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Local-food revolution sparked

By Josh Rutenberg     2/22/12 6:00pm

A revolution is underway at Rice: a food revolution, that is. In an effort to raise awareness about food and farming, a group of students assembled in the academic quadrangle last Friday during lunch.

The students brought lemonade, caramel and chocolate made from items purchased at the Farmers Market and vegetables grown in the Rice Community Gardens for students to sample as they walked by. The event also featured students dressed in potato and banana suits reading from a "food manifesto."

"We wanted to do something ridiculous to get people to talk about food and how important it is," McMurtry College sophomore Skye Kelty said.

Kelty is one of a handful of students involved in Real Food People, a collective of people interested in food issues that organized the Real Food Revolution.

Sid Richardson College junior Hannah Walchak said the group was pleased with the campus reaction.

"People were excited, and we were pleasantly surprised," Walchak said. "By the end, we had leftover food, but we were excited too. We thought about making it a monthly event because it went so well."

In addition to Friday's event, the Real Food People received Envision Grant funding for a series of three Farm-to-Fork dinners this semester, Kelty said.

Farm-to-Fork dinners are part of a campus program in which food is purchased from Atkinson Farm, a local multi-generational farm, for use in the serveries. Food waste returns to the farm for composting, closing the loop, H&D Project and Contract Manager C. J. Claverie said.

The program began in fall 2010 at Baker College as part of a class co-taught by Director of Energy and Sustainability Richard Johnson (Will Rice '92) and Sociology Department Chair Elizabeth Long.

Claverie said the program has been very successful since its implementation at Baker two years ago.

"Chef Cari Clark embraced the whole program and made it work," Claverie said. "We put together a buying guide, and [Clark] uses the guide to place orders for groceries for the week."

Johnson said he has noticed a trend of students focusing on food-related projects in recent years.

"Interest in food and where it comes from and how it's grown has increased significantly among students over the past few years," Johnson said. Johnson attributed part of the recent interest in food to books and movies like The Omnivore's Dilemma and Supersize Me, as well as a broader environmental awareness among students.

"We have a generation of students whose parents shopped at Whole Foods and places like that," Johnson said. "[Students] are more in tune with a complete picture of food than they were a few years ago."

Johnson said the interest extends to farming as well.

"It's amazing the number of Rice students actually interested in farming," Johnson said. "It's not something you would traditionally expect of Rice students in the past, and the community gardening course has helped to foster that as well."

Walchak said students who don't actively look for local and organic food options may not find them, which is where the Real Food People come into play.

"We wanted to make people aware of all of the great options that are around, make sure the farmers market is well-attended, and make sure the student body knows how much local food is accessible and affordable," Walchak said.

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