Episode 118: Exploring Sustainability at UMN

Join Kaylie Sirovy for the first episode of the season as she shines a spotlight on Seedlings, the club empowering students to create a sustainable future.


by Kaylie Sirovy

KAYLIE SIROVY: Hey there, everybody! You’re listening to In The Know, a podcast dedicated to the University of Minnesota. I’m your friendly neighborhood host, Kaylie Sirovy. Get ready with me to dive into the world of sustainability.

In this segment, I will be exploring the recently established, sustainably-centered club called Seedlings, which has made significant strides since its inception in winter. This chapter of the club is part of a growing movement on college campuses across the country, as numerous branches are taking root. Joining me today is Catherine Thompson, the former partnership lead of Seedlings. Catherine’s role entailed event coordination and collaborating with local businesses to enhance the group’s visibility and impact.

CATHERINE THOMPSON: Seedlings is completely what we make of it, which I really loved about that prospect. We wanted to go at least for this first year or semester, the route of events, just trying to get in front of students, talk about sustainability at a college level and how you can make sustainable choices as a college student.

SIROVY: The organization’s objective is to establish its presence in every college, serving as a catalyst for building a more sustainable future. Seedlings’ founder, Matt Sandy, once worked as a journalist in the Amazon rainforest. His experiences inspired him to establish the organization, aiming to educate and empower individuals on the actions they can take to make a positive difference.

THOMPSON: I think that he recognized that a large force in future climate policy and climate action is young people. So trying to get us excited about it and communicating to our peers rather than older people, trying desperately to get us to pay attention. It’s – okay, find a group of young people who are really passionate and have them spread the word and that’s the kind of the idea.

SIROVY: Callie Stevermer, the former leader and campus initiator, said they “are doing something that is actionable and that can get more people involved with this important issue here at UMN.” Among the various initiatives, one notable action involved a collaboration between M Food Co. and UMN Seedlings. Together, they organized a sustainable lunch event on April 20 to promote their partnership and raise awareness about environmentally conscious dining options. Heidi Link, the Marketing and Sustainability Manager at M Food Co., played a pivotal role in coordinating the event’s planning and execution.

HEIDI LINK: UMN seedlings picked out the menu and it was a takeover at our rooted station. So, our rooted station is always vegetarian, almost always vegan and they combed through the library recipe of the good, better, best icons from HowGood and they pitched jerk tofu steak with mango salsa, roasted beets, and lemon couscous.

THOMPSON: Of course they had their other options. We didn’t wanna force it down their throats or anything, like all the other stations were still there and Pure Eats and everything where the allergens are being avoided.

But yes, the food was really good and we did have people come up and be like “Good choice, that was good.” We’ve never had something like this before, like that type of feedback, which made me very happy, too. 

SIROVY: Chartwells is the recently introduced dining hall vendor on campus, which replaced Aramark last year. However, you might be wondering about HowGood. So Heidi, what exactly is HowGood?

LINK: HowGood is an independent research company with the world’s largest database on product sustainability. This past summer, HowGood analyzed recipes from Chartwell’s menu and labeled them as good, better, best, and climate friendly.

The menu items that were labeled as good, was better than 75% of other food. Great is better than 85% of other food. Best is better than 95% of other food and then recipes that received the climate friendly icon, those have greenhouse gas emissions lower than 70% of other products assessed. 

SIROVY: Link explains that students have the opportunity to view sustainability icons displayed on menu cards, which accompany each ingredient. Additionally, these icons can be found on the digital menu screens at Pioneer Dining Hall, as well as on the Dine On Campus website where menus are readily available.

LINK: So students can kind of shape their day around eating sustainable if that’s how they want to do it as well. M Food Co. is happy to share this with students so they can make more environmentally and socially conscious choices in their dining, especially something that they don’t typically have that much control over.

SIROVY: What did you hope to accomplish with this event?

LINK: We had two goals. One of the main goals was to highlight our M Food Co. partnership with HowGood, again, because of this partnership that we have, students are able to be more informed and make more conscious decisions about the food they put in their body while they’re in our dining halls.

The second goal was to not only aid in UMN Seedlings to get more visibility, but also to show other student organizations that we’re eager to work with them.

THOMPSON: That’s what I think too is a lot of people would love to make these more sustainable decisions, but they have no idea how, or it’s not being taught to them and having that be something that’s just in the hall and doesn’t have to be something that’s covered in class, also makes it much more approachable for someone who wants to know but doesn’t know where to start.

If nothing else, I hope that the event was able to teach students what those symbols mean so that in the future when they want to make those specific sustainable choices, they can see, “oh, this one has the one leaf that I know it’s a good rating. Oh, this one has two. That’s even better. Let me put that on my plate,” you know.

SIROVY: What are your aspirations for the future of Seedlings? Where do you envision the organization heading?

THOMPSON: I hope that they go wild with it. Honestly, I want to see crazy things.

SIROVY: To learn more about Seedlings, you can go to their website seedlings.media/minnesota.

This episode was written and produced by Kaylie Sirovy. As always, we really appreciate you listening in. Feel free to email us at [email protected] with comments or questions. I’m Kaylie, and this is In The Know.