By Nora Ibrahim, Staff Writer
An undergraduate minor is talking all about local food issues, national, and covering global matters and concerns in the food industry. USM’s Food Studies program offers students to learn more about what goes behind the scenes of food production. Many topics are covered such as abused farmers, hunger, social injustice, tourism and hospitality, Michael Hillard, Professor of Economics, Director of the Food Studies program stated.
The students and the staff of the program wrote a grant proposal of 100 pages to the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, to receive a grant of 1.8 million. The process took the team about eight months to complete. They meet and interviewed people who work on food hunger, technical assistance in the food industry, and a large variety of local businesses.
This “well-funded” program will offer paid internships to 20 students per year in major organizations throughout the state from Maine Farmland Trust, Cultivating Community, Preble Street Resource Center, Portland Food Cooperation and other notable organizations. Hillard stated that not only will students earn credit hours, but will be paid $14 per hour. The program also expects the number of students to grow each year, with 30 students receiving internships the year after.
Food Studies will focus on large topics that focus on administrative subjects, thus, opening collaboration with programs like Honors, Tourism and Hospitality, Social Work, Sociology, Economics, Business and other diverse topics.
Food availability in Maine has been a concern and discussed frequently through the hostship of informative events in regards to this topic. Students of the Food Studies program will investigate subjects similar to issues such as the one Maine is facing. Hillard added, “This year we have focused on hunger and food insecurity, featuring two lectures by national experts, a policy symposium, and a dialogue on hunger issues with governor’s candidates on April 30.”
The Food Studies program is in the process of receiving approval to get a new graduate program for the food system planning and policy in addition to the minor. This graduate program will include a four-course certification in food system planning and policy, if the approval would proceed, the finalization will be announced in early May. Hillard explained that this step is very exciting for them because they have “a large number of professionals and activists seeking graduate training and credentials in food systems planning, and we will be the only program of this type in Maine.”
This program will host an international organization at USM next March, the Universities Fighting World Hunger program. Hillard described the details of the event:
“We are very excited to host the Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit in March 2019,” Hillard said. “This powerful international organization is a leader in building a global movement centered on ending hunger in the US and globally. We anticipate up to 500 participants. The plan is to focus on the politics of food insecurity. Hosting the conference provides an unprecedented opportunity for students to be involved in planning the event, participating, and leading sessions.” The summit is a two-day long event that gathers students and leaders to share their experiences and ideas in fighting world hunger.
Established in 2006, two years after the collaboration between the UN and Auburn University, the Universities Fighting World Hunger website provide information on the mission of the program; they also include the current statistics of hunger throughout national regions to international with their goals for the upcoming years.
Hillard emphasized on how thrilled he is that the program is open to major developments, providing students with extraordinary opportunities, and making a difference in the world.