If you weren't able to attend the lecture (or couldn't get in), you can download the podcast by visiting the UVa Podcast site and clicking on "Take Me to UVa iTunesU" on the right-hand side of the page. Wendell Berry's lecture is podcast number 63.
I associate Wendell Berry - especially his poetry - with sitting around the kitchen table at Waterpenny Farm, eating a dinner of food grown by our own hands after a long day of working in the field with that same produce, and listening to a fellow intern and English Master's student read aloud to us all Berry's Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. I think Mr. Berry would approve.
The second article comes from UVa Today, with a focus on tips from University-wide sustainability staff regarding how to sustainably celebrate the holidays. Read here: "Dreaming of a Green Christmas? Holidays Can Be Sustainable."
As a bonus, the University of Virginia Magazine recently produced a segment on the most recent sustainable Dining goings on. Watch here: "Green Dining at U.Va."
While figuring out how to strike that balance during the conference, I was fortunate enough to meet the many creative thinkers that make up the Higher Ed sustainability team: I have sent nearly countless emails to some of them in the past month, and appreciate just how important collaboration is in our line of work.
Enjoy a few photos of our time together:
At one of our brainstorming sessions
Touring the Monticello visitor's center with Monticello Garden Director Peter Hatch
Dinner at the lovely Colonnade Club
Panorama PayDirt owner Steve Murray explains his composting operation
The team learns about the composting process
Wolf Creek Farms owner John Whiteside chats with me about his cattle operation
Part of the Wolf Creek herd
Perfect Flavor sorbet at our last conference lunch
On a flattering note, the Planning Department identified a few of us in attendance as VIFs: Very Important Foodies. I'm reminded of all the work still cut out for me, but am driven to continue such work by the palpable sense of community present that night in response to our fundamental need for food -- not only in a survival sense, but also in a social sense. Sure food production is work, but it's also an opportunity to celebrate and build relationships every time we eat. I'll certainly keep that in mind as I gather with my family for Thanksgiving on Thursday.
For more information about eating locally, look to the 100 Mile Diet website (the inspiration for the Planning Department's first Local Thanksgiving feast four years ago). Happy local eating!
One of the 35 topics is Trayless Dining: check out page 38 of the report for NWF's profile of (and my account of) UVa's food waste audit and ultimate move to trayless dining. There's even a vintage 2006 photograph of me and Suzanne Pinckney (CLAS '06) scraping plates!
I encourage you to give the report even just a quick look-over: there are lots of wonderfully concrete examples of student activism from a wide variety of schools; UVa could still stand to implement quite a few of those right here on our Grounds.
After the film, Dining hosted a reception in the theater lobby and several groups graciously agreed to table the event - thanks to the UVA Community Garden, Slow Food UVA, the Student Council Sustainability Committee, the Nourish(meant) Project, and The Local Food Hub for joining Green Dining in sharing information about the alternatives to our currently petroleum dependent, corn-based, socially unjust, and consumer-disconnected food system.
At the reception, I asked students to write down their suggestions for ways that Dining can change in order to move away from that system, and I got some good ideas. Their suggestions are listed below, with my comments in green:
- Continue advertising the reusable to-go container program and/or make it mandatory - I think going mandatory is a great idea, and will almost certainly happen at some point, especially if there is strong student support.
- Promote vegetarian and vegan options in the dining halls - Food, Inc spends a lot of film time focusing on the problems with today's meat industry, and rightly so. There have been many conversations about a "Meatless Monday" - or something similar - in the dining halls, and I participated in a great webinar yesterday afternoon prior to the film screening that focused a great deal on Johns Hopkins' success with educating students about the environmental impact of consuming meat, as well as making their veggie/vegan options tastier and more appealing.
- Organize a panel discussion re: Green Dining and inform students about the current obstacles to sourcing locally - Great idea.
- Expand composting to all dining halls - All of the current UVA Dining waste at Panorama has been tested and confirmed that it is safe. The first batch of Panorama PayDirt that includes our organic waste was just sold (!) and we're moving forward with the DEQ to start composting at Runk next.
- Work with The Local Food Hub - Local Food Hub director Kate Collier and purchasing & operations manager Alan Moore will be sitting down with Bryan Kelly and myself right before or after Thanksgiving to discuss current roadblocks in our attempts to partner with each other, and how to solve those issues so that Local Food Hub food can make more regular appearances on Grounds.
