Penryn Challenge 2017 video

Lead academic: Dr Alex Mesoudi (Biosciences)

Grand Challenges Cornwall: Food for thought (Penryn)

Planet Earth faces major environmental challenges in the 21st Century, as humans place strains on biodiversity, ecosystem services, food security, health, wealth and quality of life. Grand Challenges Cornwall is a 5-day-long field course in which students will work in interdisciplinary research groups, alongside our top academics, making contacts with external organisations, businesses and the local community to explore drivers of and solutions to these Grand Challenges.

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.

Before the week begins, students can do one or more training sessions where they learn how to create short films, use video cameras and how to do effective interviews.

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. 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.

The week started on Monday with an interactive session on food security by Dr Shane Fudge, provoking students to question their assumptions about food and their own food-related behaviour. Then the 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.

On Tuesday students went to Padstow, a fishing village on the north coast of Cornwall. They 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.

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. Friday morning was film editing time, before handing in the final film at 2pm. There was then a Friday evening film screening 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.


Student Outputs

These are the outputs that students produced on the 2016 and 2017 Challenges.

Changing World
Food Waste
The EU and Food
Food Intensification
Food Quality
Fishing and Brexit
Cornish Pasty
Local Food


Photos from Grand Challenges Penryn