Biking Minnesota’s countryside to show innovation

At 8 a.m. today, five bikers and runners from the University of Minnesota began a 10-day trek across the state to show school kids all the creative approaches to farming employed in rural areas. Starting on the western border, near Madison, the group will stop at farms and towns along a pretty much straight route to the Twin Cities.

Graduate student Bryan Runck dreamed up the idea with some fellow grad students. “We are passionate about the cool and innovative things happening in these rural communities, especially in agriculture,” he said. “Like the technology that is being used to increase efficiencies and techniques in the local organic movement. We thought, why don’t we do something?”

Bryan Runck/photo courtesy of project website

Runck will make daily videos of the trip, including interviews with farmers, and upload them to the project website each evening. Stops will include Carmen Fernholz’ organic grain farm near Madison, Moonstone grassfed beef farm near Montevideo and Garden Fresh Farms, which grows indoor herbs and produce, near St. Paul.

The team will even pop in on various middle- and high-school classes to talk to students in person. The effort, called “Grown to Run” and funded by the U of M’s Institute on the Environment, is an experiment in so-called “adventure learning.” In theory, kids are more excited to learn about something that is happening right now. At least five schools have signed on to track the team’s progress, but anybody can take a look, here.

U of M agriculture professor Paul Porter, who is participating in and overseeing the project, said the goal is to “go out on the landscape and have an adventure and talk about it as the hook to bring in students, to get them to pay more attention the landscape and the food they eat.” He also joked that the team may be “out of our minds.”

Professor Paul Porter/photo courtesy of project website

Runck hopes kids will draw connections between how land is managed, our food and small town vitality. “We’ve tried to focus on innovative ways to deliver food, fiber and fuel,” he said. “The goal is to create this discussion around, what do we want our landscape to look like? What kind of services do we want from our landscape? Not just food production or clean water or the human element. What kind of rural communities do we want to have in the future of Minnesota?”