Can the Midwest be the region that saves the world through food and fuel? Does it try to do so organically, or is engineering products the way of the future? And what role will innovative local initiatives, such as Monmouth College’s Educational Garden, play in a dynamic global agricultural environment?
Those will be some of the questions addressed at Monmouth College’s fifth annual Midwest Matters Symposium, which will be held Oct. 11 from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Dahl Chapel and Auditorium. The public is invited.
The symposium topic was selected to reflect and celebrate the interdisciplinary academic collaboration that is the inspiration behind Monmouth’s recently dedicated Center for Science and Business. Solving complex issues such as world hunger will require research and debate that bridges the scientific and business communities.
Roger Thurow, Senior Fellow on Global Agriculture and Food Policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, will present the keynote address, following which a panel of agriculture, science and food experts will lead a wide-ranging discussion.
The four-person panel features two Monmouth alumni — Danielle Nierenberg ’95, co-founder of Food Tank, and Dennis Plummer ’73, co-founder and executive vice president of Arvegenix LLC. They will be joined by Chicago State University faculty member Daniel Block, who is active in urban agriculture in Chicago, and Stewart Leeth, assistant vice president for environmental and corporate affairs and senior counsel for Smithfield Foods, Inc.
Thurow joined the Council in 2010 after three decades at The Wall Street Journal. For 20 years, he was a foreign correspondent based in Europe and Africa. His coverage of global affairs spanned the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the release of Nelson Mandela, the end of apartheid, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the humanitarian crises of the first decade of this century.
In 2003, he and Journal colleague Scott Kilman wrote a series of stories on famine in Africa that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting. Their reporting on humanitarian and development issues was also honored by the United Nations. Thurow and Kilman are authors of the recent book “Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty.” In 2009, they were awarded Action Against Hunger’s Humanitarian Award. Thurow’s most recent book, “The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change,” was published last year.
An expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues, Nierenberg started Food Tank to research and highlight environmentally, socially and economically sustainable ways of alleviating hunger, obesity and poverty and to create networks of people, organizations and content to push for food system change. She has written extensively on gender and population, the spread of factory farming in the developing world and innovations in sustainable agriculture.
Nierenberg earned a master’s degree in agriculture, food and environment from Tufts University after majoring in environmental policy at Monmouth College. She recently spent two years traveling to 35 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, gathering data from farmers, scientists and academics about what is working to alleviate hunger while protecting the environment. Nierenberg also served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic.
Plummer, whose newly formed company is developing the oilseed field pennycress, spent 28 years with Monsanto, where he had numerous commercial and general management roles, including head of the U.S. business, lead for global biotechnology introductions, president of the American Seeds division, and chief of staff to two CEOs. Since his retirement from in 2008, he has done strategic consulting and participated in two start-ups. He majored in business and economics at Monmouth and earned his MBA from St. Louis School of Business.
Block is a professor of geography and director of the Fred Blum Neighborhood Assistance Center. The center partners with community and government organizations to perform community-led projects involving GIS, surveys and other social science methodologies. He has a particular interest in inner-city food access issues and has completed a number of food access studies, including the Northeastern Illinois Community Food Security Assessment, a large scale food access study of the six-county Chicago metro area. Block coordinates the Roseland-Pullman Urban Agriculture Network and is currently secretary of the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council. He earned a Ph.D. in geography from UCLA, where he focused on milk, public health, regulation and the rise of the modern American food system.
At Smithfield, the world’s largest producer of pork products, Leeth is responsible for ensuring the company meets government regulatory requirements on its farms and plants. He has also been instrumental in the development and oversight of the company’s sustainability program.
Leeth previously served seven years as a partner with the law firm of McGuireWoods and five years as an assistant attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he represented a variety of state agencies. In 2011, he was honored by the Ethisphere Institute, an international think tank focused on corporate social responsibility and sustainability, as one of its “Attorneys Who Matter.” He earned an undergraduate degree in International Studies from the University of Richmond, where he also graduated from the university’s law school.
A nationally ranked liberal arts college in Western Illinois, Monmouth launched its Midwest Matters initiative in 2008 to research, analyze and celebrate the traditions, trends and future prospects for America’s Heartland. The symposium is co-sponsored by Midwest Bank of Western Illinois.