- Increase amount of local food served in dining halls - Ongoing... Check out the Dining section of the UVa Sustainability webpage for greater details about our current local purchasing relationships and the other four components of our sustainable purchasing guidelines (seasonal, organic, humanely raised, and fairly traded): UVa Sustainability: Dining.
- Take a Polyface farm tour - Dining probably won't organize an official trip to Polyface, since we don't purchase from Joel Salatin, but it is likely that we will organize a trip up to Wolf Creek Farm (in gorgeous Madison County), our current source of local and sustainably raised beef.
- Donate unused portions of food to local organizations that can serve it - The Campus Kitchens Project is ironing out the final details so they can begin taking those unused portions and delivering them to the Charlottesville Salvation Army and other similar organizations.
- Reduce plastic wrap use - I assume this was in reference to the Catering items that were wrapped in plastic for the post-film reception. Some plastic is necessary to avoid attracting flies, etc, as well as to convey to random passersby that the food is not available to them, but I agree that wrapping a tray three times over is on the excessive side (not to mention difficult to unwrap).
- Campaign to reduce food waste - The two food waste audits conducted in the dining halls have both done a great job of putting this issue on students' radars, but I'm sure that re-evaluation is needed on the kitchen preparation side as well.
- Hold cooking classes featuring organic and seasonal ingredients - Great idea!
- Discourage Catering employees from discarding reusable items (plates, cups, etc) after events - I will take a look at the current policies.
- Educate Aramark employees about food waste and the environmental arguments for purchasing organic and local items - Proper food portioning is always good to keep in mind. Jim Bleakley (HR Manager at UVa Dining) and I are working together to start an incentive program to make conservation efforts as routine a part of the work shift as safety currently is.
Further suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The main focus of the farm is the egg operation, known as Piney River Organics. The farm maintains about 50,000 birds, and such a large scale clearly necessitates quite a bit of mechanized labor. The chickens lay their eggs on what is actually a small conveyor belt; this whisks away the eggs off to the washing and sorting room, where the eggs are cleaned and automatically separated according to size. It's actually a rather impressive and well-run operation, but it does bring up questions about the inevitable impact of such a large volume of one species in a fairly contained space, as well as the footprint of a process so reliant on machinery (and oil). Certainly, though, this organically certified system is far more desirable than the conventional alternative -- and while our economies of scale are currently preventing us from moving towards an even lower impact operation, we'll just have to take it one step at a time.
From the website: "In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA.... Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms' Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking—truths about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here."
Stay for a reception following the film, featuring local foods as well as displays from student groups already working towards alternatives to our current system, including the UVA Community Garden, Slow Food UVA, the Student Council Sustainability Committee, and Green Dining.
Watch the trailer.
See you next Tuesday!
Contact: Kendall Singleton
UVA TO CELEBRATE NATION-WIDE CAMPUS SUSTAINABILITY DAY, OCTOBER 21
As part of a widespread effort to spread sustainability awareness throughout college and university campuses across the country, the University of Virginia will be participating in the 7th annual Campus Sustainability Day on Wednesday, October 21. The focal point of this day is a nationally streamed webcast, “Sustainability Strategies for Vibrant Campus Communities”, hosted by New York Times science reporter Andy Revkin. The webcast will be sponsored on Grounds by U.Va. Community Relations and the Office of the University Architect, and will take place from 1-2:30 in the Newcomb South Meeting room. “Those interested in promoting sustainability are welcome and encouraged to attend,” says U.Va. Sustainability Planner Andrew Greene. A brief informal reception and follow-up discussion will take place in the South Meeting room immediately following the webcast. Please join other sustainably-minded students, faculty and staff in Newcomb to learn what other schools are doing to foster sustainability on their campuses.
Because the University of Virginia already has a significant number of actively engaged community members making substantial strides towards promoting sustainable practices on Grounds, additional U.Va.-specific events are planned for the 21st. In an effort to encourage waste reduction behavior, U.Va. Dining will begin offering a new punch card to reward students for providing their own travel mug when purchasing coffee. A frequent travel mug user will be eligible for two free coffees at any Dining retail location after bringing in his or her reusable mug eight times.
U.Va. Dining will also host a Green Plate Special Theme Meal at Observatory Hill Dining Hall during dinner on October 21. Select items on the menu will celebrate the abundance of Virginia farmers’ agricultural pursuits, as well as the other tenets of the Green Dining Committee’s identified sustainable dining practices: seasonally grown, organically grown and raised, humanely raised, and fairly traded. In tandem with the sustainably-focused meal, students at the dining hall will have the option to sign up to participate in Dining’s recently created reusable to-go container program.
