By: Christine LaFrancesca, Staff Writer
As aromas of granola, baked apples, squash soup and fresh vegan bread permeated the air, students filled Patuxent Bistro in the University Union last Wednesday to discuss the importance of sustainable food with the Real Food Challenge campaign. Arranged by the senior environmental studies major Judith Rosenberg and junior biology major Hayley Molnar, students were given the opportunity to ask a panel of environmentally- sound professionals and local business owners about how to improve TU’s food quality and health consciousness.
“We are trying to be as transparent as we can in order to provide information about the quality of Towson’s food to students,” Rosenberg said. “Our current project is to work with Chartwells and figure out our real food percentage. The goal is to have 20 percent real food by 2020. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but most colleges and universities land around less than ten percent, usually around five percent. We want students to know what’s in their food and what they are putting in their bodies.”
While the multinational contract food service company Chartwells may currently monopolize our dining halls, owner and founder of Atwater’s, Ned Atwater, suggested bringing in community vendors to stimulate the local economy and encourage competition.
“It may be a long shot considering Towson’s contract with Chartwells is so exclusive,” Atwater said. “Maybe one day we can get some local Baltimore vendors in here. It would create some healthy opposition.”
The panelists consisted of coordinator for the Farm Alliance in Baltimore City Allison Boyd, owner of Atwater’s Ned Atwater, Towson English professor and advisor to Towson’s Urban
Farm Ben Warner, CEO and Co-Founder of Hungry Harvest Evan Lutz and student and member of Johns Hopkins Real Food Challenge Campaign Clarissa Chen. “Trying to bring real food to campuses won’t be easy,” Chen said. “Changing the food means not only bringing in healthier options, but also changing the written policies. You can’t hold your university accountable unless your system is changed on paper.”
Farm Alliance, a network which plans to increase urban farming in Baltimore City, pushes to educate Baltimoreans on the importance of locally sourced produce and its positive effect on the climate, economy and rising obesity concerns.
“You can definitely impact the kind and quality of food you receive by having discussions like these about your concerns,” Boyd said. “You have the ability to make shifts in supply by making shifts in demand.”
Hungry Harvest, featured on ABC’s Shark Tank, takes recovered produce and sells it using a tiered subscription system.
For each box of fresh produce sold, another is donated to a local shelter in need.
“The mission is to fight food waste and implement practices that are environmentally just,” Lutz said. “We believe that healthy eating is a right.”
Located behind the Administration building, the Urban Farm is an approximately 100 square foot sustainable vegetable garden, tended to by students and Warner, their advisor.
The garden provides students with hands–on gardening practice and encourages community outreach through primary and secondary school involvement programs.
“Many people aren’t aware that we have our own urban farm here on campus,” Warner said. “Our goal is to get students interested in sustainability and composting. We need students to be aware of the resources around them in order to bring more real food to campus.”
The Real Food Challenge is dedicated to providing Towson with more ethically responsible food, but peaking the interest of students is vital for the successful implementation of policy change.
“We just want students to be mindful and aware of what they put in their bodies and where it came from,” Molnar said. “The influence an entire university can have on its local economy is vast. We want Towson to realize the power of their voice.”
For more information on how to get involved with the Real Food Challenge, email president Judith Rosenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org