March 28/Guelph, Ontario/Waterloo Region Record -- A unique new position at the University of Guelph will help consolidate knowledge about sustainable food practices and make that knowledge more accessible.

Ralph Martin, a plant and animal sciences professor at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, has been named to the Loblaw Companies Chair in Sustainable Food Production. The position, the first of its kind in Canada, was created through a $3 million gift by food distribution giant Loblaw Companies Limited.

The funds will form the foundation of research into strengthening Canada's food production systems, and make them sustainable in the context of the environment, communities and the economy. Martin has a Ph.D. in plant science from McGill University and has a specialty in organic food production.

"I think it's a good opportunity for dialogue," Martin said in a telephone interview. "It's a chance to get some of the major players together. Quite often, the responsibility for providing healthy food is left to farmers. We wish them good luck, and by the way, we want it really cheap."

A dialogue must be fostered not only with farm groups, but also include consumer groups, food retailers and processors, and even food banks, in an effort to develop a unified perspective on sustainability in food production, he said.

"We want to be able to live well today and also in the future," Martin said, explaining the meaning of sustainability. "We want to make sure that whatever we do in agriculture now does not compromise our capacity to produce food in the future."

Rene Van Acker, associate dean, external for the Ontario Agricultural College, said the college has long been eager to "make progress in terms of sustainability, particularly in agriculture."

The issue, he said, is complex, and while there are a number of experts in specific areas of sustainable agriculture at U of G, there has not until now been a single person who is expert at speaking broadly to the issue, or who is capable of synthesizing the issue's diverse elements of the issue.

"That's what we were looking for in creating this chair," Van Acker said. "It is somebody who very purposefully -- in teaching, research and outreach -- will be a knowledge hub, an integrator, a synthesizer and somebody who builds networks around this topic."

Martin has a solid track record of building networks and integration across a broad subject, Van Acker added, noting especially Martin's accomplishments in the. organic sector.

The new position, Van Acker added, will create new opportunities for students, particularly through the development of new courses, programs and training.

"Our goal is to establish a global center of excellence, bringing the best ideas and minds together to make Canada a world leader in sustainable food production," said Loblaw executive chair Galen Weston in a news release. "We are excited by Ralph's appointment as we continue to support partnerships like this, in order to develop long-term solutions to ensure a healthy and sustainable future for Canadians."

From the April 4, 2011, Prepared Foods E-dition