Sustainability at the University of Virginia is an initiative spanning disciplines and schools with the common goal of uniting the U.Va. community in a genuine and lasting effort to mitigate its environmental impact. Such an effort is, and will continue to be, the product of education and innovative collaboration by the many creative thinkers on Grounds.
Secondly, the Green Dining page on the UVa Dining website still needs its own overhaul, but step one of that process has been to embed a Green Dining events calendar onto the page. Click here to see the calendar (or just check out the side bar on this blog, as I also have calendar events streaming on here). Laura has also created a Green Dining flickr page that will hopefully soon be linked to the webpage; in the meantime, click here to see some Green Dining and related pictures.
Last week I went out to The Local Food Hub for a tour of their warehouse facility and an exciting chat with Director Kate Collier and Purchasing and Operations Manager Alan Moore about how UVa Dining may establish a relationship with the Food Hub. The majority of Dining's food currently comes from a large distributor, and our current method of incorporating local food into the dining halls is to encourage them to sell to us through one of our distributors (more expensive, but a verified process nonetheless). The Local Food Hub presents a unique opportunity in that they essentially are their own distributor, and need to be approved to sell to UVa Dining without an additional middleman. The Hub is, of course, also unique in that they are really helping local farmers tap into markets beyond the standard CSA/farmers market set up, and as this will hopefully ensure long-term economic viability (and farmland preservation) for these pioneering agriculturalists, I support the Food Hub's work and our involvement with them, no matter how complex the arrangement becomes. I'm currently in conversations regarding this process with sustainability directors up at corporate headquarters, so stay tuned for developments on this front...
Also last week, Dining Executive Chef Bryan Kelly and I met up with the co-owners of One Planet Coffee for a small coffee tasting and another discussion about the process of becoming an approved Aramark vendor. I'm not a coffee drinker and even I liked it! They have a great focus on purchasing organic, fairly traded and otherwise sustainably grown and harvested coffee beans. There's also the fact that Hedieh Fakhriyazdi, one of the co-owners, is an '09 UVa grad, and is quite familiar with the coffee needs of UVa students. Hedieh and Jacob are doing great things with their fledgling business, and I appreciate them reaching out and sharing their practices with us. As of now, it will be difficult to near-impossible to switch up any of Dining's current coffee arrangements, but I think it's just a matter of time before a small company (with UVa ties, no less) is able to sustainably provide quality coffee to college students.
There is a bit of a resolution to the Cavalier Daily's recent mis-quote fiasco: the Ombudsman wrote a column explaining the need for journalistic transparency and training in proper journalism practices; something I definitely support. Read the article here: "Fine Print".
Mountain Run Farm is an excellent example of a farm that underwent reorganization so that it could continue to be a source of safe and healthy food for its customers. Mountain Run created a cascading tier of LLCs (one for its farm store, one for its livestock/pasture, and one for the family itself); this allows the LLCs to be insulated from one another should something befall one of them. As demand from corporations and large institutions for local food continues to grow, this kind of response to liability requirements will need to be more widely adopted. I hope that my sustainability role will allow me to share success stories with other area farmers (aka potential local food suppliers).
I made it back to Grounds later that afternoon for a small reception Dining hosted for the motivated students that are pioneering the reusable to-go containers. In the spirit of sustainability (and because it should be the default -- not to mention that it just tastes better!) we served a local apple tartlet with Perfect Flavor Creamery cinnamon ice cream; I'd say the food was greatly enjoyed by all, and I got some helpful feedback about the container program. About an hour before the reception, I was struck with a thought: is Dining going to serve this treat on disposable plates? Sure enough, that was the plan, but thanks to a few last minute phone calls, I showed up at 4pm to see that the UVa Catering china was being set out to accompany the food. (Phew.) I must say, I am very glad that I checked on that, because nearly every single one of the students that came commented admiringly on our use of china. It was a fairly small gesture, but using china instead of disposables completely changed the tone of the reception. How telling that, even in our throwaway culture, there is an acknowledgement and an appreciation of the value of items that can be used by many.
