Four leaders in different roles across the industry spoke to their diverse experience making change in agri-food
By Jackie Clark
The morning session of the Arrell Food Institute’s 2021 Food Summit was aptly named the Changemakers’ Forum.
Four panelists from across the scope of the ag and food industry spoke about the challenges and successes they’ve experienced as leaders in the agri-food industry.
Joshua Smee is the CEO of Food First Newfoundland, a non-profit working to promote food security in the province through systems change and collective action.
“Food security, where everyone, everywhere has access at all times to sufficient amounts of nutritious and culturally appropriate food, that is a transformative vision,” he said. “To get that to be true requires tearing down our social system as it is and building it differently.”
Julia Romagnoli was another panelist passionate about considering the social sphere of the agri-food industry. She’s a hay and forage production system specialist for John Deere, working with farmers across eastern Canada, and in 2020 she started the @PrideInAg Instagram account to highlight LGBTQ+ individuals in the ag industry.
“Being LGBTQ+ in agriculture can be really lonely and can feel like you’re the only one and it’s a bit of an impossible journey,” she explained. “Creating this network helped really showcase the visibility.”
Haile Thomas, another young woman in the agri-food industry, focuses on food and nutrition as the founder and CEO of The HAPPY Organization. HAPPY stands for Healthy, Active, Positive, Purposeful Youth.
“The approach of compassion and really engaging in connected education is so important,” she said.
Her own journey started with a heartfelt connection, learning more about nutrition to help her father manage a type two diabetes diagnosis. After learning so much, “I wanted to bring really exciting, fun and really deeply relatable food and nutrition education to my peers,” she explained.
Finally, Raul Fernandez spoke about his 35 years working in the food industry, and his current work as chief imagination officer at Thx Dreams and president of Breakthrough Solutions, a business consulting company.
“I was born in Costa Rica and raised in Argentina, both countries where agriculture is a huge part of the lives of many people,” he explained. “Because of that I grew up close to the plight of farm workers.”
He had a dream to make the world better and calls his imagination his superpower in achieving that.
In his work as a consultant, Fernandez helps companies find innovative solutions and improve returns, which in turn helps them invest more in the compensation and welfare of their workers.
All panelists spoke to the need for continued and increased collaboration and connection throughout the agri-food system, to continue to promote innovation, knowledge-sharing and equity.
Though it can be difficult to make funders see the value, that work is essential and should be a purposeful, paid position for stakeholders, Smee added.
CharlieAJA\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo