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Food & Agribusiness Institute

Food & Agribusiness Institute

Food & Agribusiness Blog for news, events, announcements, and more.

  •  Burmese Days (And Nights!)

    On the 6th of September, a group of eleven undergraduate students and their FAI leaders embarked on a trip to a country that has only recently opened its doors to the rest of the world. We were on our way to Burma.

    Our first stop was Burma’s former capital, Yangon. Burma is now called Myanmar, and Yangon was formerly Rangoon, but Americans still refer to the country primarily as Burma. Once there, we took a walking tour of the town, which included visits to numerous pagodas with lessons in Burmese history. We had the opportunity to visit Shwedagon Pagoda, which, according to ancient legend, is one of the oldest pagodas in the world. As a towering stupa covered in gold leaf, the 344-foot tall pagoda was awe-inspiring for all of us.

    The second day in Burma, however, was vastly different. We woke early in the morning to leave Yangon for our first village stay. Our journey included a four-hour bus ride, with a stop to visit the District Authority and meet local and district officials and a visit to the local Catholic school. After a two hour open-top boat ride in drenching rain which Aaron Griffith ’14 compared to Apocalypse Now, we finally arrived. The villagers were ecstatic, as they had never before received foreign visitors. We were welcomed with song, dance, and more food than could ever be eaten by a group of fourteen people. Colleen Fisher ‘14, said,The hospitality we received both at the village and throughout the whole country was amazing, and makes you step back and look at how our society treats each other, as well as outsiders.”

    The elder monk of the village welcomed us to his home and shared thoughts on the village and Buddhism. Everyone, both visitors and locals, took a walk to a rice paddy just as the sun was setting, and then headed back to the village for dinner before turning in for the night. The next day, we woke early to offer breakfast to the elder monk and he led us in meditation. Our group visited schools and a rice mill before leaving the village on the boat (luckily in the sun this time!) and headed back to Yangon where we all went to bed early and prepped for the early morning flight to our next destination.

    The second stop in Burma was Bagan, the country’s plain of ancient pagodas. The first day was filled with pagodas: brick pagodas, gold pagodas, pagodas you could walk inside, and more! We were even able to climb to the top of a pagoda and gain our first real glimpse of Bagan. The panoramas were unbelievable and there were pagodas as far as the eye could see. The day ended with a sunset boat ride along the Irrawaddy River and dinner as a group. The following day began with a visit to the top of a pagoda just as the sun was rising. This was followed by a stop to a local palm sugar factory and peanut farm where we saw the traditional Burmese way for making peanut oil and extracting palm sugar. We then travelled to Mt. Popa and climbed 800 steps surrounded by monkeys to Taung Kalat, a hilltop shrine with breathtaking views. That night, we were given free time  so five of us decided to take a taxi to go to a pagoda and watch the sunset. We climbed up to the top of the pagoda about half an hour before the sun set and immediately knew we made the right choice. The sunset was absolutely beautiful and lit up the entire sky. There was a lightning storm in the distance as well, which made it even more beautiful. The other students and I were having such a good time that we didn’t realize it had gotten dark and the temple officials needed to ask us to leave. It was one of those life moments that I know none of us will ever forget.

    The last day in Bagan was a beautiful one as well, in a much different way. We visited PACT, a micro-finance organization that has bettered the lives of many women and their families in Burma. It exists all over the country but we visited the Dry Zone branch. We were invited to meet with more than 200 women who have received loans from this organization. It was a humbling experience for all of us because they were all so welcoming and happy that we were there. We were divided into small groups and, with the help of numerous translators, were able to hear individual stories of women whose lives were changed by the money they have received through micro-finance. We also visited the shops of multiple women who had received loans from PACT and saw firsthand how the program is making a difference. It was truly amazing to see the change that this micro-finance organization was making. We first talked to those who ran the organization and they presented an overview of the project, but meeting the women who were empowered by the loans and hearing about their lives, both before and after they received the loans, was completely different.

    The third stop in Burma was the Inle Lake region. We started with a hike in Pindaya, a local town consisting of multiple villages. In order to get to the monastery where we would be staying for the night, we first had to hike up and down slippery slopes in intermittent rains for more than four hours. While this made for a long day, it was easily one of the most memorable experiences for all of us. We were able to see a whole new side of Burma as we walked by homes and farms in the mountains and observed everyday life for the people who lived there, which was different than in other places we visited because of the village's remote location. The hike finished at the monastery where we talked with the village leader, the head monk, the village midwife, and other local people about their lives in Burma. Jamie Monk ’16 said “It was really interesting seeing how their micro-economy is managed and seeing the different systems used compared to the United States, especially with regards to local government.“

    For the next two days, we took to the water and headed out onto Inle Lake. These days were filled with activities including visits to a local home built on stilts over the lake, a Burmese Cat Village, a local pagoda, lotus weaving shop, multiple local food shops, and more. We also learned a lot about fishing and farming on the lake. We stopped by the boats of some local fishermen and  watched how they row and fish. Some of us, myself included, even tried it out for ourselves and found that it was much harder than it looked. We were even told to wear life jackets as we tried it, since they figured that we would fall in! Luckily, none of us did.

