By Hannah Rogers and Amy Grace Wells
A team from Texas A&M has been selected as one of two winners of the 2012 Thought for Food (TFF) global challenge, a program that calls on students to develop wildly innovative projects that help raise awareness and inspire action towards solving the world’s most pressing food issues.
Team Giving Tree, comprising students in three TAMU colleges, will join a team from IIT Roorkee in India at One Young World, the premier global forum for young leaders. More than 50 teams joined the challenge from top universities around the world. The winning teams received full sponsorships to attend the event, which takes place in Pittsburgh this October.
Led by Erin Ponsonby, the team included Beau Barnette, Aaron Kotwal, Ryan Pratt and Jailene Santana and was brought together through their connections to the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture.
“I think we’re a good mix of dreamers and problem solvers that balance each other well. We come from different personal and educational backgrounds and this helps us to address problems from multiple angles,” Barnette said. The team includes majors in international politics and diplomacy, landscape architecture, environmental studies and chemical engineering.
Representing Texas A&M were four teams, Foodsionary, Hungry for Answers, Enough to Grow Around and Team Giving Tree, each including undergraduate and graduate students. All the teams excelled and earned spots in the top 10.
“The motivation for this challenge is simple: we all want to make a difference,” said Francis Beecher, a member of Enough to Grow Around and doctoral student in plant breeding.
Team Giving Tree’s winning idea is an “eco-park” network that empowers communities to engage and learn about their food systems. The eco-park serves the functions of a normal park in aesthetic and recreational potential, but it also houses demonstration gardens, info-graphic boards on relevant subject matter, space for farmers markets and a speaker’s corner for open discussion. Perhaps most important are the areas open for organizations and individuals to develop their own educational displays or demonstration gardens.
“We learn a lot about our food systems when we talk to the farmers at the market, when we see cooking and growing demonstrations, when we interact with activists who feel they have something to share about current food production and food policy,” said Barnette, who also leads the Aggie Community Garden. “We are reminded that like it or not, we are a part of the food system. When we see the effect the food system has on the environment and populace, we learn that respecting food is tantamount to respecting ourselves.”
In addition, the team is building an “incubator” website that provides information and guidance to empower others to use this model to create similar parks in their communities. With an emphasis on eco-parks located in urban areas, their overall goal is to create a park system that is “divided by region, but united by cause.”
“Urban citizens are the furthest removed from the food system. We see farms as production plants with resources as inputs and food as output. This leads to us missing the bigger picture,” Barnette said. “We should see farms as resource management centers. We should see farmers as stewards of life, health and happiness.”
From March until June 2012, students from top universities in countries as diverse as Canada, Korea, India, Nigeria, Uganda, the USA and Taiwan took part in the TFF Global Challenge. They explored challenges surrounding food security, and were expected to push boundaries and develop visionary ideas for a new generation.
“The challenge said to be ‘disruptive and unreasonable,’ and I found that interesting,” Barnette said. “I’ve found the status quo is the easiest thing in the world to challenge, but it’s often still difficult to have yourself heard. This seemed like a great chance to exercise my voice.”
Each team developed bold initiatives to educate and empower people to improve their food habits and build a healthier, more sustainable planet. Foodsionary focused is cultivating spaces for the exchange of knowledge and ideas. Hungry for Answers developed a reality series called “AgriCULTURE,” highlighting real farm kids working and living in agriculture that shows how young people participate in the industry. Team Enough to Grow Around promoted water-conscious decision making through a social media app that tracks users water usage.
TFF will continue to work with every participating team to develop and implement their projects.
Follow Team’s Giving Tree progress here: www.facebook.com/ProvisionsTreeThoughtforFood