16 free food education activities for World Food Day 2020-21

World Food Day. What does this mean to you?

Celebrated every year around 16 October, it was launched in 1979 in honour of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its principle aim is to raise awareness of poverty and hunger, and the need for healthy diets for all. It is a day to think about food in a different way: Where does it come from? How does the food we eat affect others and our environment? Why are there so many people going without food in their daily lives?

World Food Day is one day out of 365, but this does not mean that once it is over we should forget about the food challenges it raises until the following year. Here are some great food education activities to keep the momentum going until World Food Day 2021.

1) Learn about weeds

The dictionary defines a weed as a, ‘wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants’. People who are considered feeble have been insulted as ‘weeds’, while to ‘weed out’ is to remove something from where it is not wanted. The connotations of weeds are almost exclusively negative and with good reason – they are the bane of budding gardeners’ lives all around the world and can affect food production. Read A red-blooded passion for the green-fingered and see if you can spot weeds in your garden or in the green spaces around your home and/or school with Dr Chris Marble’s environmental horticulture activity sheet.

2) Learn about how plants communicate with bacteria in soil

Dr Davide Bulgarelli is a plant scientist who is studying interactions between plants and soil microbes. It is hoped that by understanding how plants communicate with bacteria in soil, it may be possible to manipulate these interactions for the benefit of plants and improve crop yields for food production. Read How can understanding plants and microorganisms help feed the world? and discover plant scientists Gregor Mende, Barbara McClintock and Norman Borlaug with Davide’s plant science activity sheet.

3) Learn about coffee

In the US, the average coffee consumer drinks over three cups a day – that’s 450 million cups daily in the US alone! Coffee has a long and intriguing history stretching back over 1,400 years to its discovery in Sub- Saharan Africa. It was cultivated and traded on the Arabian Peninsula, then spread to tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world. Read The science behind the perfect cup of coffee and find out how COVID-19 affects food production, processing and consumption with Dr Gabriel Keith Harris’ food science activity sheet.

4) Learn about roots

A 2018 study by researchers at Arizona State University found that greenhouse gas emissions could cause a 35% drop in vegetable production by 2100. There are scientists looking at ways to reduce carbon emissions, while others are investigating ways to improve methods of food production. Professor Chang-Soo Kim is working on ways to combat the abiotic stresses that affect root growth. Read Sensor engineering gets to the root of problems with food production and find out whether a career in sensor engineering is for you with Chang-Soo’s sensor engineering activity sheet.

5) Learn about yeast genetics

Dr Mike Wolyniak has teamed up with Three Roads Brewing to improve the production process of four beers by altering the yeast itself. His course-based research experience (CURE for short) involved getting students to ‘improve’ strains of yeast through modifications to their genome. The brewmaster wanted changes to four different strains of yeast – for instance, they wanted some strains of yeast to stop clumping together (flocculating), and others to have a modified fermentation process to produce different quantities of alcohol. Read How can experiments with yeast genetics help make the perfect pint? and find out more about yeast genetics with Mike’s molecular biology activity sheet.

6) Learn about E. coli

While the majority of E. coli are harmless (and are found in a healthy body), some cause diarrhoea, bloodstream infections, encephalitis and other illnesses. The CDC estimates that there are around 265,000 food-borne E. coli infections in the US every year. Professor Ann Matthysse is investigating these bacteria to find out how they bind to plant surfaces. The findings could help us learn how to remove them and make foods, like lettuce and other raw vegetables, safer. Read How to remove harmful E. coli and perform your own bacteria experiment with Ann’s genetics activity sheet.

7) Learn about a smart spray app

Most of the food products we humans consume each day have, at some point in the production cycle, been sprayed with pesticides to protect against damage caused by pests. Dr Christian Nansen researches how pest management, based on pesticide applications, can be optimised to ensure both profitability and sustainability in food production. To put his research into practice, he enlisted the help of two computer science undergraduate students to develop the innovative smart spray app, which helps farmers decide when and where to apply pesticides. Read The computer science undergrads helping farmers adopt sustainable farming practices and try out the smart app for yourself in Christian’s sustainable pest control activity sheet.