    In addition to fishing on the lake, there is a lot of farming as well. We stopped at a floating garden, which is a piece of land basically floating on the edges of the lake, and in the late tributaries where people grow all of their vegetables. We were able to step onto the island and see what farming would be like if we were to farm there. The farmers gather up lake-bottom weeds from the deeper parts of the lake, bring them back in boats and make them into floating beds in their garden areas, anchored by bamboo poles.

    The trip was one of the most memorable and lasting experiences that the group and I have ever had. We made so many memories and learned about such a vastly different way of life, and our timing was impeccable. Lynsey Palmer ‘14, another member of our group expressed the feeling of the trip well, saying “As Myanmar becomes more and more developed, I realize that many of the experiences we had will never happen again,” and she’s probably right. We are all so grateful to be able to share this experience with each other and are thankful to FAI for the opportunity. 

    ~ Written by Lisa McMonagle, an FAI employee and FHPE Pathway student

  •  Making Sustainability Work: Annie's Inc.

    On Thursday, October 17th, the Food and Agribusiness Institute partnered with a number of other campus groups to bring Shauna Sadowski, the Director of Sustainability for Annie’s Inc., to the Santa Clara campus to discuss the company’s sustainable business practices and goals. Shauna began her presentation by sharing Annie’s mission statement, which reads: “Our mission is to cultivate a healthier, happier world by spreading goodness through nourishing foods, honest words and conduct that is considerate and forever kind to the planet. We have focused on building a successful and growing business in pursuit of our mission.”

     Shauna delivered an informative and creative presentation that explained the company’s unique approach to sustainability in the work place, the company’s main environmental concerns, and current projects that aim to help Annie’s be more sustainable while also raising awareness about smart and organic agriculture. Annie’s prides itself on its wide range of organic products and its attention to farm to fork and relationships with farmers.

    The Environmental Studies and Sciences (ESS) Department helped to co-sponsor the event and many ESS students expressed interest in pursuing careers that are similar to Shauna’s. The event had a great turnout and Shauna was a personable presenter who provided interesting information about Annie’s as a company and also offered insight to the world of sustainability and eco-friendly careers. 

    Thank you Shauna for visiting Santa Clara and thank you to all who attended the event! 

  •  FAI Wine Field Trip - October 26th!

    It is once again time for FAI's annual wine field trip! We have an exciting agenda planned for Saturday, October 26th and hope you will join us!

    We will be visiting Guglielmo and Thomas Kruse wineries and will stop at Clos LaChance winery inbetween for a picnic lunch. The event is open to everyone 21+ and requires preregistration. 


    - Meet at 8:30 AM in front of Santa Clara University Mission Church. We have a tight schedule so the bus will leave promptly at 8:45 AM.

    - 9:30 - Arrive at Thomas Kruse

    - Tour and tasting at Thomas Kruse from 9:30 - 11:30

    - 11:30 - Travel to Clos LaChance

    - Lunch at Clos LaChance from 12:00 - 1:30

    - 1:30 - Travel to Guglielmo

    - Tour and tasting at Guglielmo from 2:00 - 4:00

    - 4:00 - Travel back to SCU

    - Arrive back to Santa Clara University between 4:30 - 5:00 PM.

    The cost is $35 for FAI Specialization students and alumni, and $45 for guests not affiliated with FAI. The price includes all transportation, lunch, and tastings!

    Visit the Eventbrite page at to register!

  •  Cost of a Healthy Meal Research Project

    It has been over two years since the inception of the “Cost of a Healthy Meal” research project in the summer of 2011. Our research team has conducted over 740 interviews thus far and by October 2013 we intend to collect and analyze 800 primary interviews, as well as secure 100 secondary and 100 tertiary follow-up interviews.

    This study is growing in popularity among the SCU campus community which is evident by the increasing amount of student interest in the project. This spring, we received nearly 70 internship applications for 16 internship positions. The first group of interns recently wrapped up their work and the second group has begun training and is eager to start site visits. 

    Our data has been extremely useful in understanding the constraints low-income populations have for obtaining a healthy diet. Statistics show that the average expenditure on food is around $5.93/ day with a high variation of $4.30-$9.52. Regardless of variation, our data shows the majority of individuals within Santa Clara and San Mateo counties are spending more than the $5.37/ day that the USDA claims is sufficient for a healthy diet.

    The research team has grown substantially and is utilizing the different skill sets of our student research assistants.  Stay tuned for a formal update at a later FAI event!

    ~ Update courtesy of Courtney Robinson, Research Assistant and FAI MBA Specialization Student

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