Internship Promotes “Field to Fork” Food Systems

(May 7, 2019) –Food systems include everything involved in feeding a population, from growing to harvesting to transportation to consumption. A new internship program is providing students a holistic and hands-on understanding of local food systems in order to improve them.

Ten students and recent graduates from USF St. Petersburg and Eckerd College presented their capstone projects last week for the Food Justice and Sustainability Internship (FJSI) program. Students are matched with community-based organizations related to their interests and participate in ongoing efforts to build a more socially just and environmentally sustainable food system.

“Food systems are how we nourish ourselves and our families,” said Catherine Koziol, Internship Coordinator for USFSP’s College of Arts & Sciences. “Understanding where our food comes from and what’s involved in our food system is paramount to human health.”

Students spend five hours per week interning with their assigned organization, attend weekly FJSI meetings and visit the internship sites of other students, allowing the cohort to experience different aspects of local food systems. To date, 32 students have participated with 17 organizations in Pinellas County.

“The goal is not only for students to better understand our community food system, but also for their ingenuity to expedite its growth,” said Malory Foster, Regional Food Systems Specialist at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), who helps coordinate the program.

For Mariah Culhane, an English major who participated in FJSI Spring 2019, the program helped enlighten her about the importance of food systems, while offering real-world experience and networking opportunities.

“Without food we can’t have a functioning society,” said Culhane, who also serves as president of the USFSP Garden Club. “That’s why it’s important to know about food systems. This internship is a good way to get your foot in the door and meet interesting people in the community.”

Culhane interned at Weedon Island Preserve with the UF/IFAS Extension Office for Florida Friendly Landscaping. She learned about native landscaping plants and principles, helped build rain collection barrels and developed infographics designed to teach people about composting.

“Composting is a great way to reduce waste and remediate the soil,” Culhane said. “It’s something everyone can do.”

Timothy Hagerman, a recent USFSP environmental science and policy graduate, worked on infrastructure and beautification projects at Bartlett Park Community Garden. He built soil and mulch bins, revamped the garden’s message board and improved its irrigation system.

Meriem Ziad, a USFSP English graduate, worked with the Food Systems Center at Pinellas Technical College (PTC). Ziad developed a school garden food safety plan and laid the groundwork for PTC’s Youth Farm Summer Pilot Program.

There are many different career opportunities available for students interested in food systems. FJSI’s interdisciplinary approach is designed for flexibility, so students can define their own path.

“The internship helps prepare students for a variety of food-system related careers such as community development, nonprofit work, education and emergency food,” said Foster. “Host organizations vary widely, but all have a food focus, so interns have an opportunity to be paired with an organization that is related to their career path.”

At the end of her internship, Culhane was not only able to build a rain barrel, but could trace a food system from start to finish and recognize where there are gaps.

“What I got out of this program was the connection between food systems and our own backyard,” she said. “The internship helps students understand the need to be aware of where our food comes from and how prevalent food deserts are in our community.”

FJSI is an interdisciplinary program coordinated by staff at USFSP, Eckerd College and UF/IFAS. All students from local colleges and universities are invited to apply. The deadline for fall 2019 applications is May 17. Click here to apply.