Barry McNamara  |   Published November 22, 2015

Off and running

With faculty trio in place, Monmouth College food security initiative is on the move
  • The Monmouth College contingent made several connections at the Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa.
With faculty staffing recently completed, Monmouth College’s new food security initiative is off and running.
  Designed to examine the problem of feeding a hungry world from multiple academic disciplines, the program’s first official activity was participation last month in the Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa, considered the premier conference in the world on global agriculture.   The contingent of 11 students was led by assistant professors Eric Engstrom (biology) and Ramses Armendariz (political economy and commerce) and visiting assistant professor Megan Hinrichsen (anthropology), all of whom are in their first semester at Monmouth. The faculty trio is collaborating to elevate the interdisciplinary food security program into an academic minor.   “The students realized it was a ‘big picture’ view of the issue,” said Engstrom. “Some of them came from farm backgrounds, some are looking to get into that type of work and some were interested in gender equity. The latter group of students was interested in the fact that 70 percent of the people who farm in Africa are women. The women there are in need of a voice to be able to get the things they need.”   The Monmouth group made connections with faculty from other institutions, including the director of Ghana’a agriculture institute. Monmouth already has a Ghana connection, drawing several students from the African nation, so the professors want to talk with Dean David Timmerman to see what more can be done in that area.   Another connection was more of a reconnection, as the group met with 1995 Monmouth graduate Danielle Nierenberg, founder and president of Foodtank, who was a panelist at the conference.   “We got a feel for the pulse of things,” said Engstrom, who noted that various heads of state were in attendance. “One of my particular areas of interest is getting people to farm. How do we help students and recent alumni get into farming? That was part of the discussion.”   “We took a field trip to an Iowa soybean farm,” said Hinrichsen. “The people from Africa saw what we do here in the Midwest as a major new paradigm for farming. It was interesting to consider that from the eyes of someone from Nigeria or Ghana, where the type of farming we take for granted is not the norm.”   “We also learned about what Illinois farmer Howard Buffett is doing with cover cropping,” said Engstrom of the son of investor/philanthropist Warren Buffett.   The faculty members agree establishing a new minor is “goal number one” of the work they have ahead of them regarding food security   “We hope to present our minor proposal to faculty in December and hope to have it in place by the fall of 2016,” said Engstrom.   “There really is nothing like this,” said Hinrichsen of the initiative and what she hopes will be the minor. “There are graduate programs that deal with this, and there are colleges that have farms, but as far as a small college focusing on food security, it is more or less unique to have this type of program with such an interdisciplinary focus.”   That focus, the professors believe, will help Monmouth College attack four major questions from a unique perspective:
  1. How do we feed a human population of 9.5 billion or more with food systems that are sustainable, achieve nutritional equity and ensure access to culturally appropriate food?
  2. What are the social/biological/economic consequences of food insecurity for individuals and societies?
  3. How should we construct sustainable food systems and ensure food security in western Illinois?
  4. How do we promote sustainable food systems and create a food culture oriented toward achieving full human potential at Monmouth College?
 “Achieving global food security in a changing global environment is one of the essential challenges confronting the human population in the 21st century,” wrote the faculty members in their proposal to create the minor. “Without reliable access to food or adequate nutrition, individuals cannot realize their full human potential and lead fulfilling lives.”
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