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Scholarship Sends Student to USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum

May 05, 2015, Andrea Hahn

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Emily Loehmer, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate student, wants to make an impact in public health nutrition.

The Culver, Ind. Native was one of 10 graduate student winners from a nationwide, essay-based competition to participate in the Student Diversity Program section of the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Outlook Forum in February in Arlington, Va.. The theme for this year’s forum is “Smart Agriculture in the 21st Century: A Discussion on Innovation, Biotechnology and Big Data.” USDA program sponsors funded Loehmer’s travel, lodging, forum meals and registration.

The topic for the competitive essay was “the greatest challenge facing agriculture in the next five years.” Loehmer, whose passion is food access for low-income populations, focused on food waste.

“Ending food waste acknowledges food insecurity, nonrenewable resources such as oil and land, and health – among things,” she said.

Loehmer zeroed in on fruit and vegetable food waste, identifying consumer perceptions of food appearance as part of the underlying cause. “Ugly fruit” has the same nutrition benefits as “pretty fruit.” In her essay, she referred to a study in France that suggests consumers will buy “ugly fruit” at discounted prices. Similar practices in the United States could have the effect of reducing food waste, both in the store and on the farm.

Students in the diversity program enjoyed some additional opportunities, included a meeting with the USDA World Agricultural Outlook Board, dinner at the Pentagon City mall, and a tour of the USDA/Agricultural Research Service Beltsville Research Center.

The diversity program targets students – 10 graduate and 20 undergraduate – from across the agricultural industry majors. The forum provides a venue for food producers, policymakers and representatives of business, agricultural industries and government to share ideas and discuss issues.

“This is a tremendous achievement for me,” Loehmer said. “This forum is a great step toward achieving my career goals. As a policy maker, I will want to have enough exposure to the communities I’m working with to be able to propose policy grounded in fact, not theory, so I can help to make positive change in people’s lives.”

Loehmer is in SIU’s Combined Master’s Degree in Community Nutrition and Dietetic Internship program, and will graduate in May. She is an intern with the Illinois Department of Human Services in Chicago. During her time at SIU, she was a graduate assistant at the Wellness and Health Promotion Services, where she started the Wellness P.E.E.R.S.program. Her presentation at the Mid-America College Health Association about the program earned her and her team the Chris Labyk Award for Promising Student Health Initiatives.