The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory


EXCITING SERVICE-LEARNING VENTURES AT CAROLINA CAMPUS COMMUNITY GARDEN AND FARMER FOODSHARE FOR NUTR 245 STUDENTS

This spring, Nutrition 245 students Carolyn Tidwell and Katie Fesler have been getting involved in local food endeavors at their community placements. Currently, Tidwell volunteers at Carolina Campus Community Garden (CCCG) while Fesler volunteers at Farmer Foodshare. Each week, Tidwell, Fesler and their classmates reflect on their service and progress made at their community partners.

Tidwell stated, “Working with the Garden over the past couple of weeks has been wonderful. The more time I spend there, the more I love the distributions and gardening in general.” CCCG welcomes all UNC staff, faculty, students and community members to grow vegetable and fruit for UNC’s lower wage workers.

While Tidwell observes that the food distributions at the garden are a simple process and do not take long, she appreciates the opportunity it gives her to interact with the garden volunteers and UNC workers.

A volunteer at one distribution described how the workers will all bring food to meals and share amongst themselves, stated Tidwell. It appears to her that there is no sense of possession but instead a real sense of community that the CCCG has brought together.

“By the community garden providing this service to the UNC workers, it is sharing the abundance of the land and allowing them to lead a more healthy lifestyle through nutritious food products,” noted Tidwell.

Tidwell’s community placement at the CCCG has led to her examine the current food system more closely. She states she will continue ask questions focusing on food disparities while working at the Garden.

According to Fesler, she got right back into the groove of things at Farmer Foodshare after her weeklong spring break. Last week, Fesler met with her advisor and community placement group. They discussed the findings of their research focusing on price variation for products amongst different vendors including farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

Currently Fesler works on a project to help determine and expand “the ideal buyer” for the Pennies on the Pound (POP) Food Markets. This program is a pilot social enterprise developed by Farmer Foodshare. According to the nonprofit, it is designed to connect farmers with limited resources who have discounted excess food for sale with low wealth customer and agencies that increase community food security.

“I’m not entirely sure what the project is going to look like, but I’m taking it step by step and seeing where it leads me. It’s exciting to be a part of a venture that’s just getting off the ground,” stated Fesler.

Fesler and Tidwell, along with the rest of the Nutrition 245 class, will be volunteering at their community placements for the remaining five weeks of the semester – meaning much time left for even more service-learning opportunities. 


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Service-Learning Students Help With Cooking Demonstration at IFFS Mobile Market

Saturday February 18th, Nutrition 245 student Christine Sun attended her first Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (IFFS) Mobile Market at the West Durham Baptist Church. Along with her service-learning group, Sun assisted in providing a healthy cooking demonstration on Confetti Kale.

“There was a lot of positive feedback from the crowd and they seemed to really enjoy the kale,” noted Sun, who will be volunteering with IFFS throughout the semester.

According to Sun, she was nervous about whether or not people would be interested in the cooking demonstration because it wasn’t many people’s main reason for coming to the Mobile Market. These Mobile Markets provide low-income communities with fresh produce, free of charge, once a month.

“However, many people seemed really interested and engaged in our demonstration.  After our demonstration, people came up to thank us and say how they really appreciated our presentation,” stated Sun.

In addition to the live cooking demonstration, a fun “monthly food challenge” was given to the crowd – to try to make a meal with three different colored fruits and vegetables.

Sun stated, “I’m interested to see if people follow through and share what they cooked at the next Mobile Market.  I really enjoyed my time at the Mobile Market, and I’m excited to start working on ideas for the next one!”



Students Share Their Initial Thoughts on Their Service-learning Community Placements

Students in Nutrition 245 (Sustainable, Local Food Systems) have begun the service-learning component of this UNC course by volunteering at their community placements. The service-learning course will allow students to examine the intersection of local foods and public health in addition to being able to make real-world contributions and a difference in their communities.

Each week, we’ll be highlighting a few of the 26 students’ reflections on their community placements. The reflections of Alexander Denunzio, Cayce Watts, Dhruv Desai, Kathryn Webb and Taylor Harper are being featured this week. They reflected on their first impressions about the organizations and the projects they will be working on over the next few months. This week’s community placements include the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, Farmer Foodshare and Carolina Campus Community Garden.

Denunzio, Desai, and their team will be assisting Market Manager Sarah Blacklin and the Carrboro Farmers’ Market to complete an in-depth SEED survey amongst the consumers and farmers attending the market as well as the local community surrounding the Farmers’ Market. Denunzio and Desai will be developing, collecting and evaluating customer data and trends at the Farmers’ Market through the SEED survey.

