Members of the campus and Geneva communities turned out in force for a discussion lead by former Undersecretary of Agriculture Gus Schumacher, the executive vice president and cofounder of Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit which helps community groups find affordable fresh food. The event was the first on-campus presentation of the President’s Forum Series this semester.
Schumacher’s lecture, “The Right to Bear Farms – Agriculture, Nutrition and America’s Health,” addressed the existing and long-term implications of public policy on health, nutrition and the food supply in the United States.
“Gus Schumacher is a very distinguished thinker in and around the space of sustainable agriculture and the issues that are pressing on so many of our minds, particularly given the beauty and bounty of this region and the responsibility that we have here,” said President Mark D. Gearan in his opening welcome.
Schumacher kicked off his presentation by sharing stories of his initial involvement with food advocacy, addressing his continued pursuit of a well-devised and curated food system. “How do we get a healthy food system, a sustainable food system, fair system and an affordable system?” Schumacher asked.
During the program, Schumacher discussed the food movement that’s been taking place across the country, including an increase in farmers’ markets and interest in farm-to-table food options. He also cited a number of trends in agriculture, including demographics on farmers and areas of production.
He discussed the challenges faced by the food system, including water for irrigation, labor, biofuel demand, and climate and weather changes. “There is also an enormous interest in buying food made in America, because it’s believed to be safe,” he said.
While the existing food system concentrates in large pockets across the mid-west and the west coast, there is an increasing interest and reliance on local, smaller operations, he said. “You’re having an influence on the food system as consumer,” Schumacher said.
At the end of the presentation, there was also an opportunity for question-and-answers with the audience, including questions about public policy drivers and trends in in commercially-available produce. Schumacher engaged students in the audience by asking direct questions such as, “What challenges are you as students going to face?” Answers included climate change, international pressures and the current political atmosphere.
Prior to his appointment as undersecretary, Schumacher served as administrator of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, worked as a senior agri-lender for the World Bank, and served as president of the Commodity Credit Corporation. He was a member of the 21st Century Sustainable Agricultural Task Force of the National Academy of Sciences.
Currently, Schumacher serves as the contributing agricultural editor of Food Arts magazine and is on the Board of GrainPro, LLC of Concord, Mass. Most recently his lifelong commitment to uniting consumers with farmers was recognized with a James Beard Leadership Foundation Award in 2013. Additionally, he was presented the 20th Anniversary Food Arts award for outstanding service to the American food and farming systems in 2008.
Schumacher holds a degree in economics from Harvard College and studied at the London School of Economics.
Established in the winter of 2000 by President Mark D. Gearan, the President’s Forum Series is designed to bring a variety of speakers to the HWS community to share their knowledge and ideas with students, faculty and staff of the Colleges, as well as with interested community members.