Guest Blog Post by:
Raychel Santo, Grassroots Leader and Co-founder of Real Food Hopkins
As many other Real Food Challenge chapters across the country, my school's group, Real Food Hopkins, was newly formed last year. Consolidating the efforts of some student gardeners already on campus, as well as the food advocacy interests of many freshman including myself, Real Food Hopkins emerged as a recognized student group by the beginning of November.
However, with harvest season at its end and planting season long off in the spring, our group knew we needed some evens for the interim to get our feet on the ground and our name out there. Before the semester had ended, we had held a canning workshop, which we called the “Jam Session,” and an urban foraging tour through the streets of Baltimore. By mid-February, we had begun an amicable relationship with our ARAMARK Dining Services by helping them improve their new Meatless Monday initiative. What started out as a one-time Meatless Monday Celebrity Chef Night, turned into a monthly meet-up group with Dining to discuss our ideas about vegetarian dining options and other foodie requests.
Even with these successful events under our belts, we knew we wanted one major event for the semester. Ideas started unfolding and before we knew it, we were planning our biggest challenge we would take on yet: The 100 Mile Meal. At this event open to students, faculty, and staff, we held a discussion with four guest panelists on the “Local vs. Organic” debate, followed by a meal consisting of nearly all ingredients sourced within 100 miles of our campus. Our guest panelists were experts from a variety of food system angles: a political science professor of a “Food Politics” class, a food system expert from the JHU Center for a Livable Future, a renowned Baltimorian chef, and a local organic farmer.
Our meal was so well-received that we realized right away that we should host one again. Yet, we had a few challenges to take note of and overcome first. Planning an event composed of entirely local food was not the best decision for a May 7 date. While we eventually compiled a beautiful spread of apple cider, salad, artisan bread, spring barley risotto, pasture-raised chicken, hardboiled eggs, and an apple-rhubarb crumble, it was a TON of legwork to find all of the ingredients to pull together and cook for 80+ people! We decided that, in the future, it would be best to hold such an event in the fall when local produce is in its bounty, and perhaps make it a pot-luck to reduce some pressure on our planning crew.
Little did we know that our next local meal would be right around the corner. As we began hearing about the inaugural Food Day set for this October, we knew we had to get involved. While planning is still in its heyday, we're hoping to host a 2nd annual 100 Mile Meal in conjunction with Food Day this fall. To reduce some of the logistical stress, we'll definitely be taking into account our notes from our past experience in our push forward. Moreover, we hope to incorporate even more of the overall Hopkins campus, increasing faculty, staff and graduate student input, in this next big endeavor!
As we got off to a great start last year with JHU Dining Services, we hope that this year will also bring even more successes to our advocacy angle. While JHU is not as progressive as many other schools in regards to local and/or organic food sourcing, our leaders have taken some great initiatives so far, such as having a “local food of the week” feature and fruit that is mostly in-season when available. We hope to kick off this year by getting approval to start the Real Food Calculator and perhaps gradually working up to a Real Food Campus Commitment over the course of the next few years.
Overall, in less than a year's bit of work, our group has accomplished a lot! Nevertheless, as a student group we recognize that it can be easy to get discouraged or overwhelmed by comparing your campus efforts to what other campuses have already done or what your campus hasn't. My best advice is to not let this stop you! Every community functions differently and will have different goals because of this. For example, some may be more focused on the justice side of the food system, others on campus food sourcing, and even others on just gardening as a group. That's ok! Embrace your specific food-related passions and find like-minded others who will help you turn your ideas into actions!