The future is about feeding the world, but it is more than feeding the world

FK_casual1An essay by Fred Kirschenmann, a distinguished fellow at ISU’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

The question “How are we going to feed 9 billion people by the year 2050?” now routinely appears in the popular press. Posing the question in this way, important as it is, implies that if we just figure out how to produce more food, we can solve the problem of hunger. There are several problems with this assumption.

First, as I wrote in a column in our quarterly Leopold Center newsletter, scholars had already pointed out in 2012 that we were producing enough food to feed 10 billion people, yet almost a billion were chronically hungry. It certainly suggests that we have to come to terms with the fact that solving the hunger problem is not simply a matter of producing adequate amounts of food. Hunger is caused by an array of problems including poverty, inequality, food waste, food access, and ignoring the issue of the “right to food.” In this regard, the amount of food we produce that is wasted is particularly troubling. By some estimates, today we waste at least 40 percent of the food that we produce. The good news is, many people in the food system are beginning to deal with this problem.

Second, posing the problem of a growing human population as simply a feeding challenge ignores another reality – the “carrying capacity” of the planet. For the last several centuries, we have lived in a culture that assumes nature is mostly “out there” and nature is simply a collection of objects from which we humans are largely separate, and therefore we can make nature do whatever we want in our own interests. However, humans are actually an integral part of nature. We can only thrive and be healthy as long as the rest of nature is healthy.

As Aldo Leopold stated almost 100 years ago, nature’s health should be defined in terms of her capacity for “self-renewal.” The Earth’s capacity for self-renewal is dependent upon a balance of interrelationships of all of life. For that reason, nature never tolerates a “density” of any species. All species are interdependent and must be limited in ways in which they contribute to the self-renewing capacity of the whole. Humans are not exempt from this law of ecology.

This suggests that Wendell Berry’s insight regarding problems is exceptionally relevant. To define a problem as a single tactic phenomenon – like solving the hunger problem by simply producing more food – fails to recognize that singular problems are actually a “pattern of problems” and we have to address the interrelated pattern and “not just some handily identifiable and simplifiable aspect of it.”

Consequently, as author Donald Worster asserts, the “limits of growth” concept involves both the amount of economic growth and the growth of the human population on the planet. It is for these reasons that we must now abandon our fetish for economic growth. Regenerating life on Earth must have a higher priority than producing as much as possible. While economic well-being is important, it will always be dependent on the self-renewing capacity of the resources on which economic growth depends. If we are interested in a healthy, well-fed human population, we need to redefine growth in terms of the wealth of nature, rather than the wealth of nations.

1. Leopold Letter, Vol. 24, No. 4, winter 2012
2. Worster, Donald, 2016; Shrinking the Earth: The Rise and Decline of American Abundance, New York, Oxford University Press
3. Berry, Wendell, 1981; “Solving for pattern,” Chapter 9 in The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural & Agricultural, San Francisco, North Point Press

This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

Five Things

Happy Monday to Cyclones everywhere. Here are five things to put on your Iowa State radar this week:

1) Last Friday the Iowa Board of Regents appointed the official search committee for the next ISU president. The committee will be co-chaired by Dan Houston, president and CEO of Principal Financial Group, and Luis Rico-Gutierrez, Dean of the College of Design. The ISU Alumni Association has two representatives: attorney Steve Zumbach (’73 ag business) and retired CPA Thea “Ted” Oberlander (’77 accounting & indus admin), both of Des Moines. Learn more about the committee and the search process online.


2) Also last Friday, the Iowa State softball team made history by notching its first-ever win against Texas. The Cyclones, who are set to start a six-game homestand Wednesday, won 4-2 on the road at McCombs Field.

3) Speaking of the Cyclones and Texas, the Longhorns were the only team the Cyclones couldn’t take down at this weekend’s Big 12 women’s golf championship in San Antonio; Iowa State finished a strong second at the league championship, marking its eighth-straight finish in the top half of the Big 12 and setting up the Cyclones to earn an eighth-straight NCAA regional bid this Thursday. The Cyclone men — who have won three tournaments this season — start play in their league championship today in Hutchinson, Kan.


4) In celebration of National Preservation Week, the experts at Parks Library are hosting a series of events this week called “Ask the Experts.” Preservation staff will be on hand to assist the public with handling, preserving, and archiving heirlooms and collectibles during events Tuesday morning, Wednesday afternoon, and Thursday afternoon in the Parks Library lobby.

5) We at the Alumni Association have extended the deadline for applications to be our next Assistant Director of Constituent Engagement and SALC advisor. You can now continue to apply online through April 30.

