Food systems are a major topic in the field of sustainability, according to Meghann Jarchow, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Sustainability & Environment at USD, and food producers are increasingly interested in and committed to the sustainability of their products.

“The dairy community is dedicated to addressing climate change and water quality while providing nutritious and affordable foods that promote public wellness,” said Whitney Blindert, manager of programs and partnerships at Midwest Dairy and a registered dietitian. “The dairy community has collectively made the commitment to be net zero by the year 2050.”

“I think about sustainability as asking the questions: ‘What kind of world do we want?’ and ‘How can we effect change to create that world?’ This research will explore how Gen Z thinks about the environment that they want in the future,” Jarchow said.

In the first year of the research partnership, Midwest Dairy will provide $15,000 to support one graduate student as they prepare surveys and recruit Gen Z study participants. Department faculty from sustainability & environment will mentor graduate student(s) for up to four years in the partnership. Graduate students and mentors will ask young participants questions such as: how prominent is the environment in their ideas about the future? Where do they get information about environmental issues? And what solutions to environmental problems do they recognize or prefer?

Jarchow said the partnership with Midwest Dairy began when Jenny Fierro, M.S., a sustainability instructor, brought local dairy farmers into a Sustainable Environment class to connect students to their food systems. “These guest lectures led to further exploration around partnership and research opportunities where we share common interests,” Jarchow said. “The expertise of Dr. Joe Kantenbacher, assistant professor in the Department of Sustainability & Environment, on people’s attitudes and behavior regarding sustainability issues was a strong intersection of these common interests.
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