Community Food Action
Social movements and innovation often begin and have a big impact at the local level, and students in a Sterling College course are exploring what that means in terms of food security. Community Food Action, taught by Faculty in Sustainable Food Systems Allison Van Akkeren, investigates the intersection of food justice and a local food system in part by involving students in successful community initiatives to bring local food and food awareness to all people in the greater Craftsbury community.
From Policy to Implementation
Throughout the semester, students have been involved in hands-on direct food action such as preparing community dinners, analyzing recipes, designing food education programs and working with various local food aid organizations, while also exploring food policy. For example, students developed recipes for and facilitated a taste test of muffins with students at Craftsbury Elementary as part of that school’s participation in Universal School Breakfast. They also learned about the policy behind Universal Free Breakfast in readings and discussion with Rebecca Mitchell, who works as a Child Nutrition Initiatives Specialist at Hunger Free Vermont. In this role, Mitchell provides training and individualized support to schools and communities to strengthen their use of federal child nutrition programs.
Reflections on Volunteering
Students in this course investigate hunger issues in Vermont and the impact of food insecurity as they support, examine and critique the network of organizations already providing food support programs. These organizations include Farm to School, The Center for an Agriculture Economy, Hardwick Area Food Shelf, Salvation Farms, The Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger, and other less formal, local initiatives. Students in the course research, volunteer with and reflect on their experiences and interactions with these groups.
Gleaning with Salvation Farms and hearing from its executive director and founder, Theresa Snow ‘01, had a big impact on the students. Page Garner reflected on her experience and wrote: “This week in class I was exposed to gleaning for a second time. Not only was speaking with Theresa Snow inspiring, especially as a successful Sterling alumna, but the act of getting in the field and quantifying good work felt thoroughly fulfilling. Over a hundred pounds of vegetables and herbs that would have otherwise fed only the bugs and voles is now in the hands of those who can distribute it to those without to ease some of their burden. Even if we had described the charitable food system as a solution to only a symptom of a deeper issue it still speaks to my heart as being of tremendous value.”
Each of the six students in this class also volunteered for shifts at the Hardwick Area Food Pantry. Of that experience, Robb Milks wrote, “It was interesting to see the diversity of food that was offered. There was a range of processed foods, government-looking off-brands and some quality locally-produced foods. The availability of local foods was exciting to see, being that there is a tendency for grass-based animal products to be cost prohibitive to some. A delivery of Salvation Farms-gleaned produce arrived during my volunteer time and I helped unload and package the vegetables. Having previously known of Salvation Farms work, it was great to see first-hand where the food goes and who it goes to. Every individual I interacted with at the food pantry was friendly and grateful. There was clear excitement for the fresh vegetables available to the pantry’s clients. It puts things into perspective to see first-hand those who struggle with food security.”
Pies for People Project
The class gave key support to the Pies for People project, which celebrated its 10th year this fall of community partnerships that produce holiday pies to donate to the the Hardwick Area Food Pantry, Woodbury food shelf, three free community dinners, schools, nursing homes and others. By the time this year’s project is completed, Pies for People will have made more than 1,000 homemade pumpkin and squash pies over ten years.
The annual project is organized by the Center for an Agricultural Economy, the Hardwick Area Food Pantry and Sterling College, who work together to collect donations and line up volunteers to bake 150 pies from scratch. The 300 pounds of squash needed for the pies was gleaned from High Mowing Organic Seeds. Center for an Agricultural Economy staff washed, roasted, peeled and processed the squash and made it into buckets of thick orange puree. The Community Food Action students made the pie filling from local ingredients, helped roll out the pie crusts and baked half of the pies. Some pies are delivered fresh as part of holiday baskets for food pantry clients, while some are hand-delivered to other venues or frozen for community dinners later in the month.
The class organized two free community dinners in Craftsbury. The first was a harvest dinner that included bread and pumpkin cake that the class made with the elementary students. They also served corn chowder made with local veggies donated by Pete’s Greens. The class had processed the corn for the chowder earlier in the semester when the Jones Farm donated nearly 50 pounds of it. The second event was a “salvaged food” dinner, with food donations from the Craftsbury General Store, basil gleaned from Pete’s Greens with Salvation Farms, “seconds” vegetables from Pete’s Greens and Sterling College dining hall leftovers. This free dinner provided a tasty meal to the community that otherwise would have ended up in the compost heap.
The semester-long course finishes in December with students designing and leading workshops to be held on campus and open to the public as part of a community series offered by the Center for an Agricultural Economy called “Grow Your Own.” A fermentation workshop is planned for December 1 and a natural spa products workshop is scheduled for December 5.
Reflections on the Impact of Involvement
It has been gratifying to have the students involved closely with projects in the community and understand, through their weekly essays, the powerful learning experience these interactions have been for them,” said Allison Van Akkeren. “In addition, we are doing important volunteer work in the community. I appreciate the enthusiasm and thoughtful reflection that the students have shared.”
Student Robb Milks agrees. “One of my biggest appreciations for the CFA course is that we get out and see what is going on in the world instead of simply sitting in circles and discussing food issues at hand. The variety of media (we read) and first-hand experiences bring further clarity and understanding to the reality of food access issues locally and nationwide,” reflected Milks.