February 15, 2010

Ivy League Food Summit Feeds Students’ Zeal for Sustainability

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Representatives from all the Ivy League schools gathered at Yale University on Feb. 12 for the first All-Ivy Real Food Summit. Organized by the Yale Sustainable Food Project (YSFP) and the Just Food Challenge, the event provided a venue for schools to communicate, share knowledge and build a common network regarding food, campus dining and related projects like school gardens.

Program coordinators Hannah Burnett (Yale ’08), David Schwartz (Brown ’10), Caity Richards (Yale ’10) and Julia Meisel (Yale ’10) began organizing the event in October.

“This idea of Ivy-wide collaboration is a powerful one. If we can solidify practices of sustainability, other schools can use that as an example and do so, too,” said Burnett, YSFP Coordinator.

According to its website, the YSFP manages an organic farm on campus, collaborates on a sustainable dining program and runs diverse programs that support exploration and academic inquiry related to food and agriculture.

Most representatives arrived late Friday afternoon and gathered for a potluck hosted by Yale students at one of the campus Houses. After the opening session, students were split into three lecture sessions: Campus Education, Sustainable Sourcing, and a Roundtable on Campus Farms and Gardens. The Campus Education section focused on how to stimulate students’ interest in food by tapping into student talents such as photography.

Academically, Cornell boasts the largest variety of departments dedicated to sustainability, agriculture and food.

“I think it’s important that as an agriculture school and a land grant institution, we have relationships with the farmers of New York. We can accomplish that through dining,” said Farm-to-Cornell president Sarah Fuller ’10.

Cornell has many programs aimed at creating a means of University-wide communication about food. The Cornell Dining Local Foods Advisory Council and Cornell Nutritional Societies were both formed recently to help Cornell’s several food-related groups collaborate. Cornell also provides free trade coffee and biodegradable containers at all dining facilities in order to promote sustainability.

All the students attending the Food Summit shared a passion for local and sustainable food. Ian Penkala (University of Pennsylvania ’13) described his recent involvement in building and running trial runs on a hydroponic garden beneath a dining hall.

Penn students are also planning their first student garden, as are Harvard students. At Dartmouth, a student-run organic farm already exists three miles off campus, and local food accounts for 4 percent of the total food purchased by the school. At Princeton, nearly half of the food purchased is produced within 200 miles of the university, including produce, baked goods, cheese, milk, beef, pork, poultry and eggs. Brown recently allocated grant money to investigate how it can provide more sustainable foods on campus.

Topics at an “Open Space” session ranged from “What is Sustainability?” to “What do you know about Roundup Ready crops?” Afterwards, students attended a panel featuring Melinda Shannon-DiPietro of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, Rafi Taherian of Yale Dining and Melissa Goodall of Yale’s Sustainability Office. Each representative described his or her involvement with sustainability in the collegiate setting and instructed students on topics such as buying sustainably during budget cuts, connecting people to their food and enacting change respectfully and successfully.

“It’s been really great. I really didn’t know what to expect. There are many different perspectives and a sharing of knowledge,” said Hannah Salomons, Columbia ’09. According to Columbia’s website, the school received an “A” on its College Sustainability Report Card grade in 2009 for using fair trade and organic products on campus, partnering with the student group Local Organic Agriculture Friends and using biodegradable take-away containers. Princeton was also given an “A” in the report card’s Food and Recycling category, according to the school’s website.

Participants concluded by reflecting on the day’s events and talking about the summit’s future. The students plan to hold another summit in the fall to reflect on their progress.

“It’s just great to put faces on schools. You want to reach out, but don’t know how to go about that. Now I feel more comfortable emailing another school to ask about their projects,” said Louisa Denison (Harvard ’10).

Original Author: Katerina Athanasiou