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Jackson faculty to create study abroad on world food system

March 4, 2024

Seaweed in water

“With rising concerns about political and natural disasters impacting our regional food supply, we need to be thinking about viable and sustainable solutions,” said Rebakah Daro Minarchek, an assistant teaching professor in Integrated Social Sciences and the Jackson School. “Seaweed grows 10 times faster than terrestrial plants, does not need fresh water inputs, and can be used in a variety of ways in our food system. That is a real opportunity for a secure regional food system.”

Rebakah Daro Minarchek

Rebakah Daro Minarchek

In January 2024, Minarchek, who specializes in environmental sociology and Southeast Asia, received a University of Washington Global Innovation Fund award that will tackle the issue – and bring an immersive learning experiece for UW students.

A competitive grant hosted by the UW Office of Global Affairs, the Global Innovation Fund provides seed funding for international faculty research spanning multiple disciplines, leading-edge student experiences, and collaborations with global partners.

Minarchek’s three-year project will launch a new study abroad program to explore the world food system and possibilities for innovation in the Pacific Northwest food system through seaweed aquaculture.

Students will focus on a case study of seaweed with topics such as foraging, commercial production, historical significance and use in Japan and the Pacific Northwest, and current uses in our world food system. They will travel to Miagyi, Japan, to look at seaweed aquacultural production in order to propose solutions for strengthening the regional food system of Puget Sound in the coming decades.

In addition, the grant provides up to $10,000 a year to defray the cost of student participation. “I hope that this enables students who might otherwise not be able to take part in international experiences connected to the materials they are learning in the classroom,” said Minarchek. “I am hopeful that the program will enable students to participate in creating workable solutions to securing our regional food system in anticipation of warming sea temperatures and possible natural disasters, should they occur.”

As part of the grant, Minarchek  will travel to Japan this summer to visit seaweed farms, small-scale producers, seafood markets, national parks, and foraging families/communities to create connections that will form the study abroad experience. It is expected that the program will commence in Winter 2025, when students will take a winter quarter course and then travel during spring break to Japan.

“I’m driven to work with students to teach about these issues and encourage students to think of possible solutions that are tenable, innovative, and grounded in the realities of our existing system,” Minarchek said.

The project also aims to connect student participants with maritime industry professionals who will help inform their projects, but also introduce students to potential career paths in Puget Sound.

“I enjoy helping students develop skills that are transferable from the classroom to potential careers,” said Minarchek.