The FoodFORWARD Research Symposium, an event that brings experts in food research to Clemson, is now less than two months away. Researchers from across the university will convene at the event for poster sessions and talks, and they’ll hear from Leslie Hossfeld, dean of Clemson’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences (CBSHS) and Keith Belli, dean of Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CAFLS).

Leslie Hossfeld

Leslie Hossfeld is dean of Clemson’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.
Image Credit: Russ Houston

However, when Hossfeld and Belli turn the podium over to one another at the April 17 event, it won’t be the pair’s only instance of collaboration on the topic of food curriculum, research, Extension, and outreach. Far from it.

Over the last year, Hossfeld and Belli have worked together to align multiple initiatives, research agendas and events such as FoodFORWARD to better serve the underserved across South Carolina. According to Hossfeld, it’s all in the name of bringing one of the most basic human needs to the forefront of Clemson University’s land-grant mission.

“People need food, obviously, but it’s one of those rare things that touches on everything, from economics to health to culture to social dynamics,” Hossfeld said. “The College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences is delighted to be working with Dr. Belli and the faculty and staff of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences to make this topic a priority across the university and across the state.  It is imperative we continue to work together to tackle key issues facing our state.”

The outreach and Extension work in the most rural locations in the state with food in mind is not new for either college. Clemson University Cooperative Extension’s nutrition and Farm to Table programs housed in CAFLS have focused on improved nutrition outcomes for years.  More recently they have begun to focus on rural health, partnering with CBSHS on rural health, disease prevention and disease self-management.

The Joseph F. Sullivan Center housed within CBSHS has operated in a similar vein and is central to this outreach. The center’s efforts—and more recently its collaboration with the Medical University of South Carolina—have sought to bring health care to rural locations and empower individuals and communities to take charge of their own health. A big piece of that puzzle is a diet rich in healthy, attainable food.

The key to strengthening the outcomes for both colleges is finding where the work of both converge, and Belli said he is excited about the full plate of cooperative events, Extension and research that both colleges have set for the immediate and distant future.

Keith Belli

Keith Belli, Dean of Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences

“I think both of our colleges understand that you can only do so much from ‘home base’ in the Upstate,” Belli said. “It’s why there are Extension offices in every county across the state, and it’s why CBSHS’s mobile health units don’t stay parked for long at Edwards Hall. It only makes sense that we get on the same page and get stronger by working together.”

The overlap in the missions for both colleges might be most clearly illustrated in the shared research in which they engage. Sarah Griffin of CBSHS and Michelle Parisi of CAFLS have together received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent and eliminate obesity in key counties in the state.

Land-Grant Local, a new CBSHS program designed to integrate the work of local farms into Clemson University, will involve researchers from both colleges. The program’s immediate goal is to factor foods from local farms into the Clemson environment, but college leadership and faculty are already shaping future curriculum and research centered on food systems that stress solutions for food insecurity and hunger across the state.

Both colleges, with the support of a ClemsonFORWARD R-initiative, will hire a Land-Grant Local research associate who is slated to begin work May 1. This researcher will help develop and coordinate research projects on food systems.

In the meantime, faculty and staff from both colleges are gearing up for FoodFORWARD in April. Mike McGirr, director of CBSHS Land-Grant Local and lead organizer behind FoodFORWARD, said the event will bring together experts from multiple disciplines represented across both colleges to shed light on advances in food research and the work done to address food insecurity across the state.

“We’re extremely excited about this event because of the increased emphasis on food-related research and outreach undertaken by both CAFLS and CBSHS,” McGirr said. “We’re going to have some locally sourced snacks and beverages on hand, and it will be great to hear from the diverse group of speakers and special guests at the event.”

The keynote speaker at the event will be Stephen Kresovich, the Robert and Lois Coker Trustees Endowed Chair of Genetics in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. Also, on hand as speakers will be Laura Lengnick, director of Cultivating Resilience, a nature-based climate resilience organization; and Matt Hersom, director of Campus Farms and Professor in the Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences.

The FoodFORWARD 2020 Research Symposium will be held Friday, April 17 from 9 a.m. to noon in the Watt Family Innovation Center. The symposium is sponsored by the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences; the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities; and the Watt Family Innovation Center.