The Gund Institute for Environment announced Gund Catalyst Awards support for four new UVM-wide environmental research projects today.

These Gund Catalyst Awards will accelerate urgently needed research and action on: home food procurement's impact on rural food security and health in New England, crop diversity’s contributions to health and well-being in Africa, an environmental curriculum for K-12 students of color, and consumer preferences and demand for Vermont hemp.

The four projects receiving Catalyst Awards for 2021-2022 are:

Jane Kolodinsky (CALS) and Jeff Buzas (CEMS) will evaluate consumer preferences and demand within the rapidly growing hemp industry. Hemp grown for flower (CBD), grain (food), and fiber (textiles) has seen increased prevalence in Vermont agriculture, and has the potential to improve rural economies and agricultural sustainability as consumer demand for hemp products increases. Kolodinsky and Buzas seek to inform decisions by hemp producers, stakeholders, and policy makers to maximize the value of hemp and its associated environmental and community benefits. Collaborators include: Trisha Shrum, Hannah LaCasse, and Amanda Falkner (UVM CALS); Yuqing Zheng and Tyler Mark (University of Kentucky); and a panel of stakeholders and experts from Kentucky, Vermont, and Colorado. 

Eric Roy (RSENR) and Leon Walls (CESS) will design and implement a pilot program incorporating “ecological design”—design which minimizes environmental impact—into an environmental science curriculum for K-12 Black students and other students of color. While science organizations have long advocated for hands-on design and engineering to be incorporated into science instruction, this program will be the first to evaluate the learning benefits of ecological design-centered education for students of color, whose educations in the U.S. continue to be impeded by racism and marginalization. This project will be conducted in collaboration with the Community-Based Learning Coach at the Winooski School District. 

Daniel Tobin and Emily Belarmino (CALS) will examine how crop diversity impacts human well-being, including nutrition and food security, in sub-Saharan Africa. As crop diversity worldwide continues to be threatened by climate change and agricultural modernization trends, Tobin and Belarmino’s research seeks to inform key decision-making around which crops should receive priority in agricultural and conservation efforts based on their ability to promote food and nutritional security. Collaborators include: Travis Reynolds and Meredith Niles (UVM CALS); Kristal Jones (SESYNC, University of Maryland); Brian Thiede (Penn State University); Gloria Otieno (Bioversity International); Atalel Wubalem Nadew (Bahir Dar University); and Charlie Nicholson (UC Davis).

In addition, a Joint Catalyst Award on rural health and the environment, presented in partnership with UVM’s Larner College of Medicine, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, and the Northern New England Clinical & Translational Research Network, has been awarded to Gund Fellow Meredith Niles (CALS).

Building upon existing research in Vermont and Maine, as well as nationally, Niles’ team will examine how local and home food procurement – including fishing, foraging, gardening, hunting, and local agriculture – impact food security, diet quality and other health outcomes before and since COVID-19 in rural communities. The team will conduct a series of surveys and interview key stakeholders across both states. Recent evidence suggests more people engaged in home food procurement since COVID-19, and previous research shows that home food procurement can improve diet quality and may also have other mental or physical health benefits. The team will communicate their findings with rural health practitioners, conservation organizations, and policymakers to inform policy, health, and conservation decisions in rural areas. Collaborators on this project include Jennifer Laurent (UVM CNHS); Emily Belarmino, Farryl BertmannScott Merrill, and Eric Clark (UVM CALS); Sam Bliss (UVM RSENR); and Rachel Schattman and Kate Yerxa of the University of Maine.

The awards will support at least 22 UVM faculty and students from 5 colleges/schools and 8 departments. Over 40 local, national, and international collaborators from at least 8 partner institutions will participate, including the University of California-Davis, the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), the Winooski School District, Bioversity International, and Bahir Dar University.

Catalyst Awards are the Gund Institute’s flagship seed grant competition, and have provided over $800,000 in startup funds, supporting over 100 UVM scholars and 20 innovative projects, since launching four years ago. In three years, the program has generated over $8M in external funding, a 12-to-1 return on investment.

Each of these new projects connect multiple Gund themes – climate solutions, resilient communities, sustainable agriculture, and health and well-being. By echoing UN Sustainable Development Goals, these themes connect UVM scholars to global priorities and increase opportunities to impact policy.

Gund Catalyst Award proposals are evaluated on five criteria: intellectual merit, interdisciplinary reach, strength of team, potential for impact, and potential for growth. Additional priority is given to projects that address inequality, racial justice, and diversity dimensions of these environmental challenges; and to new UVM collaborations with external partners and opportunities for students. Proposals are reviewed by UVM and external evaluators.

Learn more about Gund Catalyst Awards.


Kyra Chevalier