Sustainability Newsletter Spring 2021

Jacinda Maassen, a Ph.D. student in sustainability, knows that community composting is an important component of any sustainable community. To that end, with input from the community, she developed a composting plan for the City of Vermillion. “Composting is an important part of creating sustainable communities not only because composting diverts organic materials, such as food scraps, from the landfill, but it also has the added benefit of closing nutrient loops,” Maassen said. Composting, in a basic sense, involves the breakdown of organic materials, including food scraps, leaves, grass clippings and twigs, into nutrient-rich organic material that can be added to topsoil. In her research, Maassen found that over 30 million tons of food waste is sent to landfills in the U.S. each year, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and in some cases, water pollution. Maassen developed a community composting plan as part of a project for the class Innovating for Change, geared specifically to sustainability Ph.D. students. During the fall of 2020, Maassen reached out to Vermillion community and business members, the university and the city to gage interest in developing a community composting program. She created an online survey to measure people’s knowledge of composting and interest in having a centralized location or locations, to drop off compostable materials. This was followed by an online public forum to share the results of the survey with the community and to solicit more feedback and ideas for moving forward. “What surprised me the most about the results from my survey was the overwhelming support for and interest in community composting in Vermillion. I knew there were interested parties in the area and community members who compost, but to have high levels of support with the survey reaching the broader community is what really surprised me,” Maassen said. Maassen wrote a final report containing the survey results and a plan to develop community composting to present to the city in 2021. Planning for community composting comes with challenges, such as finding a suitable site for the compost and someone who can lead the effort in the long term. Despite these challenges, Maassen found some potential options, including downtown drop- off locations associated with restaurants, and working with local groups in maintaining the compost pile. Maassen said, “I think community support, engagement and participation are important for the success of a community composting program.” Public education is also a critical part of her plan, and she hopes that local groups can help educate people about composting, and maybe even inspire them to compost in their own backyards. Maassen earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of South Dakota, a master’s in environmental science from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and a master's in sustainable development from Uppsala University in Sweden. Her dissertation research, under the direction of Meghann Jarchow, Ph.D., is focused on sustainable food systems. Community composting programs, Maassen said, “support more sustainable production practices by recycling ‘waste’ from food and agricultural production, for example, into a nutrient rich soil amendment.” Maassen realizes there is still much work to be done to implement community composting in Vermillion, but is optimistic that the community’s strong interest will make it a reality. “Community composting also provides the community with opportunities for engagement, development of composting skills and knowledge, and access to finished compost which can support more sustainable local food production practices,” Maassen said. S ustainability Newsletter Spring 2021 G raduate S tudent C reates C ommunity C omposting P lan USD now offers a certificate in geospatial analysis, available to undergraduate and graduate students. Students will learn to collect, analyze and visualize spatial data. Geospatial analysis involves using geographic information systems software and the use of equipment such as sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles. The certificate requires 12 credit hours of coursework from fields including sustainability, biology, anthropology and computer science. The skills students gain will give them an advantage in the workforce in areas such as environmental fields, agriculture and city planning and development. N ew C ertificate in G eospatial A nalysis