Nelson alumni launch food waste policy and practice event

February 22, 2019

Travis Blomberg, B.S. (2012)- Environmental Studies / Political Science / Integrated Liberal Studies, M.S. (2015) - Environment & Resources / Business, Environment & Social Responsibility
George Reistad, B.S. (2011)- Economics and Environmental Studies, & Nelson Institute Board of Visitors Member

On March 19, 2019, Madison will host its very first Food Waste Policy & Practice event thanks to the efforts of University of Wisconsin-Madison, Nelson Institute alumnus Travis Blomberg and Nelson Institute Board of Visitors member and alumnus George Reistad, who developed the idea during a Nelson Institute alumni event. Reistad, who serves as the Food Policy Director for the City of Madison and Blomberg, who serves as Executive Director of WasteCap Resource Solutions in Milwaukee, Wis. will join forces with Dane County, InSinkErator, UW-Extension, and SARE North Central to host the half-day conference, Food Waste Policy & Practice: Challenging the Norm event.

Open to businesses, non-profits, government officials, students and anyone interested in food waste challenges, this conference will include a discussion of industry best management practices, current national/local policies, and end with the development of an action plan for enacting future local food waste policy. Most importantly, however, the conference will serve as a community forum where scientific and business expertise will merge with community knowledge to create change, a model Reistad and Blomberg learned to appreciate while studying at the Nelson Institute. 

“At Nelson I met a lot of people who cared about the same things I cared about and we were able to really connect and talk about the environment,” said Reistad. “Today, much of my job is about connecting with a community and thinking about how we get important information out into the community to drive our initiatives forward and create solutions that benefit everyone. This conference aligns with that as we want people to connect and share best practices.” 

Blomberg, echoed that sentiment, noting the importance of community-based knowledge and engagement.

“We are hoping this will be a recurring annual event and that we are able to come out with something tangible at the end that helps us to develop better food waste policy,” said Blomberg. “In Wisconsin, over 600,000 people struggle with hunger, yet at the same time we create roughly one billion pounds of food waste each year. This conference is about closing the loop and developing solutions to problems like this.”

While this event is the first time that Reistad and Blomberg have teamed up to coordinate a conference, they share a connection through Nelson Institute and its Community Environmental Scholars Program (CESP).  They were both accepted into the scholarship program which consists of a three-semester curriculum designed for students who want to link their passion for the environment with a commitment to the community. In fact, CESP students are expected to engage in a service-learning project with a community-based environmental organization as a part of the curriculum. For Reistad and Blomberg, these experiences helped them to build their resume while learning the power of community and solution-focused science.

“I was in my junior year when I found CESP,” said Blomberg. “It had some huge benefits for me, especially its financial stipend as I was working three jobs trying to get through college.”

Blomberg said CESP also offered him the opportunity to connect with a cohort of people that shared many of the same interests and goals.

 “The program is broad and diverse, so you have an opportunity to get together with students who really care and you ultimately challenge each other to do more and learn more about these complex topics,” said Blomberg. “I originally planned to become an environmental lawyer, but I found that instead of being reactive to environmental injustice we could be proactive problem solvers instead. That’s what I’m currently doing.”

In fact, today, Blomberg is invested in the many initiatives taking place at event co-host and non-profit organization WasteCap Resource Solutions. There Blomberg and his colleagues develop waste reduction and recycling solutions for businesses.  Likewise, Reistad uses that community engagement experience he gained at the Nelson Institute as he manages food policy-related working groups and initiatives throughout Madison, engaging in everything from urban agriculture and food waste, to food access programs and SEED grants that support new and emerging projects related to healthy food access in the Madison community. He is particularly involved with the Food Waste and Recovery Work Group, which is helping to organize the conference in March.

 And, though they both have found a place in environmental advocacy, Blomberg and Reistad want current and future students to know there is no right path to success and that they both found their calling through trial and error and their experiences with programs such as CESP.

“When I first started college, I never thought I would be doing this work,” said Reistad, who originally attended school for engineering. “CESP opened a lot of doors for me and gave me the chance to expand my horizons. Ultimately, I would tell students to take some electives, even if they aren’t what you need to graduate, they might be what you need as a person. Explore different things, because the more you learn, the more you’ll know about yourself.”

Both Reistad and Blomberg share a passion for expanding this inclusive message of community engagement and continuous learning into their personal and professional efforts and they hope that this conference will serve as a catalyst for a larger movement towards environmental advocacy and positive change.

“The typical gloom and doom messaging brings awareness to environmental issues, but I think we need a shift towards focusing on actions.” said Blomberg. “We can’t just give facts and scare people, we want to bring more people to the cause and think about solutions. If we engage our community to develop sustainable practices, it creates a positive impact for our environment, society, and economy.  Events like this are a great way to showcase the opportunities.”

                                                          Event Details:

                             Food Waste Policy & Practice: Challenging the Norm
                                 Tuesday, March 19, 2019, 11:30 AM – 4:30 p.m.

                 Lussier Family Heritage Center, 3101 Lake Farm Road, Madison, WI 53711

Photo: George Reistad (green shirt, lower right) and Travis Blomberg (upper right) pose with Bucky and their CESP cohort.