By Dr. Sabine O’Hara, Dean of CAUSES and Director of Landgrant Programs
CAUSES has grown with tremendous speed over the past three years. Key to our success has been our mission: to offer research based academic and community outreach programs that improve the quality of life and economic opportunity of D.C. residents. This worthwhile mission calls for the integration of our academic and landgrant programs. Landgrant universities have always sought to be relevant to the needs of their communities by focusing on research that makes a difference in the lives of local people and by offering education both on their campuses and in local neighborhoods. We receive direction for our work through the USDA that sets broad goals for the nation's Landgrant Universities, while fostering creativity, teamwork and innovation.
Our current goals address challenging issues like improving food security, food and water safety, mitigating climate change, alternative energy, and combating childhood obesity and other food related health problems. Finding solutions to these big challenges requires collaboration across academic disciplines, hands on work, and perseverance. For us here at UDC it also requires a very unique focus, namely on urban food security, urban food and water safety, urban food related health problems etc. After all, our own community is exclusively urban. The District of Columbia does not have any wide expanses of farm land, and our forests extend to Rock Creek Park. This urban focus sets us apart from all the other landgrant universities in the United States. And what a great focus it is! It links people and the environment, and creates unusual alliances like urban agriculture, and urban sustainability.
But why would urban agriculture and urban sustainability be such a great focus for our work? Are they really relevant to the District of Columbia? The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines Food Security as "Access by all people at all times to enough nutritious food for an active, healthy life.” Low food security refers to a diet of reduced quality, variety or desirability for some populations. To achieve food security, food must be (1) readily available at all times to all people, and (2) be high in nutritional value so that it can sustain health, wellness and energy. Our food system is vulnerable on both scores.