Making a Locavore Community, One College Student at a Time

17 Sep

Editor’s Note: I asked Madeline Smith to write from her personal experience about the great way she decided take action on behalf of local organic food and farming, which fit too perfectly into this week’s blogging theme.  Maddy’s work has a primary impact on the ground in Geneseo, but secondary potential to inspire each reader to consider ways and means they each have to boost the farm-to-table connections in their communities.  Thanks, Maddy, for sharing your project’s top objectives and inspiring us to think about how we can make an impact beyond our kitchens and backyards!

As a second-year NOFA-NY intern I, Maddy Smith, learned most things I know about local organic lifestyles and food just from being at this place, working with the Locavore Challenge and field days.  My lunchtime peanut butter and banana sandwich, eaten alongside avid gardeners and CSA members at lunch, would be a prime example of where I started with locavorism (editor’s note: nobody on NOFA-NY staff is judgmental toward others’ lunches, though we try to encourage each other to embrace local and organic eating.  Maddy’s sandwich choice may have remained constant over the years, but I have it on good authority she’s sourcing local bread and locally-produced nut butters).  In June 2012, I was under the assumption that organic was good and local was Wegmans.  To no one’s surprise – not even my own – I was wrong.  Those boxes of organic cereal, pita chips, and organic mixed greens that I piously bought weren’t homegrown (well, not near my home), though their manufacturers successfully marketed them to appear as such. Sure, they were somewhat tasty, but not in the multi-faceted way that homemade bread, granola, and dirt-covered beets are; the supermarket organic packaged foods were an attempt to bring the feel-good feeling of local, from 3,000 miles away.

And that’s the mindset that I’m trying to debunk and expose, right here in upstate New York at the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Geneseo, my future alma mater, and current home. The college rewarded me with a hefty grant, or ambassadorship, to bring a local foods program to the community. With the help of a newly formed Local Food Council comprised of students, faculty, and community members, I’ll have much help, and can ensure that the program lasts after I (hopefully) graduate in May.

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An overhead shot of SUNY Geneseo in the heart of the Genesee Valley

The project is called Think Local Geneseo, and it involves three parts:

  1. Increasing student and community participation in direct-market agriculture like the Geneseo Farmers Market and facilitating a partnership between Geneseo’s Campus Auxiliary Services and a Rochester food subscription/delivery group called the Good Food Collective to provide shares for students, faculty and community members
  2. Encouraging a large percentage of local foods in the college’s dining services, which will be further promoted through the Local Food Council’s participation in Food Day, part of the national Real Food Challenge
  3. Organizing events in Geneseo, including college-community cooking classes, a Locavore dinner, and local food speakers. Oh yes – and tabling for the Locavore Challenge, of course547097_715530565130453_1210342970_n

I know – it sounds like a lot! Put another way, we are interested in getting people to eat local organic food, to understand and appreciate where their food originated, and building relationships between the community and its surrounding farmland. At Geneseo, we have everything we need for a local foods program to thrive: curious students, like myself; the lush agriculture of New York State, especially in the Rochester region; knowledgeable and supportive faculty; and a vibrant community already playing host to a weekly farmers market. What we don’t have is someone, something, tying all of these components together.

That’s where I come in. Consider me the “ambassador” of local foods in Geneseo, NY. You see, Through my small and hopefully high-impact creation, I aim to increase local consumption in the town of Geneseo and show people the benefit of supporting local and/or organic farmers, while also transcending the boundary that exists between the college and the community. It’s through places like the farmers market, produce share drop-off days, and local food cooking classes and dinners that this can happen. College students can embrace the town that plays host to them for eight months, and the community can appreciate the students as they loosen their grip on the stereotype of college students that pinpoints them as junk-food eaters, night crawlers and mailbox destroyers.

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A summer shot of a Thursday at the Geneseo Farmers market

It’s a project that involves a lot of planning, coordination, and self-motivation, as this is a completely self-directed pursuit. It takes confidence to implement a completely new program for a whole town, without having a single clue as to how it will pan out; while hoping for the best, I do have some self-doubt sometimes. When that happens, I reach out to others for support, like key students and professors who will provide apt feedback, along with community members who can lend many hands. Fortunately, as this is a food-based project, I can also turn to Geneseo’s dining services for help.  Dining services’ Executive Director is the force behind the grant, not to mention the brains behind the cooking classes and dinners. With support from New York State organic producers like Once Again Nut Butter, and donations from small businesses in Geneseo, I have high hopes for the fall and the 2013 Locavore Challenge, and what it promises for Geneseo and small farmers alike.

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I’m slowly realizing that I have a bundle of local food and farming information and resources that will be valuable to others who are eager to learn, and to those who already know: NOFA-NY folks, farmers, and leaders of the sustainable food movement included, who will all reap the benefits of each fresh Locavore to add to the growing list. Follow along with Think Local Geneseo, and share the Locavore Love!

For more examples of college-level farm-to-school initiatives, check out: Winter Sun Farms connects to area colleges, Skidmore College local foods initiative, Cornell Dining defines local and regional food items, Emory University’s sustainable food initiative, Local Food to Local Institutions pamphlet (free download)

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