Prepped is already working with FoodLab at ASU's School of Sustainability on sustainable business techniques. The Swette Center looks forward to working with these new entrepreneurs to add sustainable food systems principles into their businesses strategies.

Farm bill passes, but victories are overshadowed

View Source | December 20, 2018

Farm field at sunsetSwette Center Executive Director Kathleen Merrigan was recently quoted in an article by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The article, called “The 2018 Farm Bill Is Now Law. But the Shenanigans Continue…,” describes that Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (known as the “farm bill”) was authorized, but many complications have arisen.

The author, Ricardo Salvador, notes that some colleagues are advocating for food reform through alternate avenues. He specifically mentions Merrigan: “Kathleen Merrigan has determined that to escape the Groundhog Day spin cycle she will now emphasize partnering with innovators in the food industry: ‘It is a time of intractability in policymaking at the federal level. And while I’ll always be engaged and vocal in federal food policy…right now, the private sector is leading.’”

Salvador concludes with the farm bill’s victories, and says that people must stay positive and persistent when trying to create an equitable food and agriculture system.

ASU rises in national research rankings

View Source | December 20, 2018

Research labContinuing on its path as a rapidly growing research enterprise, Arizona State University reported $545 million in research expenditures for fiscal year 2017, up from $518 million in FY16, according to a recent report by the U.S. National Science Foundation. ASU is holding its rank at No. 44 for total research expenditures in the U.S., remaining ahead of the California Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago. Among institutions without a medical school, ASU moved up one spot to No. 8, ahead of Princeton University and Carnegie Mellon University.

In addition, ASU announced that its research expenditures for FY18 now total more than $600 million — a first for the university.

The NSF’s FY17 Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) rankings, its most recent report based on FY17 expenditures, has ASU holding a strong lead among all reporting institutions, including a No. 1 ranking in anthropology expenditures, ahead of Harvard and Stanford universities.

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Global Locust Initiative wins USAID/OFDA grant to launch pilot project in Senegal

View Source | November 28, 2018

Arianne Cease wearing gloves working in a labLocusts have afflicted humanity throughout history, with devastating consequences. It’s no surprise that locusts are one of the 10 plagues in the biblical book Exodus. These insects are species of grasshoppers that can swarm in the millions and wipe out fields of crops in the blink of an eye.

The Global Locust Initiative, an Arizona State University program aiming to study and manage locust outbreaks, recently won a half-million-dollar grant from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (a part of the U.S. Agency for International Development). This is the first time an ASU program has been awarded an OFDA grant, according to research advancement manager Ann Marie Hess, whose dedication to this partnership and work as a research advancement manager, alongside program manager Ariel Rivers, was critical to landing the grant.

With this funding, the Global Locust Initiative team — directed by senior sustainability scientist Arianne Cease — will test whether soil amendments to millet fields in Kaffrine, Senegal, decrease locust outbreaks, improve millet yields and increase farmer livelihoods.

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Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Stockholm Water Prize co-recipient to be keynote speakers at Phosphorus Forum 2019

November 21, 2018

Washington, D.C. capitol building with flowers in foregroundThe Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance has announced that Kathleen Merrigan and Bruce Rittmann will be the keynote speakers at Phosphorus Forum 2019, scheduled for April 5, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Kathleen Merrigan, who holds a PhD in environmental planning and policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has decades of experience in agriculture, sustainability and food systems. As the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture from 2009 to 2013, Merrigan managed the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative to support local and regional food systems. She became the first female chair of the Ministerial Conference of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization in 2009; she was named one of Time magazine’s “100 most influential people in the world” in 2010; and she was the Executive Director of Sustainability at George Washington University, where she led the GW Sustainability Collaborative and the GW Food Institute. In 2018 Merrigan became the first Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University.

Bruce Rittmann, who holds a PhD in environmental engineering from Stanford University, was named a 2018 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for revolutionizing water and wastewater treatment through the development of environmental biotechnology-based processes. His work has led to a new generation of water treatment processes that can effectively extract nutrients from wastewater. In his research, Rittmann has studied how microorganisms can transform organic pollutants to something of value to humans and the environment. He has authored or co-authored more than 650 peer-reviewed scientific papers and has chaired the Program Committee of the Leading Edge Technology Conference of the International Water Association. Rittmann is Regents' Professor of Environmental Engineering and director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at ASU's Biodesign Institute.

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Conservation International partners with ASU’s Decision Theater on innovative tool

View Source | November 7, 2018

A dry, cracked bed of dirt with grass in backgroundClimate change. Species loss. Pollution.

These are well-known consequences of economic development threatening human and ecological health. International efforts to mitigate these threats are also familiar, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting endangered animals and cleaning our air and waterways.

However, perhaps the most crucial threat is also the most neglected — land degradation.

