Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly named Joe Speidel’s job title. Speidel is the director of local government and community relations in the University of Vermont’s Office of University Relations.
Their students demanded.
A pursuit for greener food has commenced.
As natural and organic foods boost sales in supermarkets, universities continue to dedicate their resources to sustainable food systems.
Recent efforts at the University of Vermont represent institutional changes that are taking place across the country.
Nationwide, natural and organic food sales grew 8% in 2010 versus the less than 1% growth in the entire food market, which is worth $630 billion, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.
“We might have cheaper food, but it’s not good for us or the planet,” said Joe Speidel, UVM’s director of local
government and community relations in the Office of University Relations. “Organic food is better for you and the planet.”
At UVM, administrators signed the Real Food Campus Commitment pledging to serve 20% “real food” at all its campus food outlets by 2020. Real food is defined as locally grown, fair trade, of low environmental impact and humanely produced.
“The goal is to have an institution of higher education change the idea of how they look at food,” Speidel said.
Land dedicated to organic research has nearly doubled from 2003 to 2011 and universities providing organic programs have grown from zero to eight, according to the Organic Farming Research Institution.
UVM is part of this growing movement.
“We are a small state, but we have built systems that are potentially models for the country,” Speidel said.
The Food Systems Spire of Excellence, part of a transdisciplinary research initiative at UVM, is a project that will lead the university’s focus to a smaller regional food system, something that hasn’t been done in the last 40 to 50 years, said Jane Kolodinsky, chair of the committee.
“A smaller regional food system is something that seemed to make sense for Vermont and seems to make sense for New England,” Kolodinsky said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has put an unprecedented $117 million into organic research in the last three years, USA TODAY reported.
In the past five years, UVM has received $2.5 million for organic research that is used to study the production of organic foods, consumer demand and sales, Kolodinsky said.
“It is one of the major areas we feel we could excel as far as research,” she said.
Sarah Leidinger, a junior at UVM, said she is really glad her school is focused on sustainable food because it’s what the students want.
“When it comes down to it, I definitely try to buy organic or even go to local farmers markets,” Leidinger said. “It just seems much more natural than to buy the shiny, processed tomatoes they have in the supermarkets.”
Twenty-year-old Hanna Robitaille, a student at the New England Culinary Institute, said her school is part of Slow Food USA, a non-profit that encourages local produce.
“They try to locally source everything, but we still get some Sysco food,” Robitaille said. “It’s part of the whole farm-to-table movement.”
Robitaille said she likes to go organic when she can afford it.
“Usually, I seek out natural, nice delicious food because it tastes better,” she said. “It’s worth the money for flavor and the quality of your dish.”
Other schools putting efforts toward sustainable food systems:
•In November 2010, students at the University of California – Berkeley opened a store dedicated to providing fresh, local, healthy, environmentally sustainable and ethically produced food at affordable prices.
•The University of Nevada – Reno’s Downunder Café won the Bronze Award in the Waste Management category of the 2012 National Association of College and University Food Services Sustainability Awards.
•Six schools received perfect scores in the Organic Land Grant Assessment Report conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation. The report measured each university’s focus on student research farms, organic courses and faculty dedicated to the growth of organic programs.
The schools are: Colorado State University, University of Florida, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, University of Tennessee and Washington State University.
•Currently, students at 363 schools have signed the Real Food Challenge, which maintains a network of student food activists and provides opportunities for networking, learning and leadership development.
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