Food for Thought: Sustainable Food Systems

If there’s one thing that can bring people together, often times its food. However, it’s easy to forget to consider where our food comes from and the journey it takes to get to our tables. Food systems have become increasingly important with more and more attention being turned towards the state of the environment. We sought the expertise of Bishop’s University’s Dr. Jane Morrison, assistant professor in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SAFS), to talk about sustainable food systems and their importance on both local and global scales.   

Dr. Jane Morrison

Q: How would you describe a sustainable food system to someone who is new to the concept? 

JM: A food system is the path food travels from the field to the fork, and beyond. This includes food production, processing, packaging, distribution, storage, marketing, sales, as well as food preparation, consumption and how leftover waste is disposed of or recycled. A sustainable food system is one which optimizes environmental, social and economic impacts within each step, but mostly importantly, throughout the system as a whole. This often means reducing steps in the value chain and making a more direct connection between the producer and the consumer. Sustainable food systems could look very different depending on the product and region. 

Q: Why is this type of system so important? Who does it benefit? 

JM: Conventional food systems can be extraordinarily long and inefficient. Sustainable food systems have less impacts on the environment (think reduced fossil fuels, but many others) while also supporting the community and local economy.  

Globally, food waste is an enormous issue which often occurs throughout the food system. A sustainable food system reduces food waste. 

Q: The saying “think globally and act locally” has gained popularity, especially with the pandemic. Why do you think that is? 

JM: During the pandemic we have realized the need to create resilient systems, particularly food systems, which can adapt when unforeseen events occur. It is clear that self-sufficiency is needed as much as possible and one way to achieve this is to focus on the local economy, supporting local small-scale farms, and sourcing food from our own region as much as possible. By encouraging local food systems and ecological agriculture, positive effects will ripple outwards.  

Q: What inspired you to study, and now profess, in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems?  

JM: Agriculture and food systems are so essential but often overlooked or taken for granted. It is perplexing to me how many environmental and moral injustices remain the norm in this field. I saw a need for more voices, research and education to improve this. I am also deeply fascinated by the different relationships taking place in agriculture, both below and above the soil, as well as on and off the farm. The combination of physical and social sciences involved in sustainable agriculture and food systems engages many different aspects of my intellect and keeps me continuously learning.  

Q: How can Bishop’s students learn about sustainable food systems? What programs are being offered in light of the pandemic?  

JM: In September 2019 we began offering both minor and certificate programs in SAFS. The minor can be combined with any major at Bishop’s. We’re aiming to offer full majors, B.A. and B.Sc., in SAFS in 2022.  

These programs and classes are still being offered in light of the pandemic. For the time being, courses are being offered online but we hope to include field visits to the campus educational farm and perhaps to other neighbouring farms.  

Q: Opening up career paths such as international development agent, agribusiness manager, or agricultural consultant, what skills and knowledge will students build in these programs 

JM: Students will graduate with specific knowledge in regards to sustainable agriculture and food systems, including their importance for society, the economy and the environment, as well as a fundamental understanding of ecological relationships and processes. In addition, students will graduate with a set of specific technical skills and field experience. Due to the liberal arts model at Bishop’s, graduates will develop robust critical thinking and will have become effective learners and communicators.   

Q: Do students have to be in the program to take all of these courses, or can some be taken as an elective in another program? Which course would you recommend to a non-SAFS student? 

JM: We already offer many SAFS courses (AGR code in the course calendar) which are available as electives to students. Most do not require prerequisites at this time. I would definitely recommend AGR 100 – Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems to non-SAFS students. This course is truly an introduction to the discipline and suitable for students with a range of backgrounds. In my opinion, this course offers engaging content which instills passion about these issues.  

Intrigued about how you could help make a difference in the world? Find out more about the specialization in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems and watch the latest COVID-EO Series episode with Dr. Jane Morrison on small scale farms above. Bon appétit! 

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