Five Things

Happy Monday! Here are five things to put on your Iowa State radar this week:

1) It’s a time of transition at ISU, and not just at the very top as we search for a new president. Senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert has named John Lawrence as the interim replacement for Cathann Kress (’83 social work) – who is leaving ISU for Ohio State – as vice president for extension and outreach, and Pat Halbur as interim replacement for Lisa Nolan – who is leaving ISU for the University of Georgia – as dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. Lawrence (’84 an sci, MS ’86 ag econ), associate dean for extension programs and outreach in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and extension director for agriculture and natural resources, became acting VP March 31 and will become interim VP April 29. Halbur (DVM ’86, MS ’92 vet pathology, PhD ’95), professor and chair of the veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine department, will begin serving as acting vet med dean June 1 and interim dean July 1. National searches for both positions are expected to commence in the coming months.

2) HC2017_logo_186_142_whiteIn case you missed it, the 2017 ISU Homecoming theme has been announced: Sound the CYren. Mark your calendar for Oct. 22-28 and get all the latest info at

3) There are lots of great, timely and relevant lectures going on this week on campus, including the Greenlee School’s annual First Amendment Day celebration keynote address Thursday when Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Smith will speak about watchdog journalism in the MU Great Hall. Other lectures on the agenda this week include tonight’s “GI’s and Jews after the Holocaust” (7 p.m., Great Hall), tomorrow morning’s College of Business CEO speaker series event with Union Pacific’s Lance Fritz (9:30 a.m., 1148 Gerdin) and tomorrow night’s “The History of Politics of Russian-American Hacking” (7 p.m., Great Hall). As always, ISU lectures are free and open to the public.



4) This Friday is the deadline for Iowa Staters to purchase discounted tickets for Iowa State Night at the Iowa Barnstormers April 29 at Wells Fargo Arena. The Barnstormers won their third-straight game Saturday night to move to 5-2; it’s definitely a great time to check out a hot team and have some fun with Iowa State friends next Saturday night.

5) From the “Hey! She went to Iowa State!” file: Readers of Real Simple magazine may have noticed an ISU College of Design alum featured in the April issue. Pamela Abalu (BArch ’01), chief architect and global head of design and construction at MetLife Inc. in New York City, is highlighted on pages 105-106 (go to 94-95 on the slider bar at the link provided).


Solar food dehydrator battles food waste


“I came to Iowa State with an interest in development. I’ve always had a passion for helping others and I love to travel,” Mikayla Sullivan says. A senior double-majoring in global resource systems and administration in agriculture with a minor in political science, Sullivan combined her interests into one unique business venture: KinoSol.

KinoSol is a company and a product – one Sullivan helped co-found alongside other student entrepreneurs Elise Kendall, Ella Gehrke, and Clayton Mooney.

“KinoSol is a social-good startup focused on saving energy and decreasing post-harvest loss in developing countries,” Sullivan said. e team created a mobile, solar-powered food dehydrator for fruits, vegetables, insects, and grains that will increase food preservation and is currently being sold worldwide.

Yet, how does an Iowa State student go from cramming for tests to selling an invention around the globe? It’s the unique Iowa State student experience – one full of hands-on opportunities to succeed.

The KinoSol team was one of the first groups to participate in CYstarters, a 10-week summer student accelerator launched in 2016 by the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship for students or recent graduates to focus on their startup ideas. “CYstarters is the only accelerator program for students I have ever heard about that provides funding, housing, and mentoring to help get your idea off the ground,” Sullivan said.

Within the past year, Sullivan has also traveled to Ireland to attend a startup conference and to Thailand to complete needs assessments focused on food security.

Before KinoSol, Sullivan needed the space to truly pursue her passions. “Receiving scholarship support provided me the opportunity to spend my time figuring out what I’m passionate about. I could spend time in clubs, travel for internships, and hone my business skills instead of having to seek out a job in order to cover tuition,” she said.

“Starting a business while still in college is something most people don’t do, or don’t always understand. Life becomes a balancing act between the business and school, and many times I have to sacrifice extra social time in order to keep working on KinoSol. But knowing I could leave a big impact on the world puts a lot of things into perspective for me.”

If it weren’t for scholarship support in the earlier years of Sullivan’s college career, KinoSol may have never come to fruition. But because of the opportunities and support offered to her as a student, she can look ahead to tackling one of the biggest challenges to date: world hunger.

