Dr. Bailey Norwood believes you can’t learn enough about a subject, but he also cautions you to consider of the source. As a professor at Oklahoma State University in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, he felt there was an information gap in the public’s understanding of where their food comes from. In Norwood’s approximation, it’s not lies that are propagated; it’s the deluge of information and the sources it comes from.
“We noticed that there were so many controversies in food and agriculture,” he said. “I see it mainly as a very bad communication problem.”
In order to help the general public navigate the territory between what happens on the farm and how it comes to your table, he designed a course that delves into what he has learned in years of research.
“[Farm to Fork: A Panoramic View of Agriculture] is a brand-new class. We noticed that there were so many controversies in food. Food is very political now,” he said.
There is an overwhelming amount of information out there about food controversies. Just Google “Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)” and see what pops up in the videos alone.
“There’s a lot of activity online, with tons of videos with great production values, but they tend to be by think tanks or interest groups and, a lot of times, the industry,” he said.
There was very little coming out of academia, and it troubled Norwood, especially since the university has plenty of programs for producers. He saw a niche for the people who should know the most: the educators.
“We have great programs like Sun Up (SUNUP TV, a Saturday morning public education program geared toward producers), but it doesn’t really take home the controversial issues, nor have we done enough to educate the general public about agriculture itself,” he said.
The goal of the class is to encourage agricultural literacy for all people. Norwood wants everyone from producers to consumers to take home the proper information from an unbiased source. The college of Agriculture encouraged him to make a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC). He spent the last year developing a curriculum that would offer this information for anyone who wants to take it. It will be a basic course in all the subjects that have become politicized when it comes to food. Also, it will cover the journey that food takes from the producer to your table. Norwood has had some time to consider why so many food issues have become politicized.
“I take a different view than some on this. You hear about agriculture people talking about ‘the disconnect.’ They are usually talking about consumers not understanding the farms, but I see it mainly as a very bad communication problem,” he said.
Norwood has a special knack for giving all opinions equal attention, and it helped him understand the root of the problem. He spent much of his years as a graduate and Ph.D. candidate dealing with the big picture. His Ph.D. is in economics, but the focus of his study was agriculture.
“Then I turned my attention to animal welfare issues and found I could write about both sides of the issues and could be friendly with both sides,” Norwood said. “We hardly have anyone who can do that, and my job became much more meaningful.”
Once he discovered his knack for tackling thorny topics in food, he started turning attention toward them.
Farm to Fork is less a series of lectures than a multi-media trip through the controversies that are most prevalent in food today. The online course will include a virtual trip to a dairy farm and a DNA lab and vivid animation that is a far cry from stodgy lecture time reading along with a textbook. The resources Norwood had at his fingertips through the university astonished him. When he had first envisioned the class, he figured it would consist of simple lectures delivered via Internet video. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Of course, the subject matter in this course is different, but the production value — we have a department called The Institute for Teaching and Learning Excellence, and they gave me a lot of resources galore. It was very exciting to make, and I think it will be engaging for the students,” he said.
Over 16 weeks, the course tackles subjects such as pesticides and GMOs, farm subsidies, the role of antibiotics and hormones and animal welfare. Norwood recently finished working on a book that provides further information on those and other topics. Agricultural and Food Controversies: What Everyone Needs to Know was published the first week of December and is available at booksellers nationwide.
Although the book is in no way a textbook for the class, it could be viewed as a companion, especially since it delves deeper into some subjects than the course.
What Norwood hopes to accomplish with both the course and the book is educating the public with the facts he has meticulously compiled over the past years. His passion for the topics shines through when he speaks about them, and he has some surprising opinions about some of the more controversial ones. For instance, he comes down cautiously on the side of most pesticides and GMO technology. He does pick a side when it comes to animal welfare and feels that American farms could do better, especially in cases of certain animals. He is encouraged at the strides being made in the name of humane animal treatment in farming.
Farm to Fork: A Panoramic View of Agriculture
AGEC 4990 (online class)
Instructor: Dr. F. Bailey Norwood
Started Jan. 12, 2015
Enrollment available through Jan. 20
These local farms provide produce, dairy and meat to some of your favorite local restaurants.
Double R Farms (grass-fed hogs and beef)
Grandma Nellie’s Free Range
All Natural Chicken Farm
NoName Ranch (all-natural beef)
Highway 29, Wynnewood
Wichita Buffalo Company LLC at
Sandy Springs Farm
28580 State Hwy 37, Hinton
You can purchase many products from these farms at:
OSU-OKC Farmers Market
400 N. Portland Ave.
1235 SW Second St.
Native Roots Market
131 NE Second St.
Print headline: Table food, A new online class at OSU teaches the ins and outs of the journey your food takes from the field to the plate.