Drew Blanton, a University of Florida (UF) food and resource economics major, never knew about artificial flavoring or that the Coca-Cola flavor is actually a combination of lime and cinnamon bark oil. Participating in the Agricultural Future of America (AFA) Food Institute in Chicago allowed him this exact educational experience immersing himself in the American food industry and learning about what affects the global food supply. His participation was supported through the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences VP Promise initiative.
The AFA Food Institute allowed Blanton to learn from many partners and business leaders in the food sector. From the United States’ evolution of dairy to different opinions on what the future of agriculture looks like from companies such as Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) and Bunge, “this institute vastly increased my knowledge of the food sector and made me aware of so many working parts that you might not notice,” Blanton said.
Some of the program excursions included trips to the national headquarters of Feeding America, Bell Flavors and Fragrances, and Ardent Mills. At Feeding America, Blanton learned the ins and outs of what a non-profit organization looks like, how they provide food for locations across the United States, and their diligent work and passion for charity in their endeavors to feed the nation’s food-insecure population.
Bell Flavors and Fragrances was Blanton’s favorite part of the trip.
“I had no prior experiences with making artificial flavoring, however, this company exceeded all expectations and taught us everything there is to know about flavors and fragrances,” Blanton said.
The program’s final stop led institute participants more than 60 miles north of Chicago to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where they toured Ardent Mills, one of North America’s leading flour suppliers. Here Blanton reports that they learned about how flour is made. “We got an in-depth presentation of how the wheat levels are measured, kept constant and controlled through a complex storage system,” said Blanton. “My group mates and I toured all eight floors of the mill and witnessed every production step in person. Getting to see how wheat turns into flour was an amazing experience that taught me a lot about modern-day food technology.”
The AFA Food Institute allowed Blanton to network and connect with fellow students and professionals from the food sector from across the country. It opened many doors to potential internship and work opportunities.
“This institute brought a new level of hands-on experience that has tremendous value to my education, and I cannot wait to see how this new knowledge and experience will enhance my classwork and future opportunities,” Blanton said. “The AFA Food Institute was a wonderful, fun, and educational experience that has increased my knowledge and passion for the agriculture industry.”
The VP Promise is an initiative to provide financial assistance for students pursuing experiences in agriculture, life sciences and natural resources. CALS supports student success both inside and outside of the classroom and encourages students to broaden their perspectives through enriching opportunities such as study abroad programs and travel to conferences. For more information on the VP Promise visit the CALS website.