Grand Challenges Cornwall: Food for thought (Penryn)

Students on our Penryn campus can take part in Grand Challenges in one of three ways! You can take Grand Challenges Penryn 'Food for Thought' (described below) as either an extracurricular activity or as a 15 credit module (sign up is now closed for the module). Or you are welcome to select one of the Streatham Challenges available to Penryn students - Global Security, Business of Brexit, Mental Health or Climate Change.

Grand Challenges Penryn - 12 - 16 June 2017

The aim of the Penryn Food for Thought Challenge is for groups of 5-6 students to each produce a 5 minute video exploring a topic related to food. It is interdisciplinary and student-led: each group comes up with their own film topic idea, explores the topic, and interviews different members of the local community. Students are encouraged to be creative and independent – there is no regurgitation of lecture material or set texts here. Unlike at Streatham, at Penryn we have some students doing Grand Challenges as a credit-bearing module, and others doing Grand Challenges voluntarily, but the activities are done all together, and students from different years and programmes all mix together. The interdisciplinary approach was a highlight for the students, with one saying: “As a team, we performed well together, with different skill sets being used to the advantage of us all. I certainly learned a lot from my colleagues throughout the week and it was a pleasure to work with them all. Everyone contributed and it was a group result.”

Before the week began, all students could do one or more training sessions where you learn how to create short films, how to use video cameras, and how to do effective interviews. The module students also began thinking about their film topic and doing some research. The activities during the week were then geared towards getting footage for the film before a Friday night film screening.

The week itself started on Monday morning with an interactive session on food security by Dr Shane Fudge, a lecturer in our geography department who has worked closely with food-related local and international organisations. Shane provided factual background on issues surrounding food consumption, production, sustainability and security. He provoked students to question their assumptions about food and their own food-related behaviour. Then our module participants gave film pitches about their planned topic. On Monday afternoon the voluntary students came up with their film ideas, and all groups storyboarded their films and researched their topics in preparation for the day trips. This year, topics included “How Cornish is a Cornish Pasty?”, “Local and Global Food Consumption”, “Growing Your Own Food” and “Brexit and Cornish Fisheries”.

On Tuesday we went to Padstow, a fishing village on the north coast of Cornwall. We visited the National Lobster Hatchery to get the lowdown on conservation efforts to ensure that lobster fishing remains sustainable over the long term. Students then explored Padstow getting footage for their films. As well as fishing, Padstow is a centre of food tourism, including Rick Stein’s flagship seafood restaurant. Food tourism represents a real economic clash: rich tourists bring money to the area, but at the expense of some local residents – second homes for example have decimated some communities.

Wednesday saw a trip to the Eden Project, an unforgettable site where plants from around the world grow in temperature-controlled biomes. A tour around the tropical biome highlighted food crops from around the world that we normally only experience in the supermarket. Groups picked a crop (coffee, vanilla, hemp and bananas were some of the choices) and tracked their history and journey from the other side of the world to our tables. In the afternoon groups got footage relevant to their films.

On Thursday each group went on self-organised trips, depending on their film topics. Some groups went to interview local fishermen or farmers, others did interactive games with members of the public. These proved to be successful for the students, with one saying they “enjoyed this aspect of the course greatly; being given the opportunity to gauge perceptions of the public was interesting and revealing.” Friday morning was film editing time, before handing in the final film at 2pm. Then on Friday evening we had a grand film screening session at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth. This was open to the public, and this year attracted about 200 people. Each group introduced their films and answered questions from members of the public after the films were screened. Then a chance to relax during a wine and nibbles reception.

Grand Challenges week is intense, but students learn an enormous amount. You learn about the food that we all eat, but which we often know little about. When reflecting on the week, one of the students said: “Overall I greatly enjoyed Grand Challenges, learned a great deal about the Food For Thought concept and about research and video making.” Students leave intellectually inspired and well-prepared for subsequent independent projects such as dissertations.

You also learn how to create, edit and present films, how to interview, how to do independent research and time management, and how to negotiate group work under pressure.

Flickr gallery from Grand Challenges Penryn