Student support – including scholarship funding and global opportunities – is one of the three main aspirations of the Forever True, For Iowa State campaign. To learn more about the campaign vision or how to get involved, visit

This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

Five Things

Happy Monday! Here are five things to put on your Cardinal & Gold radar this week:

1) We at the Alumni Association are continuing to celebrate Cyclones Everywhere with stories, events, and more. Be sure to visit our new Cyclones Everywhere website if you haven’t already. And if you want to know more about what “Cyclones Everywhere” is all about, be sure to check out our new video:

Share your own story by using the hashtag #CyclonesEverywhere or contact us directly at (877) 478-2586 or

2) Last Friday the Alumni Association and ISU Foundation teamed up to present their annual Distinguished Awards to alumni and friends. If you missed the opportunity to see these tremendous individuals honored in person, you can always catch the replay. Congratulations to 2017 honorees Susan Carlson, Larry Ebbers, W. Eugene Lloyd, Lora and Russ Talbot, Roy and Bobbi Reiman, Richard and Joan Stark, Steven T. Schuler, Danfoss Power Solutions, and William Hoefle.

Debbie Bergstrom, who was slated to receive the Honorary Alumni Award from the ISUAA, was unable to attend due to a family illness. She will now receive her award next April at the 2018 Distinguished Awards Celebration.


3) A boost to Iowa State’s already-impressive art collection is the latest big announcement coming out of Forever True, for Iowa State — the university’s $1.1 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign. Fifteen Sculptures and 14 drawings by American artist Manuel Neri have been given to Iowa State from the Manuel Neri Trust of Benicia, Calif., with a total overall value of $1,275,000.

4) More hiring at the Alumni Association: Our digital communication specialist position was closed for applications last week, but now we have two new active job postings: Alumni Center Program Assistant and Assistant Director for Constituent Engagement and SALC advisor. Apply by April 21 and 23, respectively.

5) From the “Hey! She went to Iowa State!” file: Bloomberg News White House correspondent Jennifer Jacobs, the journalist credited with breaking last week’s news that presidential advisor Steve Bannon was being removed from the principals committee of the National Security Council, was all over the television and radio news programs late last week and over the weekend talking about the story. The 1993 ISU English graduate is a former Des Moines Register reporter.


Five Things

Happy Monday and Happy April, Cyclones! Here are five things to put on your Cardinal & Gold radar this week:


1) April is National Volunteer month, and we at Iowa State are in the swing of things with Cy’s Days of Service. Whether you’re participating in a regular volunteer activity, organizing a project just for Cy’s Days, or looking for an opportunity to engage with a group, we have the resources you need to get started, find existing group volunteer opportunities, and log your hours on our website at Last year Iowa State alumni and friends volunteered 2,781 hours in the name of ISU — let’s try to top 3,000 in 2017.

cdos_dfwBe sure to send us your photos or share them online by tagging @isualum and/or #CyclonesEverywhere.

The Iowa State Alumni of Dallas-Fort Worth (pictured, right) and the Iowa State Alumni of Phoenix are among the local groups that have already completed group service projects this weekend. More opportunities are listed on our website.

2) We have two deadlines coming up this week at the Alumni Association: the last chance to apply for our brand-new Digital Communication Specialist position is this Wednesday, and the deadline to register for our complimentary April 13 alumni reception in Omaha is this Thursday. No more time to procrastinate!

KI0A3003 copy

3) The spring 2017 issue of VISIONS magazine hit mailboxes late last week, and we’ve already received positive feedback on the special “Global Hunger” issue, which includes a feature on ISU’s Sustainable Rural Livelihoods program in Uganda. Editor Carole Gieseke and photographer Jim Heemstra traveled to Uganda for the story — and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Oh, and they have the photos to prove it. To see even more images from Uganda beyond what was published in the magazine, you can view our Adobe Spark gallery online at

portraits4) Here on campus, we’re right in the thick of an exciting 9-day artist residency during which Rose Frantzen is live-painting portraits of prominent Iowa State faces in the lower gallery of the Christian Petersen Art Museum, 0003 Morrill Hall. All portrait sessions will be open to the public to display Frantzen’s artistic process as it unfolds. Learn more about the project, as well as about the subjects that have been and are yet to be painted, online.

5) Today is National “Find a Rainbow” Day. We have the rain part covered here in Ames, but we’re just missing the necessary sunshine. After several days of gloomy weather, it’s expected to rain again all day on campus. The good news? Warmer, dryer weather is coming in later this week and the current forecast calls for a high of 66 degrees and likely dry conditions for Saturday’s Cyclone Gridiron Club Spring Game at Jack Trice Stadium. We’d take that. Keep your fingers crossed.

Have a great week!