Importance of Student Involvement for the Future of Food

“To be interested in food but not food production is clearly absurd.” – Wendell Berry

Everyone eats. That is a fact that cannot be argued. However, in our current food environment, people are increasingly disconnected from their food system. With a growing population and a changing climate, we need change makers, idea generators, and system challengers to ensure that we have a bright food future.

Despite the seeming disconnect between the general public and the food system, there is a food system movement bubbling beneath the surface, beginning to erupt. Young people, especially students, are stepping up to the table to fill the role of future food leaders.

One crucial factor behind the growing interest in food is the realization that food systems strongly influence so many essential factors in our society—including health and well-being, economics and business interests, environment and natural resources, and government and jobs. Likewise, food systems issues intersect with critical social challenges of our time—including persistent hunger and poverty, obesity and diabetes, climate change, and environmental degradation.

Universities often take a “systems thinking” approach to learning, serving as the perfect environment for students to get involved in food systems work. Systems thinking is the act of recognizing how changing one part of the system affects all other parts of the system. For example, Farm to School program implementation not only increases the nutrition of student meals, but it benefits local farmers who follow agroecological principles and puts more money into the local economy. Systems thinking is crucial in changing and developing a sustainable food system that meets the needs of both people and the environment.

Not only do universities provide a dynamic learning environment for students, but they are a place where relationships are shaped and communities are formed. There can be a huge diversity of activities, such as student-led food groups, campus gardens and farmers markets, student-faculty food and agriculture research, food justice activism, and student internships. Post graduation,  job opportunities are fruitful and diverse-  agriculture, nutrition, public health, ecology, public policy, education, and other fields all hold powerful opportunities for food system change.

We need young, vibrant minds to step up to the table to help solve the pressing issues of our time through food systems work. While a diverse range of studies can help young leaders contribute to the food system, the number of universities offering food systems specific majors is on the rise. According to the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association, there are food systems related programs at 40 land grant universities, 17 four year state and private universities, 11 private liberal arts colleges, and 22 community and junior colleges. If you’re interested in the full list, click here.

There is so much enthuseasum and hope for a better food future, and much of that is coming from young people excited to make change. Food systems specific programs offer a unique opportunity to help the new generation of food systems leaders be prepared to make effective and lasting change.

photo courtesy of the Midwest Food Connection.