Lessons in Sustainability from the 2020 Rhode Island Food System Summit
Each year, the University of Rhode Island hosts a Food System Summit to examine the effects of climate change on our food ecosystems. In attendance this year were JWU Providence Assistant Dean TJ Delle Donne '04, '07 MAT, Associate Professor Maureen Pothier (both College of Culinary Arts) and Associate Professor Doug Stuchel (College of Hospitality Management). With a new Bachelor of Science program in Sustainable Food Systems launching in the Fall, sustainability is a growing priority at JWU — and all 3 educators were eager to be part of the conversation.
Rhode Island’s small size can be an asset when it comes to scaling up successes, and a significant portion of the morning session was devoted to entrepreneurial approaches to combatting environmental change.
“There are many challenges to climate change’s impact on the ocean and shoreline.”
Navyn Salem, the CEO and founder of Rhode Island-based company Edesia, talked about her experiences working with humanitarian organizations around the world to treat and prevent malnutrition in developing countries worldwide. (She shared the astonishing statistic that 16 million children have acute malnutrition; 33 million have moderate acute malnutrition; and 149 million are chronically undernourished.) (Read about JWU alum Nico Derr’s internship-to-hire Edesia story.)
Diane Lynch, chair of the RI Food Policy Council, oversaw a panel discussion focusing on local responses from companies like Dave’s Marketplace, The Compost Plant, Newport Vineyards and Gotham Greens.
Afternoon breakout sessions looked at climate change’s potential impact on land- and water-based agriculture — and how to prepare for an uncertain future.
For Delle Donne, Pothier and Stuchel, bringing chefs, educators, fishermen, scientists and nonprofits together fosters dialogue and common goals alike.
“The Aquaculture & Sea-Based Production session that I attended was a discussion on small and large scale changes we can make to the food system in preparation for the future effects of climate change,” noted Pothier. “There are many challenges to climate change’s impact on the ocean and shoreline, such as the ever-changing effect on fish migration and ocean acidification. This is and will be causing some major disruption to the RI fish and shellfish industry.”
Scup was mentioned as a potential source of a new consumer product — but creating that new market is not without challenges. Scup (also known as porgy) is currently sold most commonly as a whole fish, which can be a barrier to the home cook. At the Summit, discussion focused on ways to process and distribute the fish, which is plentiful in Rhode Island waters. (Read more about JWU students’ efforts to help create a thriving market for scup.)
On the land-based agriculture side, Stuchel noted that Rhode Island “has the highest cost of farm land in the country.” Because of this, farmers often need multiple sources of income to stay afloat; one potential solution would be to allow them to use their land for solar energy. The Providence Campus has unveiled plans to offset electrical usage with 100% renewable energy from solar net metering and wind power generation.
JWU’s Providence Campus is looking to expand its composting efforts into residence halls and smaller food venues (the practice is currently limited to culinary labs); Pothier is excited to explore the possibilities. In particular, she notes, “the educational aspects of a partnership [with The Compost Plant] would be great for our students.” She and Assistant Deans Delle Donne and Stansfield are looking into a number of such potential partnerships and hope to weave their delivery into the Sustainable Food Systems bachelor’s degree as it develops.
Starting in Fall 2020 at JWU’s Providence, North Miami and Denver campuses, the Sustainable Food Systems B.S. will serve as a platform for future practitioners and policymakers to develop sustainable solutions.