Approximately 1.3 billion people depend on polluted or degraded agricultural land. This leads to reduced agricultural productivity and access to water and increased carbon emissions. It is a complex problem with serious implications for food security, health and sustainable development.

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ASU alumna opens second community garden

View Source | November 2, 2018

Close-up of white cabbageAfter taking a class on health advocacy in fall 2017, Catherine Daem, now a graduate of Arizona State University's College of Health Solutions, wanted to find a solution to the Valley's local food deserts and swamps by becoming a community garden advocate.

This Saturday, she'll be opening her second community garden plot.

What sets Daem's project apart from other community gardens is the research and solution-oriented approach she has employed, as well as her efforts to involve her colleagues; Students, alumni and faculty will be clearing the plot and planting the garden. The impetus was a video she made last fall about food deserts and swamps in Mesa. It highlights the problem many of our communities experience and the effect on their health.

See Daem's video and read a Q&A about her project on ASU Now.

ASU researcher finds clues to bee survival

View Source | November 2, 2018

beekeeperAccording to new research done at Arizona State University, having the right bees "pick up the food" is how honeybees successfully exploit their environments so colonies thrive. Similar to bosses figuring out which of their employees are the most reliable, bees are excellent at distinguishing which of their comrades are best fit to perform each specific task for the hive

To make the most of their time, animals must decide which of their group members must go explore new places for a new source of food and who should stay at familiar places to collect resources. Bees do this by dividing the work between two groups of individuals: scouts for new places and recruits for the old ones.

Chelsea Cook is a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the lead author on a new paper in the Journal of Animal Ecology about the newly discovered bee behavior. She says that due to a constant stream of information occurring within an environment, some are better than others at focusing on one task at a time.

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Sustainability scientist calls for careful oversight of environmental gene editing

View Source | November 1, 2018

James P. CollinsAround the world, scientists are solving serious issues using modern technology. Whether the solution is genetically modified, malaria-fighting mosquitoes or other gene editing technologies, Arizona State University sustainability scientist James P. Collins is calling for careful risk assessment.

Collins, the Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and the Environment at ASU's School of Life Sciences, co-authored a paper published in the journal "Science." The authors urgently encourage global governance to review new technologies on a a case-by-case basis — a decision-making process that must include the local communities that would feel the biggest and most immediate effects.

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Partnering on nutrition with Society for International Development

November 1, 2018

Guest post by Suzanne Palmieri

Last week I had the good fortune to sit down to talk with and learn from three leaders on the latest thinking in advancing global nutrition. The presentations focused on different ways to approach nutrition and gave insights from their research to a packed room of nutrition practitioners at the Washington DC offices of the Society for International Development.

First, we heard from Shannon Doocey from Johns Hopkins University who reported on her research to test the effectiveness of employing cash transfers in emergencies, building on the evidence from non-crisis settings that cash is more efficient and supports local economies. Her study focused on food insecurity in Somalian households in acute food crises. She shared preliminary findings at the household level and, though the study had many limitations and recognizes that further study is needed, her conclusion was that the results showed promise.

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ASU, UNSW students innovate to create zero waste

View Source | October 30, 2018

Three male ASU students standing and smilingStudents from opposite sides of the world found themselves competing on a unified front to create solutions to divert waste from landfills and drive new businesses.

A diverse group of 70 interdisciplinary students at Arizona State University and UNSW Sydney created teams at their respective universities as they took part in the inaugural PLuS Alliance Circular Economy ResourCE Hack. The innovation hack was designed to find zero-waste alternatives for transitioning to a circular economy. The winning team from each institution was then judged by an international panel of experts to determine an overall “world champion.”

The grand prize was awarded to ASU’s top team, Farmers’ Friend, composed of Jacob Bethem (PhD, sustainability), Andrew John De Los Santos (MS, sustainability) and Sudhanshu Biyani (MS, mechanical engineering). Their solution to reduce food waste involved developing an app connecting micro farmers in developing countries to consumers at places like schools, programs for the elderly, nongovernmental organizations or restaurants using a guaranteed pricing model. The team plans to apply for ASU Entrepreneurship + Innovation’s Venture Devils program in January.

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Front page shows love of soils

October 26, 2018

By Kathleen Merrigan

Healthy soils are the starting block for biodiversity, clean water, carbon sequestration, and sustainable agriculture. For years we’ve been treating our soil like, well, dirt, and it’s about time we start to acknowledge this precious resource for what it is – for our economy, environment, and society.

It’s hard to think about soil erosion without envisioning the Dust Bowl. Donald Wooster, author of the Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (2004) describes it as “one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in world history.” After years of westward expansion, a confluence of drought and intensive tilling and grazing of the prairies caused soil to rise from the land and travel as far as Washington D.C. In fact just blocks away from my office, the Lincoln Memorial was once shrouded in dust coming from as far as Kansas.

