CALS student Becky Dobosy travels near and far to put nutrition, sustainable ag knowledge to work
When it comes to addressing issues related to hunger in developing nations, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences nutrition major Becky Dobosy is not sitting still. The junior has traveled near and far to grow her knowledge of nutrition and sustainable agriculture and to put it to work. She has helped indigenous people in Guatemala address issues related to food and health. She’s visited world food and agriculture agencies in Rome. And, most recently, she spent a summer serving as intern at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) in Goldsboro.
“My passions don’t lie with nutrition for optimal performance or athletics but for survival and day-to-day life,” Dobosy says. “I am really interested in international development as it relates to nutrition and sustainable agriculture, and so I’m trying to find a career where the fields of community nutrition and sustainable agriculture intersect.”
Dobosy’s interest in nutrition and agriculture is rooted in childhood experiences with a family garden. And a church mission trip she took while in high school to a Nicaraguan orphanage sparked her passion for working internationally.
In Nicaragua, she saw firsthand the important role that nutrition plays in learning, she says, and she realized that could combine her interests in international development, nutrition and sustainable agriculture into a career.
Dobosy cites research that shows that malnutrition, especially early in life, slows brain development. “Nutrition not only helps you be healthy, it also helps you learn,” she says. “And people who can learn and are not held back by hunger or diseases are able to do more for their community and overcome problems – or avoid problems altogether – and thus help their communities develop.”
Thus, nutrition education can give “people the tools to make change in their own communities and not rely on food or help from the outside,” she says.
It’s something Dobosy saw at work in Panajachel, Guatemala, where she spent the summer of 2011. The trip, offered through N.C. State University’s social work program, combined classwork with service learning. Dobosy was assigned to work with a nonprofit group called Mayan Families.
“I worked with their nutritional program, so I worked with women who could not breastfeed. We had a program for diabetics who had to use food-based practices to control their insulin levels. And we had a club for ancianos – a seniors club – and they get meals every Monday through Friday,” she says.
“It was my first experience with field work – hands-on, in relationship to the community. And I really loved that, so that’s where I’m hoping to end up someday.
“When every day I could go into my internship and think, ‘Yes, more work!’ — that’s when you know you are in the right place,” she recalls.
Dobosy was also able to merge her interests in nutrition and agriculture this past summer at CEFS, where she spent eight weeks as one of a diverse group of interns from across the United States and abroad. “Everyone has different interests, but we come together with a passion for sustainable agriculture,” she says.
CEFS is a joint agricultural research and extension program of N.C. State, N.C. A&T State University and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Summer interns learn about sustainable agriculture concepts and practices from CEFS faculty and staff and through hands-on farm work, lectures and discussions, community engagement, and field trips to local farms and markets.
Dobosy found the community engagement work particularly rewarding: She and other interns led a Junior Master Gardeners program in Goldsboro, teaching the school-age participants about agriculture, healthy eating and cooking and working with them in a garden. And she also got to join area high-school students as they worked in a community garden to earn money.
The CEFS experience confirmed for Dobosy the influence local, sustainable agriculture can have on nutrition.
“Sustainable agriculture isn’t normally integrated into a nutrition education, but for me with the international interest I have, you can’t take it out. If you are working in a community that’s agriculturally based, you can’t improve nutrition, or even suggest improvements, unless you have knowledge of agriculture and you involve agriculture,” she explains. “And if it’s not healthy for the people and the environment, it’s not going to last.”
As Dobosy looks ahead to the next steps on her journey toward a career in nutrition and community development, she has a full plate: As she works toward her nutrition degree, she’s also tackling minors in agroecology and Spanish. She’s also continuing her involvement in the Christian organization Young Life, coaching cross country at Panther Creek High School in Cary, and planning an alternative spring break trip to international food- and agriculture-related organizations in Rome.
Dobosy participated in that Rome spring break trip last year, getting the chance to visit with the World Food Programme, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. In spring 2012, she’ll be organizing and leading that trip with another student.
The hard work will be worth it, Dobosy says, if she’s able to help make a difference in even a few people’s lives.
“The problem of hunger in the world is definitely bigger than any one person can address, but there are so many efforts out there right now, and I would like to be involved in at least one of them in some way, making it more sustainable and more driven by local people,” she says.
“I don’t know if I’m going to look at the world and see my impact, but I at least hope to leave my fingerprints in a community or two.”