Sustainable Agriculture & Food Remain an Important Topic for Students, Staff & Faculty

Over the last several years there has been growing global and local momentum around the topic of local foods and sustainable agriculture. Students and educators are interested in the health and environmental benefits that result from investing in local and sustainable foods and farms, institutions are looking to purchase more sustainable food for their food service operations, and funding and trainings are being made available for preserving land for farming and training beginning farmers in the principles of sustainable agriculture.  All of this adds up to a growing network of people and organizations that care about this topic and are working together to define and create sustainable food systems.

The Skidmore College community has been able to access and contribute to this conversation in a few different ways.  These include attendance at local and regional conferences, leading presentations or workshops held at these conferences, staff representation on the Capital District Sustainability Planning Food Systems Subcommittee, and the continuation of student internships via the Environmental Studies Program, Dining Services & Sustainable Skidmore.

Skidmore students, staff, and alumni gather for a group photo at the 2013 NOFA-NY Winter Conference in Saratoga Springs.
Back row L-R: Elizabeth Cohen ‘14, Meredith Mayer ‘13, Emily Culbert ‘14, Levi Rogers, Erik Jacobs ’00, Alex Chaucer, Kim Rich ’08.
Front Row L-R: Riley Neugebauer, Talia Arnow ‘13, Gabby Stern ‘13, Haley Duncan ‘13, Karin Obaid ‘13.

For the third year in a row, Skidmore has sent over a dozen participants to the annual Winter Conference for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, held in downtown Saratoga Springs.  This year, nine students and seven staff were able to attend with funding provided by the Sustainable Skidmore Office.    One student attendee, Gabby Stern ’13, has gone each year for the last three years, and provided a reflection about her experience that helps to capture the importance of these opportunities for students:

  CapitalDistrictalumniTour.GabbyTourGuideSmaller.13July2011 “At NOFA I have learned and reinvigorated what my passions regarding food are. I know I want to be involved in the “equitable food movement” in some way, and by attending NOFA, I have a more clear understanding what my role could be. As a student, I find it very important to attend conferences like this with my peers so that we have an opportunity to connect the dots–to draw connections from the classroom to the world! In addition, I am honored to be a three year representative of Skidmore College and Sustainable Skidmore.”  Gabby Stern ‘13

For the first time, Skidmore College also presented at the NOFA-NY Winter Conference.  Riley Neugebauer, Sustainability Coordinator, and Beth McKellips, Director of Agricultural Economic Development for Madison County, offered a full day workshop entitled “Cracking the Distribution Nut” in order to help provide a forum for discussion about the challenges and opportunities in the food system for wholesale and institutional markets.  One panel that was held as a part of this workshop included Jim Rose, Executive Chef at Skidmore, and several of our distributors:  Kevin Quandt from Quandt’s Foodservice, John Antonucci’s from Antonucci’s, and Dan Purdy from Purdy Foods.  The panel focused on demonstrating how you can develop a successful supply chain from farmer to institution with different products, and a discussion of the difficulties associated with accessing local foods for large customers.  The workshop was successful in identifying several challenges and opportunities that will require additional focus and effort in order to continue to make progress that will be feasible for farmers, distributors, and institutional customers as related to sustainable foods procurement at the college scale.

Shortly after the NOFA-NY Conference, the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) also held a conference on sustainable agriculture in Saratoga Springs.  This conference encompassed the entire northeast, and mainly focused on policies, infrastructure, and networks related to sustainable agriculture and local foods purchasing in that region.  Two students who are working on the Real Food Challenge at Skidmore, and one staff member attended this conference as well, gaining additional insight into the patterns and trends related to sustainable agriculture and institutional markets.

In addition to these conferences, the college has also participated in a multi-county regional effort to discuss sustainability, including food systems.  New York State is addressing future economic development related to sustainability by asking each economic development region in the state to come up with a sustainability plan and providing funding to do so.   The Capital Region, where Skidmore is located, invited a group of stakeholders to participate, including Sustainability Coordinator Riley Neugebauer and Associate Dean for Infrastructure, Sustainability & Civic Engagement Karen Kellogg.  The sustainability plan for our region included subcommittees related to Climate Adaptation, Economic Development, Energy, Food Systems, Land Use, Transportation, Waste, and Water.  Karen Kellogg contributed to the Water group while Riley Neugebauer contributed to the Food Systems group.  Additional information about this process in the Capital Region can be found here.  The Food Systems group set some major goals related to protecting agricultural land, encouraging sustainable agriculture, increasing local food production to help meet demand, and enhancing the capacity and number of processing facilities for meat, produce, and other agricultural products.

Local Food Intern Group
Fall 2012 sustainable food interns gather with faculty sponsor Monica Raveret Richter and Sustainability Coordinator Riley Neugebauer. (from L-R: (Jewels O’Brien ’15, Laura Mindlin ’15, MK Johnson ’14, Karin Obaid ’13, Monica Raveret Richter, Faith Nicholas ’14, and Riley Neugebauer)

Students on campus have participated in research and discussions related to local and sustainable food for the last two years through an internship program that is offered through Sustainable Skidmore, the Environmental Studies Program, and Dining Services.  Associate Professor of Biology Monica Raveret Richter, who is also an ES-Affiliated faculty member, has sponsored these internships for 1-3 credits throughout this time and worked with the students to develop their projects and report on their findings, along with support from Sustainable Skidmore and Dining Services.  Some of the projects that the students have worked on included the compilation of data in Dining Services related to local food as a part of the Real Food Challenge Calculator process, researching funding opportunities for infrastructure and purchasing of local foods, reviewing best practices and successful sustainable food models at other institutions, proposing and installing a campus herb garden, preparing a plan for the implementation of a campus CSA (community supported agriculture) program, and working with Slow Food Saratoga to hold a local foods dinner on campus at Skidmore that would include farmers, dining services staff, local chefs, students, staff, faculty, and other community food advocates.  These internships, as well as the myriad of other opportunities, continue to provide students, staff, and faculty with a great chance to discuss, research, network, and provide input as related to sustainable food and agriculture, both on campus and off!

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