Mentors, students wanted for new food system fellowship program

KINGSTON, RI – MAY 6, 2022 — The University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension is excited to announce the launch of The Rhode Island Agriculture and Food Systems Fellows Program for students at the Community College of Rhode Island and URI. 

“This is a brand new, exciting opportunity not only for undergraduate students, but also for food system advocates, policymakers, growers, distributors, waste management professionals and educators working to strengthen our local food system,” said Kate Venturini Hardesty, program administrator for the URI Cooperative Extension and co-director of the fellows program. “The program will provide reciprocal benefits to students and professionals alike, namely by building community around our local food system for sharing of ideas, research findings and resources.”

URI undergraduate students in the field with a pumpkin crop. Photo: Kate Venturini-Hardesty.

With nearly 42 million people in the U.S. (including 13 million children) experiencing food insecurity in 2021, Hardesty says it’s vital that agriculture and food system professionals are highly skilled, competent, sensitive and responsive to issues around racial inequity and food justice. 

This month, the program team will begin reaching out to agriculture and food system-related businesses, organizations and researchers to identify 10 individuals interested in mentoring a student fellow to work on real-world projects in sustainable agricultural intensification, food and nutrition translation, science communication and agricultural science policy leadership.

Mentors are the cornerstone of the fellowship program, Hardesty says, supporting students as they gain direct industry experience while also completing professional development and inclusive science communication training offered through the fellows program at URI.

“Ideal mentors are innovators in the food system space in Rhode Island. They are thinking big about how our community-based food system can help to solve hunger and public health issues related to healthy food access,” Hardesty said. “The team is committed to elevating the conversation around food justice with not only student participants, but also their mentors, to ensure that the program is helping to build a diverse workforce that is inclusive, employable and globally-competent.”

Made possible by a $750,000 five – year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a minimum of 40 students with a strong interest in sustainable agriculture, nutrition, food safety and community food system policy will have the opportunity to work alongside food system leaders for a one-year period, from January to December, beginning in 2023 through 2026.

“Some students may not have agriculture careers as their first choice”, said Sejal Lanterman, Extension educator and fellows program coordinator at URI. “They may think, ‘Why would I want to be a farmer?’ But the fact of the matter is, that’s not the only opportunity. The food industry is going to need students who not only can critically think about really complex issues, but also recognize and work toward addressing the inequities through our work.”

Mentors and students can find more information at

The deadline to express interest in serving as a mentor in 2023 is August 29, 2022. Students can sign up for application updates at the web link above.

This release was written by Hugh Markey.