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Feeding the World

Posted by | January 14, 2010

I have long been impressed with Washington’s agricultural community and with Washington State University, but sometimes, the quality of both exceeds even my expectations. Yesterday’s “Feeding the World” panel discussion held in Ensminger Pavilion as a complement to the Michael Pollan lecture was one such occasion. Nearly 400 students, faculty, industry representatives and the general public engaged in a meaningful, often lively, conversation about some of the most pressing issues of the day.

As you probably know, the WSU Common Reading Program selects a book each year for all freshmen to read and for faculty to use as a focus in their classes. This year that book is “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. It is a provocative and controversial critique of parts of our food and agricultural system, and from CAHNRS’ perspective a prime opportunity to educate students about what we do.

Throughout the semester, our role was to ensure that the conversation surrounding issues raised in the book was balanced and science-based. To that end, Associate Dean Kim Kidwell used the book as a foundation for the Agricultural and Food Systems 101 class, bringing in guest speakers from a broad range of agricultural perspectives to discuss the issues and answer student questions. We created a web site specifically for the Common Reading program with features such as the “Ag Word of the Week,” and the “Chew on This” blog.

Yesterday’s panel discussion was in some ways the natural next step of our efforts. I want to sincerely thank our panelists for their reasoned, informed approach to what can be very controversial issues: Trudy Bialic, public affairs director for PCC Natural Markets; Eric Hurlburt, domestic marketing and economic development chief for the WSDA; wheat producer Russ Zenner and Dick Coon, cattle producer and president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association did a fantastic job. They fielded questions from the audience for more than an hour, providing students and everyone there with real-world wisdom about everything from the economic and legal questions surrounding food and agriculture to on-the-ground production changes occurring in response to the evolving food sector.

I also want to congratulate the students who attended. Their questions were informed and intelligent. Nothing makes an educator prouder than to see that demonstrated.

As I told the audience yesterday, there is no better place to have civil, informed discussions about controversial issues than at a university. It’s what we do. The “Feeding the World” event of Wednesday afternoon made that very clear.

Thank you for your ongoing support of CAHNRS.

Go Cougs!