|Working on the Yale Farm gives students first-hand experience in sustainable agriculture.|
In dining halls and classrooms, project
raising awareness about relationship
between ‘people, land and food’
The grass-fed-beef burgers now on the menu in Yale’s dining halls are
not only healthier for students than the conventional patties once served there,
they are healthier for the environment too.
Every one of the burgers, which are made from cattle raised locally, prevents Yale from producing nearly a pound of carbon emissions that would otherwise be used to transport the food from a source farther afield. Campus dining halls have served a quarter-million of the grass-fed-beef burgers since 2003, thereby reducing Yale’s carbon footprint by nearly a quarter-million pounds. And the burgers are only one of many locally grown or organic additions to the campus dining halls’ menus that have been introduced since the creation of the Yale Sustainable Food Project.
The U.S. food system accounts for 17% of the nation’s energy use (second only to the country’s vehicular use), and the Sustainable Food Project is working to raise awareness of this everyday energy drain, and to change Yale’s operations so as to make the University a model of sustainability around food and agriculture.
Founded in 2001 by a group of faculty, staff and students, along with President Richard C. Levin and renowned chef Alice Waters, the Yale Sustainable Food Project is working to foster a culture that “draws meaning and pleasure from the connections among people, land and food.” It directs a sustainable dining program at Yale, manages an organic farm on campus, and runs diverse programs that support exploration and academic inquiry related to food and agriculture. Through the project’s efforts, Yale is becoming a center for academic work related to food and agriculture.
The philosophy of the project, co-directed by Josh Viertel and Melina Shannon-DiPietro, is clearly laid out on its website (www.yale.edu/sustainablefood):
“The world’s most pressing questions regarding health, culture, the environment, education and the global economy cannot be adequately addressed without considering the food we eat and the way we produce it. By creating opportunities for students to experience food, agriculture and sustainability as integral parts of their education and everyday life, the Sustainable Food Project ensures that Yale graduates have the capacity to effect meaningful change as individuals and as leaders in their communities, their homes and their life’s work.”
The following is a look at some of the project’s initiatives.
Today, sustainable food comprises 40% of the menu in Yale's dining halls.
Today, 40% of all food on the menus in Yale’s dining halls is sustainable. That translates to a sustainable entrée at every lunch and dinner, and an all-sustainable menu on Thursdays and on special occasions. The effort to introduce environmentally responsible food practices in campus dining halls began in 2003, when the Berkeley College dining hall became the most popular eatery on campus after its test kitchen began serving local, seasonal and sustainable food to Yale students on a daily basis. The pilot project earned such rave reviews that soon sustainable foods were being served in all the residential colleges. In fact, sustainable food has become very popular with students; in the fall 2007 dining survey, 77% of student respondents said that expansion of the Sustainable Food Project was very important to them.
In addition, the Sustainable Food Project played a role in developing the all-organic menu for the new Library Café in the Bass Library, worked with Yale Catering to expand their sustainable options and advises campus groups on ways to incorporate sustainable foods into their events.
The result of all these efforts: In the 2006-2007 academic year, Yale redirected $1.6 million into the regional economy by purchasing food using the guidelines developed by the Sustainable Food Project. The savings in carbon emissions from the shorter transportation requirements are also helping Yale to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
The Yale Farm
In 2003, the same year the Berkeley pilot program was launched, students broke ground on an acre of land in Yale’s Farnam Gardens on Edwards Street to create an entirely different type of growing space: the Yale Farm, a market garden that gives students first-hand experience in the principles and practice of sustainable agriculture.
In the summer, the farm is maintained by six full-time undergraduate interns who work the land while learning about sustainability and agriculture from local farmers and others. During the academic year, these interns pass on their knowledge while directing the student volunteers who work on the Yale Farm.
The crops grown throughout the year — including those raised in the farm’s unheated greenhouses during the winter — are given to volunteers or sold at CitySeed’s Wooster Square Farmer’s Market. The Union League, a New Haven restaurant, often features produce from the farm, and spinach from the garden has even been used in experiments in Yale chemistry professor Gary Brudvig’s laboratory.
Professors from several campus departments use the garden as part of their coursework, and teachers from New Haven schools bring their classes to the Yale Farm for lessons in ecology, science and food production. The garden has also been the site of workshops in everything from canning tomatoes to making bread. Many of these events take place around the wood-burning hearth oven, which is used each Friday to cook pizzas for volunteers.
In the fall, the Yale Farm will be constructing an open-air pavilion that will offer a shelter space for the Yale Sustainable Food Project’s educational and social activities.
As part of its mission to encourage students to think differently about food — particularly about the impact of crop production on the environment — members of the Sustainable Food Project have worked closely with Yale professors to introduce topics related to food and agriculture into their courses. In 2006-2007, there were 26 such offerings. The project also worked closely with Professor John Wargo of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies to offer a new concentration in sustainable food and agriculture within the Environmental Studies major.
In addition to its hands-on workshops, the Sustainable Food Project this year also launched the Lazarus Speaker Series, which has brought luminaries to campus to discuss questions about health, culture, the environment, politics and the global economy. The project has also sponsored several film screenings and workshops.
Harvest pre-orientation program
Each fall, incoming freshmen learn firsthand about organic farming, while also meeting their new classmates, through the Harvest pre-orientation program. For five days, the students live on local farms — some of the same ones that supply produce to Yale’s dining halls. There, they engage in activities ranging from planting crops to constructing a chicken tractor (a portable hutch that is used to harness chicken-power to remove a garden’s weeds and bugs). Participants also have the opportunity to enjoy nearby trails and ponds.
Last year, 57 freshmen took part in the program on seven different local farms.
In the fall of 2007, the University was the site of “The Real Food Summit,” a gathering of students from 50 colleges in the Northeast designed to change the culture of food on campuses across the region and, ultimately, the nation. The event was organized by the Yale Sustainable Food Project, the Food Project in Boston and the Brown Sustainable Food Initiative, along with a group of students from the participating colleges. The summit also kicked off the Real Food Challenge, a collaborative network that will serve as a resource to students seeking to change their colleges’ food culture. At the summit, student delegates wrote and ratified the Real Food Declaration, a document calling on their university administrations to change the way their campuses think about food and agriculture.
As a model program, the Yale Sustainable Food Project is becoming a resource for numerous other initiatives. The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., asked the Yale Sustainable Food Project to design and install a model schoolyard garden on the National Mall for its annual Folklife Festival. The project’s staff members have also spoken about the project at the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna, Austria, and Slow Food International’s bi-annual conference in Torino, Italy.
The members of the project are also currently putting together a set of guidelines for other organizations that address the complex issues surrounding sustainable purchasing, such as whether it’s better to buy organic food from afar or conventionally grown food from local sources.
For further information about the Yale Sustainable Food Project, visit its website at www.yale.edu/sustainablefood.