8) Learn about robots

One of the biggest challenges is going to be feeding a growing global population. Current methods and technologies will become increasingly insufficient, so there is a real need to find new solutions for food production. Dr Dan Flippo is working to find technological solutions, such as robotic vehicles, to feed more than 9 billion people in a sustainable way by 2050 and beyond. Read Using mechanically engineered robots to feed the world and take a virtual walk around Dan’s lab with his biological and agricultural engineering activity sheet.

9) Learn about pest and weed control

Farmers use chemical products to control weeds, pests and diseases. While they are extremely effective, relying solely on these products can cause problems for the environment and beneficial organisms. Professor Xiangming Xu and Dr Michelle Fountain are finding out how a deeper understanding of biology can allow us to be more tactical about protecting our crops for food production. Read What if we stopped using pesticides? and step in the shoes of plant scientists with Xiangming and Michelle’s plant diseases and pest activity sheet.

10) Learn about how plants make their shapes

Dr Charlotte Kirchhelle is investigating the role of cell geometry in shaping plants’ organs – namely, the roots, leaves, stem and reproductive organs. Understanding the fundamental cellular mechanisms driving organ shape could lead to new ways of manipulating and improving crops for food production around the world. Read Short and bushy, long and spindly: how plants make their shapes and conduct your very own cell biology experiment with Charlotte’s molecular plant biology activity sheet.

11) Learn about hill farming

Upland farming has historically been overlooked by agricultural science compared to higher-output, more profitable lowland farming. This has meant that technological innovations and other precision measures have, until recently, been underused in such areas. However, as we move into an age focused on sustainability and efficiency in food production, it is probable that upland farms will come to represent a much greater proportion of animal agriculture. It is therefore very important that they are managed as effectively as possible. Read The only way is up: why hill farming is embracing technology and get to grips with upland agricultural systems with Dr Davy McCracken’s integrated land management activity sheet.

12) Learn about biosecurity

Whether a farmer has one sheep or 101 sheep, he or she has to follow biosecurity practices to avoid spreading disease. This means that appropriate policies and incentives – from the farm-level to governmental levels – are needed to reduce the impact of diseases in livestock animals, including dairy and beef cows, horses, pigs, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas and poultry, and therefore safeguard food production. Read Educating Youth about biosecurity can help prevent the spread of disease in farm animals and be a biosecurity inspector for the day with the ADBCAP Education Team’s biosecurity activity sheet.

13) Learn about leaves

In our modern age of “plant blindness” – where people underappreciate the plants around us – Professor Margaret Barbour and her PhD student, Richard Harwood, are imaging leaves in three dimensions. Not only will their findings further our understanding of how leaves function, these images could help us to recognise just how vital plants are to life on Earth and food production. Read 3D images of leaves and take a look inside a chickpea plant leaf with Margaret and Richard’s plant science activity sheet.

14) Learn about plant diseases

Every year, up to one-quarter of plants grown for food are spoiled or killed outright by disease before the crop can be harvested. Those that survive are sometimes later destroyed by disease while being transported around the world. It’s hard to predict where in the world new outbreaks will happen. As the world warms up due to climate change, the microorganisms (fungi, protists, bacteria and viruses) that cause diseases are gradually moving towards Earth’s poles. They can also be carried to new locations by severe storms, and inadvertently by humans, animals, or traded goods. So, what can be done to solve this food production problem? Read Saving plants from diseases and become a plant disease detective with Dr Kim Hammond-Kosack’s molecualar biology and big data activity sheet.

15) Learn about water

The southwest is one of the hottest and driest areas of the US. There is often very little rain. In fact, much of the area’s water comes from snowmelt runoff from mountains during the spring. So, water can be in short supply. Dr Emile Elias and her colleagues at the USDA Southwest Climate Hub hope that the knowledge gained through their research will ensure that our water resources are well managed and protected, and that ultimately, farmers have enough water to support their livelihoods and food production. Read Learning to live with less water and use your own bod heat to model the greenhouse effect with Emile’s hydrology activity sheet.

16) Virtual Youth Summit on Food and Education

Now that you have learned about some of the challenges associated with food production, why not create a 3-5-minute video about what you have discovered? Was there anything in the articles that surprised you? Which article inspired you the most and why? What could you do to follow these researchers’ footsteps and solve big food challenges?

After registering your interest, you will be able upload your video to the following platform and show it to others all over the world: https://futurumcareers.com/school-of-food