Amongst the survey’s specific tasks such as being a pollster and forager, Denunzio and Desai will be participating in counting or “clicking” consumers. This is because the entrances to Carrboro Farmers’ Market are not well defined, according to Denunzio.

Alex Denunzio counts customers at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market

Denunzio stated, “I can honestly say it is not what I expected – but in a good way.”

According to Denunzio, he is looking forward to working on the SEED survey because the research and the data they collect through the Carrboro Farmers’ Market can be distributed on a regional and national level to other farmers’ markets to improve efficiency and productivity.

The students are eager to engage in service-learning for many reasons – one being they know they can make a difference in their community. For instance, the SEED survey results will possibly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of farmers’ markets throughout the country and will cause people to be more concerned with locally grown food, stated Denunzio.

Desai is excited to be a part of this initiative because it will ultimately help to make a better Farmers’ Market, an organization that already does so much for the community, including doing outreach to promote local, sustainable foods from the Piedmont region. He asserts that, “by having a better Farmers’ Market, we can ensure that even more people from diverse economic backgrounds in the community have the opportunity to access healthy, nutritious, fresh and local foods grown and made by folks right here in North Carolina.”

Kevin Chung perches on a chair to get a good view as a counter for the SEED survey at the Farmers’ Market.

Cayce Webb will be volunteering at the Carolina Campus Community Garden. Webb stated, “It was fun meeting new people who were volunteering from other classes and also learning about the planting system as the garden and how the compost piles worked.  Everyone worked together very efficiently and was quick to offer help to others.”

Webb plans to continue volunteering with the garden, to possibly try to attend a veggie distribution to lower income UNC employees and to start more serious research on recipes and existing garden cooking demonstrations.

This semester, Kathryn Watts and Taylor Harper will be assisting with Farmer Foodshare’s Donation Stations at the Carrboro and Chapel Hill Farmers’ Markets. Farmer Foodshare is a nonprofit organization that raises funds and donations of fresh food for those at risk for hunger or malnutrition, while building healthy community food systems and enhancing community economic development.

Watts stated, “I was surprised to see things like beauty products and soap being sold there. The Chapel Hill market is smaller than the Carrboro market, and the winter market is especially limited. I’m interested to see how moving into the spring and summer seasons will affect turn out at the markets and donations being made to Farmer Foodshare.”

Students like Harper are already thinking of ways to help improve their community placements. “To help increase exposure, it would be ideal to have some sort of information pamphlet that the customers could peruse while shopping, which would allow them to develop a better understanding of Farmer Foodshare without interrupting their shopping experience.  I feel this would make customers more willing to donate to our cause if they understand what we are there for and would allow us to provide more food to the Interfaith Food Council,” Harper stated.

Be sure to keep reading this blog to learn more about the students’ experiences and involvement in the community throughout the spring semester.



Service-learning Students Are to Assist Local Non-profits This Spring Semester

This spring semester, Dr. Alice Ammerman, director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP), and Dr. Molly De Marco, research fellow at HPDP, are offering a course entitled Sustainable, Local Food Systems – Intersection of local foods and public health(Nutrition 245) for the first time at UNC-CH. Sustainable, Local Food Systems, an APPLES service-learning course, examines the health, economic and environmental impacts of our current food system with a focus on current efforts to build a more local, equitable and sustainable food system.

This course is a natural progression of the momentum related to the research attributed to the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture (GIL) grant and other community-based participatory research projects conducted through HPDP. During the past three years, in particular, many students have come to UNC with a passion for local food systems. Dr. Ammerman and Dr. De Marco, along with Robin Crowder, the project director for the GIL, developed this course to meet the burgeoning demand from students to get directly involved with community organizations working on sustainable agriculture projects. There is a specific enthusiasm related to addressing food access and food justice issues and students are looking to make real-world contributions and a difference in their communities. This new class will help them do just that.

Throughout the semester, students will assist community partners in their work to increase economic opportunities for small and mid-sized farmers and food entrepreneurs and to increase access to healthy food among lower income populations. The community partners include the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, Carolina Campus Community Garden, Farmer Foodshare, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and Weaver Street Market.

Each week, the students will blog about their service-learning experiences and relate them back to the course’s readings and lecture. A few students’ reflections will be featured on this Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project blog from time to time.

