Food Sustainability on College Campuses

Sustainable food on college campuses

Flickr User: Sterling College

If you’re planning on attending college or are currently enrolled, you will probably also eat at a dining hall. A dining hall is run by the college or university and is intended to provide nutritious, convenient food for its students. While some may deem dining halls “awesome” by the number of flavors of soft-serve ice cream or how big your burrito can be, we’re giving a thumbs up to college dining halls focused on sustainability. It doesn’t stop there, though. Colleges are not only campaigning meatless Mondays or creating gardens, but challenging the way we view, grow, and consume food in general. From sourcing food locally to developing new forms of protein other than meat, these colleges are truly paving the way for sustainable food.

Sterling College is one of them

Sterling College is one of the most prominent figures in changing how college dining halls operate. They are a small, private, environmentally focused college located in Vermont. Their students run their own farm, producing 20% of the food supplied to the dining hall.

Around a quarter of the students at Sterling work on “the farm”. They learn about the sustainability of growing crops and raising livestock. They rank #1 in the nation for having a “Healthy, Fair, and Green College Food System” according to the Real Food Challenge. What is “real food?” The organization breaks it down into four categories: local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane. Sterling leads other colleges by a long shot, with 74% of the food on their campus being “real food.”

Sustainable food from local sources

Sterling sources 54% of their food locally. The standards for this measurement are receiving their food from large farms within a 150-mile radius or small farms within a 250-mile radius. Sterling College is a trailblazer in the path of addressing issues facing our world such as food security, climate change, and many other environmental challenges.

There are many observers who claim Sterling College’s sustainability practices cannot be translated into large, public university campuses. However,  the University of Massachusetts Amherst dispels that myth by being a leader in sustainability on large campuses. In 2010, inspired students built a permaculture garden along one of the dining halls.

Since then, they have converted many under-utilized grass areas into gardens to educate the students, staff, and faculty on the importance of food sustainability. This project was named the UMass Permaculture Initiative and won the White House’s Campus Champions of Change Challenge in 2012. UMass Amherst has also taken the Real Food Challenge. They pledged to have 20% of the food on campus “real food” by 2020. UMass Amherst has set out to prove that sustainability efforts don’t have to be confined to small campuses, it just takes the right group of passionate, hard-working individuals.

Read about other colleges leading change in their dining halls.

Why we should choose sustainable foods

Let’s get to the real meat of the issue (ha!) Climate change is one of the top concerns of our world. Especially on college campuses where forward-minded thinkers are given the opportunity to innovate, grow, and challenge the status quo. The real question is, “why do these colleges care about sustainability?” They care because there is an ever-shrinking pool of resources. That includes land, water, human capital, and many more to feed more people than ever on Earth. Their commitment to sustainability is so they can find innovative ways to feed the world in a safe, environmentally conscious way. If this type of passion excites you, be sure to check out colleges where they make sustainability a primary cause. Or, choose one that doesn’t and makes a difference on campus! The possibilities are endless and the solutions are needed.