While all of these positive changes are happening around me, I must take a moment and acknowledge the complications of our current food system, and the unfortunate fact that there are so many chances for miscommunication or misunderstanding or mistakes between farm and fork. It's kind of a wonder that we are able to see consistent changes sometimes. I met with a student towards the end of last week, who, in the middle of our conversation about UVa Dining, informed me that the apples in one of our dining halls had "Product of New Zealand" stickers on them. This was especially embarassing because Dining had just brokered a deal with an Albemarle County-based apple orchard and has begun sourcing 100% of its apples locally. A further look into the mess up revealed that the order had been placed with Sysco incorrectly (i.e. the check box was placed beside the cheapest available product). Whether this was out of habit, or because the employee was seeking to be most cost effective, or because the orchard deal wasn't widely publicized is all subject to speculation. Regardless, the take away message for me is two-fold: Educating the Aramark and Sysco employees that work with us will be very much an ongoing effort; and I must expect to be more vigilant about program implementation. This second realization has given rise to a new idea: perhaps I can identify a small number of students to act as the watchdog group that will report other similarly egregious examples of illogical unsustainability. It'll take all of us together to make sure that real change is being effected.
I'd be curious to see the results if PEC can find a way to quantify the economic impact that this challenge will have on the Charlottesville and Albemarle area economy. There have been several studies conducted on the positive effect that local purchasing has upon the local economy, including one from a few years back entitled Eat Fresh and Grow Jobs, Michigan that identifies the enormous potential for local job growth and financial gain from giving preference to in-state agriculture.
Fortunately, there's still hope for those that have simplified farming to a Facebook game. Joel Salatin, of Omnivore's Dilemma and Food, Inc fame has already spoken on Grounds once today and is speaking once more this evening at McLeod. I've heard him speak a few times before now, but I made it over to his talk this afternoon and as usual he was fired up and evangelical about how crucial it is for us to move away from our current food system (hear, hear!).
Also coming up this Saturday is a work-morning over at the Local Food Hub's incubator farm in Louisa County. Steve and Adrianna Vargo, the folks that actually supply me with my CSA share from their family farm (Quail Spring Farm, also in Louisa), are the ones leading this series of workshops and showing volunteers how to prepare the farm for fall. Should be a fun day to get outside and help transplant/wrestle with row cover/whatever else we get our hands on.
The Green Dining Committee held its first meeting of the semester last week, which largely consisted of me bringing everyone up to speed with Dining events from the summer/start of the school year (reusable containers, re-vamped Fine Arts Cafe menu, Taste of Dining, etc) and sharing details about the dizzying array of local food events happening on Grounds and beyond.
For starters, Monticello set the stage for a week chock full of events with a local focus (and flavor!) by hosting the third annual Heritage Harvest Festival at neighboring Montalto this past Saturday. The weather was perfect, the crowd was huge, and the festival was educational and tasty -- all of the organizations supporting sustainable agriculture were out in full force, offering samples, exhibits, and seminars. My friend and I migrated towards the Greenhorns table, where we found ourselves rolling up clay and seeds to make seed balls; they're encouraged for use in your personal garden, or for guerrilla gardening!
Throughout the first part of this week, each dining hall on Grounds hosted a Sustainable Station at dinner that featured an item that was procured with the Green Dining sustainable bulls-eye in mind. On Sunday, Runk had a local burger bar that served Wolf Creek Farms local, free-range and grass-fed beef. O-Hill served Fair Trade Bananas Foster on Monday, and Newcomb served organic Philly Cheese Steaks on Tuesday. Throughout each of these meals, myself or another Dining rep set up shop with the reusable to-go container table and encouraged students to sign up to participate in the program. I'm happy to report that about 100 people are on board at this point.
The Cav Daily published a front page story on the reusable containers yesterday -- read here -- on the same day that their lead editorial was a commentary stating that the containers weren't being pushed hard enough (click here for full editorial). I agree that creative publicity is always something to work on at a University whose students are constantly being bombarded with information, but I hope that the Cav Daily's article (and editorial, for that matter) bring more attention to the containers in the meantime!
I met part of the UVa Campus Kitchens Project leadership team out at Runk on Monday afternoon before my to-go container tabling stint, for a brief tour of the kitchen facilities that they will be using. Campus Kitchens is still waiting for the go-ahead from Madison House, but once they get approval it will only be about two weeks before they move into Runk and begin redistributing Dining leftovers to our local Salvation Army and Hope Community Center. I'm looking forward to having that program up and running.
Speaking of programs that are still down the road, I spent most of yesterday morning out at Morven Farm, a nearly 2000 acre property donated to the UVa Foundation by John Kluge about ten years ago. Morven is a stunning piece of land a few miles past Monticello, and I was fortunate enough to receive a tour of the historic 1820 plantation home, the formal gardens, and the Japanese garden during my visit. The UVa Foundation currently rents out some of the land to local farmers, mostly for soybean or other commodity crop production, but there is a tentative consideration of incorporating education and student involvement in some sort of agricultural capacity at Morven. A small group of students are actively working to have an independent study course out at Morven in the spring, which will hopefully get the ball rolling on that student involvement aspect. I look forward to returning to Morven soon, and to seeing what direction this relationship will take.
