Photo: Students coast to coast show hunger for change

David Suzuki, food justice expert Utcha Sawyers and author J.B. MacKinnon discussed organic farming at the Hunger for Change virtual classroom. (Credit: Alvin Singh)

"Organic farming is conventional farming. What we're doing now is absolutely unconventional."

This was one of many grains of wisdom David Suzuki offered an auditorium full of rapt secondary and post-secondary students (and several thousand more via WebEx technology) on October 6 at Toronto's Humber College. The question — can organic farming practices really replace conventional practices? — had been posed to a passionate panel of food experts: Suzuki, author J.B. MacKinnon and food justice expert Utcha Sawyers.

The Hungry for Change virtual classroom visit, which the Foundation produced in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada and Humber College, brought together 500 students at the college and roughly 6,000 virtually. To prepare for the discussion, students watched the NFB film Island Green, which explores organic farming on Prince Edward Island, and submitted questions for the panel. Ten students across the country were chosen to ask their questions in real time.

FoodShare Toronto's food justice manager, Utcha Sawyers, brought her knowledge of community agriculture and food justice in indigenous communities to the panel. J.B. MacKinnon, co-author of The Hundred Mile Diet, offered wisdom from his year of eating only food produced in a 100-mile radius around Vancouver, B.C.

"We think the supermarket is the place to go for variety. But eating locally is vastly more diverse," he told the audience, then went on to describe how his food repertoire had only expanded over his year of eating locally.

Other students posed questions about food security in First Nations communities, the perils of genetically modified crops and how students with limited funds can afford to buy organic food. The panel delved into each one with thought and energy.

Spoken word artist Tanya Davis began and concluded the panel with original pieces composed especially for the event.