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MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon

Michigan: A global leader in urban food systems? MSU President thinks so

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon talks with Kirk Heinze

By Kirk Heinze

As we celebrate the fourth year of “Greening of the Great Lakes,” I welcomed back MSU President Lou Anna Simon who shares her thoughts on the progress of the “Be Spartan Green” campus sustainability initiative. 

President Simon also provides a glimpse of an “aggressive” new energy transition plan for MSU that will be presented to the Board of Trustees and the campus community at the beginning of 2012.  And she outlines a compelling vision for how Michigan can position itself as a global “hub” for the development of urban food systems.

With respect to “Be Spartan Green,” President Simon has seen “a great deal of momentum” building on campus over the past year—momentum that ranges from the growing campus and public use of the MSU Recycling Center to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (9% in the past year, alone) to purchasing Michigan-produced food by MSU’s food service (57% locally produced) to LEED-certified buildings, solar panels, a new anaerobic digester for MSU Farms and more.  

Simon says that such achievements have been the result of rigorous planning.  “These successes are not public relations sound bites,” she says.  “Rather, they are the result of a comprehensive, long-term vision for campus sustainability—which means making sustainability an integral part of our daily lives at MSU.” 

As for the Energy Transition Plan announcement, Simon would only say that it would encompass conservation, alternative ways of producing power, and the development and testing of new technologies.  The committee working on the plan includes MSU students, something Simon believes “enriches the dialogue.”  For Simon and her sustainability team, the tough part about any such long-term planning is “balancing cost and sustainability” while, at the same time, ensuring that MSU continues to be a crucible of “new technology development.” 

Simon also shares dimensions of a vision she has not only for MSU, but for Michigan.  Citing the example of how Singapore has become a global leader in water-based research, reclamation and recycling, Simon suggests that Michigan could do something similar in “urban food systems” research and development. 

“The rapid urbanization of the planet is a fact,” Simon says.  “We see the development of huge cities in China, India and, to some extent, even in Africa.”  To sustain a peaceful world, these people must be fed—but establishing the systems necessary to ensure the availability of safe, nutritious food is a “vastly complex” undertaking. 

“The development of urban food systems requires, at the least, the interface of energy, water and food,” she says.  And Michigan and its universities, businesses and workforce have ample expertise in each of those areas.  The tough part is integrating all the components necessary for the development of these food systems—components like supply chains, soil remediation, water access and use, packaging, the economic viability of “vertical agriculture,” the coordination among local food growing and distribution network and much, much more. 

Although it would not be easy, “Michigan can become the same world-class hub for developing urban food systems that Singapore has become with respect to water systems.”  

Greening of the Great Lakes airs every Sunday at 9 p.m. on News/Talk 760 WJR and around the state each weekend on the Michigan Talk Network.

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