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The Minnesota Project leads session about farm-to-college at Real Food Summit 3/13 at Macalester College

March 15, 2010

Photo- Real Food Challenge

This past weekend college and high school students from across the country came together at Macalester College in St. Paul for a sustainable food learning  event –  “Real Food Through a Wider Lens: Midwest Real Food Summit 2010.”   Real Food Challenge, the organization that sponsored the event,  is a national organization that provides training and information for for student activists interested in food and environmental issues.  The event featured panelists, workshops, and speakers who explored themes of sustainability in the food system. Laura Frerichs (Loon Organics) and other local farmers  spoke about their experiences as small-scale sustainable food farmers. Tom Guettler (Minnesota Project board member)  and the Minnesota Food and Justice Alliance hosted a workshop about racism and oppression in the food system. Other topics included farm workers rights, international agriculture policy, and how to run an effective student campaign.

Annalisa Hultberg, Heartland Food Network Coordinator at The Minnesota Project, led a session for students entitled “Getting Local, Sustainable Food on Your Campus.” The workshop explored farm-to-college initiatives across the country and tips for students interested in working with campus dining services to bring local food into the cafeteria.  Minnesota has a number of colleges and universities that are exploring fresh, local foods, and Annalisa highlighted some of the lessons learned from these cases.

Student attendees at the workshop shared their own experiences and knowledge with their peers –  students from UW Madison Wisconsin, for example, have worked for years with their dining services to green their dining halls. Their efforts have paid off, as they have succeeded in getting one meal a week at the cafeteria to be locally sourced, no small feat for such a large institution. Students from Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa, Washington state, and Minnesota all shared stories of their approaches to greening their campus dining halls, from how they approached dining services directors to how they built excitement among the students.

Students from a college in Wisconsin shared that their dining services management company is not interested in bringing local food into the cafeteria, so they organized a day a week where they sell soup made from veggies from the student garden for sale right outside of the cafeteria for $1.50 a bowl.  Students bring their own bowl, and all proceeds go to make more soup. They got around their management company’s rule against bringing this food into the school by calling their sales a weekly “fundraiser”.

Photo- Real Food Challenge

Other students shared tips about how to cut food waste (“trayless” days so students take less food), or conducting a food “audit” of food waste, so to determine how much food your school is wasting.  Numbers help convince skeptical administrators. By cutting down on waste, schools have found there is more money to spend on good, local food!

Students also shared their challenges (apathetic student body accustomed to bad food), foodservice directors that think local food is too expensive on tight food budgets, our short growing season that does not coincide with the school year, and so on. But, for each of these challenges, attendees brainstormed potential solutions and responses. For example – some local products are cheaper in season that nationally sourced goods (like apples), and meat, cheese, honey, dried beans, and other foods can be found locally year round.  If the management company at your school does not allow for local purchases, find out when their contract is up for renewal and organize an effort to find a new company at that time, or to increase the amount of food that they allow you to buy “off contract.”

The consensus was that the days of bad, stomach cramping cafeteria food were numbered, and that savvy college students were looking for better, healthier, more environmentally friendly options. Local and sustainable cafeteria food is a great way for a college to differentiate itself.

If you are a college student or foodservice director looking to bring local food into your establishment, please contact Annalisa, Heartland Food Network Coordinator at 651-789-3328, or annalisahultberg@mnproject.org.

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