On a personal level (but still food-related -- actually, my personal and professional interest in local food can essentially be considered one and the same...) I participated in a lively -- not to mention delicious -- cooking class yesterday evening over at JABA, Charlottesville's very proactively local food friendly senior center. The attendees self selected into three groups to work simultaneously on three different items: fresh tomato marinara sauce, caponata (a mediterranean eggplant-based vegetable dish), and fig & ginger preserves. I helped to prepare the preserves, which turned out quite nicely! Best of all, we sat down together and ate the fruits of our labor at the end of class. I wonder if students would be interested if something like this came to Grounds...
All of these events and more give me a good feeling about what Dining can accomplish in terms of sustainability this year. I'm lucky to have my current problem of deciding which initiative to focus on first! We are all certainly fortunate indeed to be a part of a community that has such a vibrant focus on sustainable agriculture.
The tabling is going slowly but surely; I'm excited to see more and more students using their reusable boxes in O-Hill each day. As with any new program, though, there are some kinks to still be worked through, and to that end I'm working more concertedly to ensure that the employees are on board and that there isn't any lingering confusion about what to do with the key cards, or the dirty containers, or the $7 deposit, and so on and so forth. Fingers crossed that things go smoothly in the coming weeks...!
I had a great meeting today with Ayisha Memon, leader of the UVA chapter of the Campus Kitchens Project. CKP is a national organization that re-distributes excess food from institutional dining halls to those in the community that have a need for it; i.e. a most logical of middlemen. UVA Dining is backing the local CKP chapter and providing kitchen space for any additional preparation that may need to occur before the food can be served. UVA Campus Kitchens is waiting for a few final logistics to fall into place before it can officially get underway, but at this point all the legwork is finished and the green light is expected in a matter of weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing Campus Kitchens step in to fill a much-needed re-distribution role here in Charlottesville.
The Cav Daily's original plan was to run the story in Tuesday's paper, but luckily they could shuffle things around because I was unavailable to interview on Monday -- I was actually at the Activities Fair, tabling for Dining, with a special focus on showing off the snazzy, just-arrived reusable to-go containers. A few students that stopped by actually asked if they could sign up to participate in the program right then and there, which I took to be a good sign!
Sign-up for the reusable to-go container program actually begins this Saturday, August 29th: Dining is hosting a special event on the O-Hill lawn from 5-9. Called Taste of Dining, this event will feature samples of the fare available at Dining's various eateries around Grounds, prizes, entertainment, etc -- and the grand roll-out of our reusable to-go containers. Stop by to see with your own eyes...
As quoted in the USDA press release, Vilsack states that "Community gardens provide numerous benefits including opportunities for local food production, resource conservation, and neighborhood beautification... But they also promote family and community interaction and enhance opportunities to eat healthy, nutritious foods. Each of these benefits is something we can and should strive for." Charlottesville is lucky indeed to already be home to a plethora of community gardens:
- Charlottesville City Parks and Recreation. This department has set aside plots in Azalea Park and Meadowcreek Gardens (see picture) to be used by Charlottesville community members.
- Garden of Goodness. The Quality Community Council (QCC) founded several urban gardens with the goal of educating and engaging low-income Charlottesville residents.
- Hope Community Center. This local community center started a garden this summer for its financially distressed clientele, including some of the homeless men that patronize Hope's day shelter.
- St. Paul's Community Garden. St. Paul's Memorial Church, on the Corner near UVA, also began a garden this summer with the intent of fostering a cooperative relationship between the church members and the low-income neighborhood in which the garden is located.
- UVA Community Garden. UVA students hopped on the community garden bandwagon last year and secured funding and a site to plant a garden in order to educate the UVA community about the importance of local food.
- Hereford Urban Mini-Farm. Hereford Residential College has also started its own community garden on Grounds. Hereford residents have been involved in the planning, harvesting, and maintenance of this garden.
As mentioned, my first major project is to roll out reusable to-go containers in all dining locations around Grounds. The containers are made of hardy, dishwasher-safe plastic, and will hopefully catch on reasonably fast. Dining replaced all of its styrofoam containers with biodegradable products about a year and a half ago, and while biodegradable material is a big step up from styrofoam, our composting operation unfortunately cannot accept those to-go containers. This means that the biodegradable containers still end up in the landfill, where decomposition is virtually nonexistent.