Along with teaching assistant Linden Elder and support from CDC Prevention Specialist on assignment to HPDP, Melissa Cunningham, Dr. Ammerman and Dr. De Marco will cover local food systems topics ranging from the environment to food safety. Guest lecturers, including Dr. Marcie Ferris, UNC American Studies Professor, and Claire Lorch, Carolina Campus Community Garden Manager, are to speak during the weekly class meetings. Some speakers will present in out-of-the-classroom locations, such as the Piedmont Food and Agricultural Processing Center. Those guest lecturers whose commutes are too far away to make it to the UNC Gillings School of Public Health will present via Skype, such as Dr. Christopher Heaney, of Johns Hopkins University.

Students will meet the expectation of service for an APPLES course of a minimum of 30 hours during the semester. Throughout the semester, students will complete an estimated 3-5 hours a week of service hours with their community partner.



Weekend Food Happenings
Farm to Fork Picnic

Farm to Fork Picnic

You know you’re really passionate about your work when you spend most of your free time involved in it. Like this weekend – it was incredibly busy, full of food related events and to put it simply, a lot of fun.

It was kicked off with Anna Lappe’s reading at the relatively new Flyleaf Bookstore (a wonderful, independent bookstore in Chapel Hill) on Friday night. She was promoting her new book, A Diet for a Hot Planet which explores the effects of agriculture on climate change. Through her extensive research, her book shows that global industrial agriculture, specifically the use of hazardous chemicals, concentrated animal feeding operations, biotech crops, and processed foods, is impoverishing the land, destroying rain forests, polluting waterways, and emitting nearly a third of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet.

Though climate change is depressing, Lappe stressed that her book is “a sandwich lined with hope smear.” People are already changing the food system through a grassroots movement, which can be seen in the increase of farmers markets, community gardens and CSA shares. With this hopeful new movement, Lappe said, climate change “is not a dead end issue, we can turn it around….nature is resilient.” The book also features several case studies on what large food companies are doing to “go green.” According to Lappe, they’re not doing much (McDonald’s big green initiative – including endangered species toys in their happy meals) and found that much of their green and sustainable talk was nothing but “spin.”

One member of the audience raised the issue of food prices: “If our industrial agricultural food system changed to center around smaller scale, organic farming, what would the cost be to the consumer?” Lappe’s answer to deal with this issue was to “flip the current system of subsidies on its head,” so “instead of subsidizing commodity crops such as corn and grain that end up feeding the cattle we eat, subsidize small scale, organic farming” to make this food more accessible to all consumers.

After an evening focused on sustainable food issues on Friday, I continued the theme the next day by promoting a consumer supported fishery project that I’ve been helping to launch at the Carrboro Farmers Market. Despite the cloudy weather, the market was bright, full of vivid purple, yellow and red blooms in the beautiful flower displays that lined nearly every table.  The ripe juicy red of strawberries didn’t hurt either.  And the produce wasn’t the only exciting part – I was happy to see the new SNAP program going well too – a positive step in helping food stamp recipients get access to fresh, healthy and local foods.

And yesterday, I volunteered at the kid’s tent at the Farm to Fork picnic. The event was held at Breeze Farm, which serves as an incubator for beginning farmers. The event raised $20,000 for the incubator program – which allows new farmers to grow food without having to own land themselves. A dynamite list of restaurants was paired with an equally striking list of farms and each pairing came up with their own dish.  After face painting and making crafts with the kids, I attempted to eat my way through the event, visiting more than 40 food stands.

Kids drew a picture of their favorite food - here, cheese!

Kids drew a picture of their favorite food - here, cheese!

The picnic was an amazing, celebratory event but I couldn’t help but think of that persistent question about price again. At sixty dollars a head for the event, only people who could afford it could attend. Of course, this was a fundraising event, but it would be neat to hold an event with local, delicious food that might be more available to people of a lesser income…perhaps my next project?

And to fill you in on the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project, we’re going to start surveying at the farmers markets once again. This time to research consumer behavior, which will explore why people shop at farmers markets. So if you’re headed to the Carrboro Market on Saturday, take a moment to stop and answer our quick survey questions. We look forward to hearing from you!  I’m sure it will be another weekend full of fun, food happenings.

A start of a rainbow!

Kevin Callaghan of Acme with the farmers of SEEDS

Kevin Callaghan of Acme with the farmers of SEEDS



Triangle University Food Studies

A surging national interest in what we eat has been mirrored in the academic world with an increasing number of students looking to formally study food and agriculture.

Some schools have started offering degree programs that center on a core food and agriculture curriculum while integrating various academic fields. NYU offers a Food Studies masters program, with the well-known Marion Nestle as faculty. Tufts offers a Agriculture, Food and Environment masters degree, which until recently was headed by Kathleen Merrigan, who now serves as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture under the USDA. The University of New Hampshire recently partnered with The University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy to offer a dual major in EcoGastronomy.