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Biomimicry Center planting inspiration with seed exhibit

View Source | October 26, 2018

whirlybirdStill most widely associated with the invention of velcro, ASU researchers are walking the talk of biomimicry with a newly renovated office space and a new seed exhibit they hope will capture the imagination of innovators seeking solutions for complex human problems.

"Seeds continue to offer a bottomless design and engineering trove for many other innovations," said Heidi Fischer, assistant director at the Biomimicry Center. "We hope that our exhibition can provide new models for some of these innovations."

Titled “Designed to Move: Seeds that Float, Fly or Hitchhike through the Desert Southwest,” the exhibit, opening Oct. 30 in the Design School South Gallery on ASU's Tempe campus is offering viewers an extraordinary look at the beauty of desert seeds as captured through the macro photography lens of Taylor James, an alumni of ASU’s Masters of Fine Arts program.

How NAFTA is affecting the long-term viability of Mexico's water supply

View Source | October 26, 2018

A small fence separates the densely populated Tijuana, Mexico (right) from the United States in the Border Patrol's San Diego sectorRed-tailed hawks can live to be up to 20 years old. If a fledging had caught a thermal in 1994 and spent the next two decades aloft above the U.S.-Mexico border, it would have witnessed some startling changes:

Mexican border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana ballooning as thousands streamed north to work in maquiladora factories, assembling products like garage door openers to be sold in the U.S. and Canada. Farmland around American cities morphing into suburbs. Mexican land being turned into agricultural fields.

What would not be visible from the air is the depletion of Mexican groundwater to grow the fruits and vegetables sent north.

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Celebrating World Food Day

October 16, 2018

By Kathleen Merrigan

Photo copyright: The Good of the Hive 2018Today is World Food Day, recognized by more than 150 countries. Its celebration is a way to raise awareness of issues of poverty and hunger and the date was selected because back on October 16, 1945, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was established. Every year World Food Day has a different theme; in 2018 it is “Our actions are our future.” The FAO website urges us to undertake four actions.

  • Don’t waste food
  • Produce more, with less
  • Adopt a more healthy and sustainable diet
  • Advocate for #ZeroHunger (SDG 2)

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Future of Food series

October 11, 2018

By Kathleen Merrigan

During the 2018-19 academic year, the ASU Swette Center will host five forums on the future of food. In these forums, leaders will explore a range of issues, from new industry dynamics, to agtech innovations, global food security challenges, ecosystem services, and more. These events are designed to provide insights for policymakers in Washington DC and allow them to explore, through high-level conversations, cutting edge topics that have the potential to transform the food and agriculture sector.

Today we hosted our first event – a breakfast on the 8th floor pavilion attended by nearly 60 people. Because this was our opening event, it began with me offering my vision of the future of food and the ways the Swette Center will lead, particularly as it relates to engaging with industry. Three panelists followed.

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The importance of African-Americans to the executive kitchen

View Source | October 8, 2018

Whitehouse KitchenAt an October 5 Food and Thought event sponsored by Arizona State University College of Health Solutions, Author Adrian Miller spoke about the importance of African-Americans to the executive kitchen. Miller, a James Beard Award winner, signed copies of his new book at the event, which also featured food tastings an an audience question-and-answer session.

Miller’s book, "The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of African-Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas," takes a look at some of the most pivotal characters in the White House’s kitchen history, some of which he spoke about at the event hosted by the ASU College of Health Solutions.

The reception also featured some of the recipes included in the book that were prepared for presidents and their families throughout history, including first lady Caroline Harrison’s deviled almonds and a baked macaroni and cheese that was served to Thomas Jefferson.

Sharing a vision

October 2, 2018

By Kathleen Merrigan

ASU is not my first university rodeo. I spent 8 years as the Director of the MS/PhD Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. I spent 4 years at George Washington University as the Executive Director of Sustainability and of the GW Food Institute. At both universities I was a member of the faculty and active in the classroom, offering a variety of courses.

I’m often referred to as the “former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture” because people want to stress what they believe to be my most important job. I suppose it depends upon the measure used. For me, the investment I’ve made in my students is likely to be the greatest achievement of my career. It is an honor to be on campus, working with students and faculty colleagues to generate new ideas to transform food systems.

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ASU sustainability scientist developing energy-saving solution for frozen-food storage

View Source | October 2, 2018

Four people in winter clothes hold ice cream inside large refrigerated buildingSometimes something sweet requires serious smarts.

Arizona State University sustainability scientist Kristen Parrish’s work focuses on integrating energy-efficiency methods into the design, construction and operational processes of buildings.

Robert Wang’s expertise in thermal science includes the applications of thermoelectricity, thermal-energy storage and phase-change materials and processes.

Together they are a formidable force in the quest for … well-preserved, quality ice cream.

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