Guest commentary: Feeding people matters, and schools like CSU focus on that mission |

Guest commentary: Feeding people matters, and schools like CSU focus on that mission

Dr. Tony Frank
Guest commentary
Dr. Tony Frank

On the same day in 1863, the U.S. government created both its own Department of Agriculture and a new model of higher-education institution — land-grant universities — that also focused on preparing people to feed a growing nation.

Land-grant universities like Colorado State continue to focus on the fight against hunger in their teaching, research and outreach activities. Today, the business of feeding the world has to consider issues around sustainability, the importance of bridging wealth gaps, urban-rural divides, and divisions around size of the production unit. Discussions have to address global protein and calorie insecurity — and consumer preferences for how that protein and those calories are produced. That’s a tall order, and one that can only be met through collaboration and partnerships. But this truth abides: Feeding people mattered yesterday, it matters today, and it will matter tomorrow.

That is the primary driver behind the creation of our CSU Spur campus, which opens in Denver in January. It’s the reason for the critical and ongoing work of our CSU faculty in agricultural sciences, and the shared commitment among all three of our CSU campuses to fighting hunger in our own communities and beyond.

Why does it matter? More than 38 million people in the U.S. experienced hunger last year. One in six American children doesn’t know where they will get their next meal. One in 14 American seniors faced hunger before the pandemic, and that situation has dramatically worsened with COVID-19. And while rural America produces the food that nourishes our planet, 87 percent of counties with the highest rates of overall food insecurity are rural. Black, Latinx, and Native American households all experience hunger at more than twice the rate of white households.

Our CSU campuses and Extension teams have long focused on finding ways to combat these statistics. The Community Alliance for Education and Hunger Relief — a project of the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station and its Western Colorado Research Center — annually harvests and delivers nearly 100,000 pounds of food grown on the campus to people in need on the Western Slope. Both our Fort Collins and Pueblo campuses are designated as Hunger-Free Campuses by the Colorado Department of Higher Education, and our campuses have focused on programs to combat hunger in their own communities with the Pack Pantry in Pueblo and Rams Against Hunger in Fort Collins.

That commitment to improving lives extends to how we link research and teaching with the real-world food challenges facing Colorado. CSU faculty are critically focused on questions of biosecurity and how to help protect our food system from threats to crop and animal health. They’ve partnered with producers around the state to support long-term productivity through facilities that include the San Luis Valley Potato Research Station and one of the nation’s leading wheat genetics laboratories. We’ve worked to expand access to agricultural education with cooperative degree programs offered jointly with other Colorado campuses. In partnership with donors, alumni and the state of Colorado, CSU has invested millions in additional base funding for its agricultural sciences programs and experiment stations and tens of millions in improved facilities on campus and around the state — because we know there is critical work ahead of us, and it is foundational to who we are to show up with sleeves rolled up, ready to work.

This work ties our modern educational and outreach missions directly to the foundational elements of our heritage as land-grant universities. It challenges us to share our best practices within Colorado and across borders, and to never lose sight of the fact that our actions serve our fellow human beings, regardless of national boundaries, race, religion, or language. Feeding people – all people – matters.

Dr. Tony Frank is the Chancellor of the Colorado State University System.