While a reusable container means additional water needed for washing, it also means less spent on purchasing disposable items and less material added to the waste stream. I think moving away from a disposable mentality will generally appeal to students -- of course, the trick is getting them to remember to bring back their dirty container after it has been used.
I was a third year undergrad at UVA in the fall of 2005 when I signed up to take an introductory Urban Planning class as required by my interdisciplinary Environmental Thought & Practice major. Up until then I had taken my fair share of environmental science courses, but this was the first time I was really discussing and thinking about the intersection of humans and their environment in such a tangible, through-systemic-change-and-design-we-can-improve-our-world, up close and personal way. When I say that it really hit home, I mean it really hit home. I found myself with some funding to attend a Sustainable Campuses symposium at the University of Maryland, and came back convinced that not only were universities responsible for leading the way on this new sustainability concept, but that the way to make the biggest impact (or to make the least impact on the environment, if you want to look at it that way) was by greening a school's dining operation.
I had made a few contacts at UVA Dining prior to this eye-opening conference, and followed up with them in the hopes that they'd be willing and able to turn things around. There was willingness, yes, but also a conviction that the changes initially be student-driven. With this in mind, I began organizing a series of food waste audits in O-Hill and Newcomb, the two major dining halls on Grounds. These audits would be a good way to educate students about the role they all played in Dining's contribution to the landfill. Rather than putting a finished plate or tray on a conveyor belt so it could be whisked away, out of sight and out of mind, to the nebulous washroom, students rounded the corner and were confronted with a small band of students (my gracious volunteers) at a table in front of the conveyor belt. The volunteers personally took each tray and plate and scraped the leftover food into a trash bag that was weighed frequently. This project generated discussion and, as hoped, a bit more awareness that we all continue to impact the food cycle far beyond merely swiping into a dining hall, eating, and leaving.
With this initial positive reception, and anecdotal evidence from the diswashers that removing trays greatly reduced the amount of waste coming into the washroom, my group of students and dining administrative staff (that I had taken to calling Green Dining) agreed to hold a trayless dining hall day. The day was not a success, as lack of trays was seen as a huge inconvenience, and I learned what it felt like to see my name in the student paper's (negative take on Trayless Tuesday) lead editorial of the day.
Happily, this was only a minor setback in the grand scheme of things. Since then, trays have been officially taken out of dining halls -- of note is the fact that this initiative was strongly supported by students the second time around -- and a pilot composting program begun out of one of UVA's dining halls. I received funding to host a web conference, "Sustainable Dining for Higher Education", in the fall of 2007 and found a new focus for Green Dining. During that webinar we were introduced to the bull's eye concept, or the idea that each school should prioritize its own individual sustainable dining efforts. After a series of meetings in which the group gathered to discuss our own school's needs, UVA Dining has now implemented its own bull's eye to determine purchasing guidelines.
By the time of that web conference, I had already graduated, and had spent the interim months shopping at the Charlottesville City Market, participating in it myself, and getting to know the farmers that grew such fresh and delicious produce. I was really moving away from participating in a conventional food system, as part of a desire to both reduce my environmental impact and to be involved in the community of local agriculture. It began to make more and more sense for me to learn first-hand about these sustainable agriculture practices that I was lauding so loudly.
In April of 2008 I began an eight month term as an intern at Waterpenny Farm in (very) rural central Virginia. Despite the physical and emotional challenges to be had in spades, I gained an incredible wealth of knowledge. From seeding to transplanting, from mulching to hoeing, from harvesting to selling at market, and eventually from winding down the season to cleaning up all the work we had put into the fields, I learned about all aspects of organic farming. Happily, despite the tough nature of the work, my internship ultimately only reinforced my desire to be involved in the sustainable agriculture field; particularly in a way that would allow me to connect the supply of local produce with the growing demand of a community or an institution (perhaps, say, a large university dining operation?)
I expect to use my past experiences -- as a student, as a farmer -- to great advantage in this new coordinator position. I hope to integrate these seemingly disparate lifestyles into part of a cohesive and sustainable food system; after all, no matter who we are or where we're from, we all need to eat. And if we can eat in a way that improves our personal health, the health of the environment, and even the health of the relationships that we keep, then sustainability has been realized.
Check back to stay up to date on the many sustainable developments to come!