CNE-hosted Local Food Meeting

I recently received an email regarding a Summer Networking Series that the Charlottesville-based Center for Nonprofit Excellence was putting together. Their first topic, as determined "through conversations, articles, and the local drum beat," was on local food and community gardens. Upon witnessing the crowd that turned out at yesterday's meeting (held at the downtown Jefferson Madison Regional Library), all I can say is that the folks at CNE sure have their finger on the pulse of our local community -- wow! There were about 60 people in attendance, representing a myriad of community projects and interests: JABA, Local Food Hub, IRC, The Haven, UVa, QCC Farms!, Charlottesville Cooking School, several elementary school gardens, and even a woman who simply introduced herself as "an interested community member."

After a brief round of introductions, the audience was divided into smaller working groups -- community gardens, small-scale local food operations, and institutional food. As the group began to subdivide, it quickly became obvious where the need for change lay: over half of the attendees identified themselves as part of the institutional food group. We spent about 45 minutes discussing the challenges to integrating local food into an institutional setting, and then attempted to match up or identify experts that could provide solutions to those problems. Expertise is certainly abundant in this vibrant community, but the challenges were numerous, and almost seemed to multiply as we sat there conversing. The overarching theme, however, emerged as one of stronger communication and a need for accessible resources, perhaps via an aggregate website or even simply a facebook group.

The hour and a half allotted for this meeting was obviously not enough to even begin to tackle the numerous issues, but CNE staff are compiling the notes and brainstorming ideas that came out of our discussions, and I look forward to seeing them organized in some coherent and cohesive way. Certainly, having so many of us trying to come together collaboratively for such a brief time almost felt a bit like network speed-dating, but I hope it's the first of many such conversations. Thanks again to CNE for bringing everyone together to discuss an issue for which many have such passion!


Reusable To-Go Program Wrap-Up

With exams signifying the end of the academic year and the end of the time frame to cash in on one's meal plan benefits, reusable to-go program participants had the chance to return their key cards in exchange for being refunded their $7 security deposit. 321 UVa community members (mostly students with a handful of faculty) participated in the reusable to-go container program's inaugural year and about a third of them returned their key cards in order to get back the $7. Hereford Residential College provided the option of free participation, as their administration agreed to underwrite the cost of unreturned containers. The final verdict is still out on this experiment, but few students took advantage of the free sign-up and even fewer returned the materials last week. This brings up an interesting facet of human psychology: "free" may catch one's attention, but the presence of a fee may prompt users to have even a slightly more vested interest in the program. My personal opinion is that a refundable deposit provides the best of both worlds.

Since students had to return their key cards to the Dining Admin Office to receive their refunds, I had the chance to briefly interact with many of them, and the general consensus on the containers were: "They were great. It was an easy way for me to make a difference and reduce my environmental impact."

Some other specific email comments I received include:

"I would just like to say thank you for the re-usable program! I have found it incredibly easy and convenient to use! I hope it can continue in the coming years."

"I think the program has come a long way since the beginning of the school year and I definitely see more people using it. "

"The containers worked great."

"I loved the program, and I will definitely be doing it again next year!"

If you didn't try out reusable to-go containers this year, you'll be able to sign up next year. The program will be very similar, but keep your eyes open for some extra incentives to sweeten the deal a bit more...