MADISON – Interested in having more locally grown meat and produce available in your hometown grocery store?

How about exploring thousands of aerial photos online that show what Wisconsin’s landscape looked like 70 years ago, including your own neighborhood?

Or a project that could tell you how global climate change may affect your spring planting patterns, or your hunting and fishing seasons in Wisconsin?

The 2008 Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment will be covering those interests and much more this year, with more than $900,000 in support for 15 projects targeting issues related to education, health, the economy and the environment.

This represents nearly twice the average payout of past years, thanks to the 6-year-old endowment reaching financial maturity.

“The Baldwin endowment is a powerful way to keep The Wisconsin Idea at the forefront of our strategic direction,” says University of Wisconsin-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell. “The collaborative projects in this generous endowment show there is a strong desire on campus and across the state to build more direct partnerships between the campus and communities. This endowment provides a level of financial support that can make a real impact.”

More than 100 proposals were submitted this year, and all of them require a community co-sponsor, says Peyton Smith, assistant vice chancellor for campus outreach. The projects range in support from $5,000 to $100,000, depending on their length and scope.

“What we’re funding now through the Baldwin endowment competition is long-term capacity-building efforts for providing value to the state, as well as one-time individual projects,” Smith says. “We’re now able to ask, ‘what projects are going to have a longer life beyond the grant?'”

For example, one 2008 project coordinated by the School of Education and the Center for Biology Education will help the university better serve schools and community organizations across Wisconsin by connecting students and teachers to science-based programs. Literally hundreds of science outreach programs already exist on campus, but a more coordinated effort will help match interested parties with the right service.

Another such project is the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, developed by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. This center will team UW-Madison experts with the Department of Natural Resources and other agencies to look at the real policy impacts of climate change in Wisconsin – on agriculture, business, recreation, city management and other areas.

Horticulture professor Brent McCown is behind another funded project that could have a wide-ranging impact on both farmers and consumers in the state. The project will look at tackling distribution challenges that make it difficult to get more regionally grown food into mainstream grocery chains.

Building regional distribution networks could reinvigorate state rural areas, improve farm profitability and feed a growing appetite for locally grown foods, he says.

“Existing local food projects have tended to focus on niche markets and localized efforts,” McCown says. “In light of the soaring popularity of local foods, it is time to move from the specialty boutique market to the mainstream.”

The state Department of Agriculture and other regional food coops and planning groups are supporting the project. McCown says he plans to convene advisory panels and begin discussions with key stakeholders this spring.

Another funded 2008 project will take a rare and fragile existing resource and open it to the public online. UW-Madison’s Robinson Map Library has a collection of the oldest aerial photos on record of Wisconsin, taken from 1937-1941 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One out of every three visitors to Robinson Library come to access this unparalleled collection, says library Director Jaime Stoltenberg, to investigate issues such as invasive species, property disputes, real estate development, urban sprawl and other land use changes.

“We hope that by making the collection available online, every resident of Wisconsin and elsewhere will have a much easier time getting the information they need or want,” she says.

Private companies may charge $300 an hour on digitization efforts, but this project will be done at a fraction of the cost and provide valuable training to students, says geology Professor Mark Harrower. It also saves a resource that is getting more brittle by the day.

“Anyone interested in studying Wisconsin’s past and how the landscape has evolved should benefit from this,” Harrower says.

Now in its sixth year, the Baldwin endowment has supported 55 diverse projects. The grants are meant to further the century-old Wisconsin Idea, which holds that the impact of the university should extend beyond its borders and address the pressing needs of state residents.

Other projects include:

• African storytelling on wheels: This project will bring UW-Madison’s renowned African storytelling program to elementary schools across the state, with a special focus on districts that lack racial diversity.

• Global ‘hot spots:’ One of the most popular international outreach programs, “Global Hot Spots” is a monthly lecture series by UW experts on current events around the world. This project will create an online video archive of two years’ worth of lectures, giving it greater state exposure.

• Developing a 3-D Globe:  UW-Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center helped create an interactive weather globe for a Virginia museum which provides the perception of looking at world weather patterns from outer space. Organizers are going to reproduce the awe-inspiring exhibit for K-12 students in Wisconsin.

• Animal science in northern Wisconsin: More than 600 northern Wisconsin students will participate in this workshop, which uses veterinary medicine as a pragmatic tool to show the real-world value of science. It’s based on successful pilot programs run by UW-Madison’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

• The evolution literacy project: A team of science and education faculty at UW-Madison is planning to public education projects on the importance and relevance of evolution science – a timely issue given recent political battles over evolution teaching.

• Hip-hop for all: An innovative UW-Madison program centered around spoken word and hip-hop culture will take a theater ensemble on the road, with performances geared toward K-12 schools, juvenile detention centers, colleges and other public venues.

• Literacy in the pediatric setting: Tapping into the great influence health care providers have over families, this project will get nursing and medical staff directly involved in an early-childhood reading program at American Family Children’s Hospital.

• Sharing in the discovery: This effort seeks to build a greater understanding of the potential of stem cell research and regenerative medicine into science outreach programs. The program will harness many existing programs, including “Science Expeditions” and “Grandparents University.”

• Strategic strikes on invasives: Only a small fraction of the state’s lakes are vulnerable to infestation by damaging invasive species. This project will arm lake associations with the research knowledge to put their prevention efforts to the best possible use against problem species.

• Small-scale science: The new Microbial Sciences Building will be home to an interactive science museum called “Microbe Place: Learning Science through Small Things.” This grant will help fund an exhibit of leafcutter ants that illustrate the world of microbiology.

• Madison math makeover: This project will help the Madison Metropolitan School District conduct a review of its K12 math curriculum and develop a report on effective math teaching and learning strategies that can shared statewide.