With a brilliant line up of schools in the triangle and a vibrant local food and sustainable agriculture scene to boot, I’m disappointed that no school here has yet to offer a program that integrates various academic departments for a more holistic understanding of food and agricultural issues. That said, NC State offers degrees in traditional and technical aspects of agriculture as well as a new and quite popular Agroecology undergraduate minor. Central Carolina Community College offers a hands on farming program with their Sustainable Agriculture associates degree. I also just learned about a food cluster program available to UNC undergraduate students.

Recognizing the growing interest in learning about food and agriculture from an integrative perspective, Dr. Charlie Thompson, Director of Center for Documentary Studies at Duke and Gillings Project collaborator, organized a meeting around food and farming for students and faculty who were passionate on the topics. The meeting aimed to bring faculty and students from different schools and departments together to explore ways of collaborating.

Over twenty people attended the first meeting, with a range of academic fields represented. Most of the attending faculty were already teaching incredible classes on food and agriculture within their departments. I couldn’t help but think that with these amazing faculty as resources, a program about food would bring collaboration amongst now separate departments.

Just what the group assembled will lead to, we’re not sure, but after hearing about everyone’s interests, thoughts and concerns, we decided the group would share some readings and discussion to get to know one another better. We named ourselves Triangle University Food Studies (TUFS) and plan to meet again in the early fall to discuss a book written by Norman Wirzba, a Research Professor of Theology, Ecology, and Rural Life at Duke Divinity School, entitled “The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land.”

If you’re interested in joining our group or to keep updated on all things food related in the triangle academic world through our Ning site, shoot me an email at child.anna@gmail.com

Thanks for your interest,

Anna



Tar Heel Guide to Restaurants and Caterers Using Local Food
Behind the Line at Acme

Behind the line at Acme

My past work as a server in restaurants undoubtedly led me to my food interests. I enjoyed playing a part in someone’s special night out, providing good service and delicious food. I liked thinking about the daily process of cooking too, with the chefs starting the morning off baking bread and simmering homemade chicken stock, and progressing into the afternoon working to piece together other elements of the menu. I remember once stopping by around midday and noticing all that was happening – short ribs braising in their own juices, sauces being whisked together from scratch, fresh fish marinating in citrus and butter being spun until it was that lovely velvety texture. And it was only noon. By the time I would walk in to get ready for service, fresh herbs were being chopped and sauces tasted for salt and pepper.

Right before we began a reservation-booked Friday night, I got a strange pleasure out of thinking about all the restaurants down the east coast, getting ready for a busy night of service. Of course there was almost always some part of the night that was a little crazy, with the line cooks feverishly glancing up at the long and ever growing list of tickets while the expo person grabbed plated dishes and finished them with sauces while bellowing out table numbers for the steaming plates to be taken to waiting patrons. Working in restaurants is hard; anyone that has done it knows. You learn a lot about food too – my vocabulary expanded to include beurre blanc sauce, veal cheek, shad roe and ramps.

So when I was told about a project to create a guide featuring restaurants and caterers that used local foods as an offshoot of my work on the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project, I was perfectly pleased. I felt as if my two worlds were colliding!

The project was identified as a priority by the five deans of the health affairs of UNC. The idea was to help people related to the university work with local businesses who have taken a pledge to support local farmers and buy as much local product as possible. The most difficult part was creating the pledge – we wanted it to properly represent those restaurants who prioritize buying local product above most all other purchasing initiatives.

We floated our initial ideas by Sheila Neal of Neal’s Deli and Kevin Callaghan of Acme Food and Beverage for their feedback.  Both are owners of businesses that offer local farm products on their menus throughout the year.  Sheila and Kevin provided helpful insight into the challenges a restauranteur faces when trying to buy local product in reliable quantities in all four seasons.  Even though it can be difficult, especially in winter, they both felt it was important to do their best in order to offer the freshest product available to their customers and to support area farmers.  We asked farmers for their feedback too and learned about the relationships they have with restaurants in the four counties that our guide includes.  As a result of these conversations, we expanded the guide to include information about local foods initiatives, farmers markets and consumer-supported agriculture subscriptions.

The Guide was officially released March 1 in conjunction with the Fresh Air Fresh Ideas presentation organized by the Gillings School of Global Public Health and celebrating two of the first Gillings Innovation Labs, of which the Sustainable Agriculture Project is one. We hope it will encourage UNC faculty, students and staff to consider these businesses first when thinking about their dining and catering needs.

Take a look at it here and distribute widely! Special thanks to Regina McCoy, Director of Art Services at CHAI, who did a beautiful job with the graphic layout, photography and listings.

Anna