I really hate milk. I hate it. So much. As is the case with some young parents, mine weren’t particularly versed in childhood nutrition. But, somewhere along the line, my mother decided that my sister and I needed to drink a glass of milk every night before we were allowed to go to bed. She must have known that I was going to be an incredibly clumsy adult (I fall down or crash into something every day) and I imagine my mother was subconsciously strengthening my bones in anticipation of a lifetime of falling. In spite of the clumsiness, and perhaps because of the milk consumption, I have yet to have broken any bones. Yet, I now adamantly refuse to drink that white dairy beverage, be it cow, goat or otherwise. Luckily, however, I am privileged enough to be able to choose to omit milk from my diet, or to be able to choose any parts of my diet for that matter. This was one of the many things I was reminded of while being surrounded by some of my inspirational colleagues at the recent annual meeting for the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development (AIARD).
As a professional society, AIARD’s membership is as diverse as the topics covered at the meeting. While the name is indicative of a broad Association, I would say the primary focus of many of the members in the group is very direct: To work towards alleviating food insecurity. Of course, this may be my interpretation since that is one of my main professional goals (again, as broad as that is), but of the AIARD members I have spoken to, so many are motivated by helping people and doing the important job of ensuring that all people live happy and healthy lives.
The Association celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and to honor this history, the topic of the meeting was “Celebrating 50 years of progress and inspiring action for a food secure future.” Obviously, I am still at the earliest stages of my career, and it was informative to hear panelists discuss the early successes of programs like the Collaborative Research Support Programs (CRSPs). Of course, I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to attend meetings such as this, and I do learn so much from my colleagues about fantastic projects worldwide.1 However, one key word in the title of the conference does accurately reflect the benefit for me in attending the AIARD annual meetings: Inspiration.2 When a collection of like-minded people come together, it is easy to be reminded of our respective interests in our disciplines. But hearing from so many people at once about the importance of my chosen career path, or the need for energy and persistence in solving the world’s problems, is so incredibly motivating. Dr. Liam Downey provided a very thought-provoking keynote for the meeting, in which he emphasized the need for transferring knowledge out of peer reviewed journals and into the hands of those that can use or apply that knowledge. In separate speeches, both Roger Thurow and Ambassador Tony Hall provided examples of situations in which people suffered because of, and/or benefitted from, a transfer of knowledge, e.g. during famines in Ethiopia. And in many other ways, this idea of transfer (of knowledge, investments, motivation, innovations) was a recurring theme throughout the conference.
The reason I mention this specific theme more so than any other (besides the milk), is because of how relevant it feels to me. As a dual-title student in Entomology and International Agriculture and Development (INTAD), and thanks to some of the amazing opportunities I have had, I am trying to obtain the very skill set necessary to transfer knowledge. Penn State’s INTAD program is so unique in that it allows students to strengthen disciplinary knowledge while gaining the abilities necessary to continue the great work in food security of those who have come before us. It was so incredibly inspiring to listen to others at AIARD talk about (not only in the panels, but in networking as well) the need for the type of skills that I and so many of my contemporaries are trying to develop, and motivating to spend my coming summer days preparing for comprehensive exams so that I may eventually go out into the world and do my best. There is so much more to be said about the many things I learned at the conference this year, however, I’d like to think that I still have a lifetime to transfer and apply my knowledge.3
- This is a very necessary and important thanks to my sponsors for allowing me the time and travel funds to attend this year!
- As is the case for many graduate students, I am so immersed in my day-to-day data analysis, studying for comprehensive exams, and generally, just trying to keep my head above water, that I can forget the most basic reasons as to why I do the work that I do. It goes without saying, if one knows me well, that I am very enthusiastic about my pursuits.
- I wonder if anyone else saw the connection between Margaret Zeigler’s discussion of Brazil’s silvopastoral systems (SSP) and Giselle Aris’ mention of quality v. quantity in dairy production. Can we talk about how amazing SSP is at both conserving biodiversity and expanding dairy production, in that shaded cows are happy cows? This is an important note for the connection between food security and conservation; people frequently ask me about how they can be related.