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Organizational History


The Real Food Challenge began as an independent, self-funded program of The Food Project, Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit organization based in Boston, MA. The Food Project was founded 20 years ago with a mission to “build a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults who work together to build a sustainable food system.” The Food Project is a recipient of the nation’s highest honor for non-profit organizations, The President’s Volunteer Service Award, awarded by President George W. Bush in 2004.



2005: The Food Project’s Director of National Programs, Anim Steel, and author Anna Lappe host a discussion at the Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Society (FAS) Conference title, “Local Food, Fair Trade, and the Power of Procurement.” Participants discovered they had a lot to learn from each other and that there was potential to do more together.

2006: At the next FAS Conference, a group from the California Student Sustainability Coalition, including Tim Galarneau, joins The Food Project’s youth delegation. Discussions begin in earnest about the benefits of a national network that would strengthen the voice of students in food purchasing decisions.

2007: In May, a Design Team is formed to pilot just such a network, which was soon named “Real Food Challenge.” The Design Team is composed of three students, two staff members of The Food Project and the California Student Sustainability Coalition, representatives from three national organizations, and two leaders of sustainability in higher education. (See List of Design Team below). We propose and receive our first two grants, from the Cedar Tree Foundation and the Zimmerman Foundation. (See full list of funders below). In November, we hold our first conference, the Real Food Summit, co-hosted by Yale University Sustainable Food Initiative. Over 150 students from 47 schools attend. We knew we were on to something!

2008: The Real Food Challenge officially launches with Month of Action in October, which grows the network to 300 schools. We assemble the first group of Regional Field Organizers, and the Real Food Calculator is ready for testing by students.

2009: The first Calculator pilots yield results, establishing benchmarks at University of California--Irvine, amongst other places. Hai Vo of UC Irvine wins the Brower Youth Award for his work with the Real Food Calculator there.

2010: The Real Food Challenge wins an Echoing Green award for social entrepreneurship, one of only 16 projects out of more than 1,000 applicants from around the world.

2011: In the winter, six regional Real Food Summits bring together 1,400 students and campus stakeholders. In August, RFC co-founder David Schwartz becomes a Do Something Award Finalist; the award ceremony is broadcast on VH1. By the end of the year, students trained and supported by the Real Food Challenge have won $45 million of commitments for real food purchasing, including a policy for the entire University of California system.

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Design Team

A diverse group of people have been involved in developing the mission and programs of Real Food Challenge. RFC's focus on students is rooted in our founding design team: student activists and food movement leaders who came together to work out how to draw out interest local food, fair trade, and student gardens on college campuses and connect this with the food movement. These founding members of the design team created the vision for RFC and continue to support our work:

Rowan Dunlap, The Food Project

Anim Steel, The Food Project

David Schwartz, Brown University

Amie Frisch, San Jose State University

Tim Galarneau, CSSC Food Initiative

Cecily Upton, Slow Food USA

John Turenne, Sustainable Food Systems LLC

Kristen Markley, CFSC Farm to College Program

Tom Kelly, University of New Hampshire

Adam Peck, United Students for Fair Trade

Sue DeBliek, Iowa State University

Laura Hess, Yale Sustainable Food Project