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Digging into real-world sustainability analysis with universities

January 12, 2024


3 minute read

Wichita State University

For the second year, Midwest Dairy partnered with Wichita State University’s College of Innovation and Design’s Applied Sustainability in Innovation course on a fall project. The course project provided a real-world challenge for students to research and offer possible solutions to stakeholders. The students were tasked with researching sustainable and efficient bedding strategies for smaller dairy farms.  

The semester-long project began with an introduction to the challenge and conversation through Zoom with a dairy farmer, Dave Lane of Goddard, Kansas. Students toured Lane’s farm to learn more about dairy farming and dairy’s sustainability efforts as part of their research. The tour was a valuable learning opportunity to help students understand manure management on the farm and much more.

Students developed a problem statement for the challenge. For example, group one’s problem statement was “How might we better manage manure for small dairy farms so that they can spend less money on bedding material?” and group two’s problem statement was “How might we efficiently collect manure for the use of bedding so it can be reused?” Students worked the entire semester investigating several aspects to address their statements and meet the challenge. They used the Business Model Canvas for Sustainability and sustainability assessments such as the Live Cycle Analysis, Life Cycle Costing, and Social-Life Cycle Analysis tools to assist with their recommendations. Most of the students in the class were environmental engineering majors.

Students presented their proposals and specific recommendations to stakeholders in early December of 2023, which included dairy farmer Dave Lane and Midwest Dairy staff Ron Grusenmeyer and Robyn Stuewe.

Northern Illinois University

Midwest Dairy also partnered for the second time with Northern Illinois University (NIU) and sustainability thought-leader Bryan Flower for the 2023 Sustainable Food Systems Innovation Challenge, formerly known as the Huskie Hack. A hackathon is an event where groups engage in rapid and collaborative engineering over a short period, and the theme for this 24-hour hackathon was Food Justice. This movement was to ensure that all people have access to nutritious, affordable, and culturally appropriate food. 

During the hackathon, nine teams from surrounding five Midwest colleges and universities, including NIU, were tasked to create feasible plans that help to address the following problem statement:

How can we build a more just and equitable food system that ensures everyone has access to healthy and affordable food options, regardless of income, race, or geographic location?

Eighteen faculty and industry partners served as mentors to the teams, including those from Illinois Farm Bureau, Northern Illinois Food Bank, and Will McIntee, Senior Advisor for Public Engagement at the White House. These mentors helped address team questions and brainstorm with them throughout the event. The teams needed to utilize the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which includes dairy, as part of their project solution. Midwest Dairy was proud to bring the dairy industry into this conversation and top of mind for participants.