Tony Frank: On hunger

On the same day in 1863, the U.S. government created both its own Department of Agriculture and a new model of higher-education education institution – land-grant universities – that also focused on preparing people to feed a growing nation.

Even as our campuses have grown, and the business of agriculture has evolved, land-grant universities like Colorado State continue to focus on the fight against hunger in their teaching, research, and outreach activities.

In October, I was privileged to join U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development Victor Villalobos at a meeting of the North American Agricultural Advisory Network, which is headquartered at the CSU System. The meeting took place in conjunction with the World Food Prize events in Des Moines, Iowa, and focused on exploring how the three countries of North America can continue to work together to support global food security and combat hunger through a robust commitment to agriculture and agricultural education.

Though our three countries all have their own traditions and practices, we also have much in common. Above all, we are united in four foundational areas of agreement:

  • The knowledge that food and water are basic human needs that cannot be ignored
  • The belief that knowledge is to be shared rather than hoarded
  • The understanding that the linkage of research to application improves lives in real time, and this matters
  • And that we all share a responsibility at the national level to recognize and support the previous three points – as vital to national security, economic health, and the well-being of our people

While NAAAN as an organization is new, it is effectually rooted in principles that our predecessors have been putting into practice for almost two centuries. Across civil wars and revolutions, the Great Depression and powerful economic cycles, global conflicts and social upheavals, this truth abides: Feeding people mattered yesterday, it matters today, and it will matter tomorrow.

Today, the business of feeding the world also has to consider issues around sustainability, the importance of bridging wealth gaps, urban-rural divides, and divisions around size of the production unit. Discussions have to address global protein and calorie insecurity – AND consumer preferences for how that protein and those calories are produced. That’s a tall order, and one that can only be met through collaboration and partnerships.

That is the reason CSU is the host campus for the NAAAN secretariat – and it is also a primary driver behind the creation of our CSU Spur campus, which opens in Denver in January. It’s the reason for the critical and ongoing work of our CSU faculty in agricultural sciences, and the shared commitment among all three of our CSU campuses to fighting hunger in our own communities and beyond.

Why does it matter? More than 38 million people in the US experienced hunger last year. One in 6 American children doesn’t know where they will get their next meal. One in 14 American seniors faced hunger before the pandemic, and that situation has dramatically worsened with COVID-19. And while rural America produces the food that nourishes our planet, 87% of counties with the highest rates of overall food insecurity are rural. Black, Latinx, and Native American households all experience hunger at more than twice the rate of white households.

Our CSU campuses and Extension teams have long been focused on finding ways to combat these statistics. The Community Alliance for Education and Hunger Relief  – a project of the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station and its Western Colorado Research Center – annually harvests and delivers nearly 100,000 pounds of food grown on the campus to people in need on the Western Slope.  Both our Fort Collins and Pueblo campuses are designated as Hunger-Free Campuses by the Colorado Department of Higher Education, and our campuses have focused on programs to combat hunger in their own communities – including the Pack Pantry in Pueblo and Rams Against Hunger in Fort Collins.

That commitment to improving lives extends to how we link research and teaching with the real-world food challenges facing Colorado. CSU faculty are critically focused on questions of biosecurity and how to help protect our food system – and those who rely on it for their livelihood – from threats to crop and animal health. They spend time in the field, working with everyone from school children to public agencies to policymakers to help people understand the critical role of water in agriculture and the pressures on our western water supplies. They’ve partnered with producers around the state to support long-term productivity through facilities that include the San Luis Valley Potato Research Station and one of the nation’s leading wheat genetics laboratories. We’ve worked to expand access to agricultural education with cooperative degree programs offered in partnership with other Colorado campuses. In partnership with donors, alumni and the state of Colorado, CSU has invested millions in additional base funding for its agricultural sciences programs and experiment stations and tens of millions in improved facilities on campus and around the state — because we know there is critical work ahead of us, and it is foundational to who we are to show up with sleeves rolled up, ready to work.

This work ties our modern educational and outreach missions directly to the foundational elements of our heritage as land-grant universities. It challenges us to share our best practices within Colorado and across borders, and to never lose sight of the fact that our actions serve our fellow human beings, regardless of national boundaries, race, religion, or language. Feeding people – all people – matters.

– tony

This message was included in Chancellor Frank’s November newsletter. Click here to subscribe to the Chancellor’s monthly letter.

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3D magazine with the Winter 2021 cover