Our History

Real Food Challenge began in 2007 when it was founded by a committed group of student activists, national food movement leaders, and higher education sustainability experts. Amidst growing movements for farmworker justice, international fair trade, student farms and gardens, and local food, Real Food Challenge launched as a means to amplify student voices and focus our collective efforts on real change in higher education and in the food industry.

With the support of the California Student Sustainability Coalition, The Food Project, and a number of other national partners, Real Food Challenge became an independent, self-funded program of The Food Project in 2008. Today, Real Food Challenge operates as a self-funded, fiscally sponsored project of TSNE MissionWorks.

Since its founding, Real Food Challenge has built a powerful network of hundreds of student leaders while educating and training tens of thousands of young people across the country. These students have won shifts of over $80 million in campus cafeteria dollars to local, ecologically sound, fair, and humane farms and food businesses.

Past Campaigns

Misc Image: Student Action 5

To build on the momentum from the team of students, food movement leaders, and sustainability experts who started Real Food Challenge and the energy for this type of change popping up all across the college and university sector, Real Food Challenge launched the Get Real! Campaign in 2011. Colleges and universities committed to buying at least 20% Real Food annually by 2020 by signing the Real Food Campus Commitment, and thereby used their tremendous purchasing power to support a food system that strengthened local economies, respected human rights, and ensured ecological sustainability. 

To get their school signed on, most students built a campaign to gain additional student and faculty support to urge their president to sign the Commitment on behalf of their campus. 

In addition to vowing to buy 20% Real Food by 2020, campuses that signed onto the Campus Commitment also pledged to: 

  • Create a Food Systems Working Group of students, staff, faculty, food service managers and workers, and other relevant stakeholders and to create a Multi-Year Action Plan; 
  • Run the Real Food Calculator yearly to track their progress and report their results in an Annual Progress Report; and 
  • Increase awareness about food systems on campus.


The full text of the Campus Commitment can be found here

2020 Celebrations!

In 2020 Celebrations, the Real Food Challenge network celebrates its benchmark year, took a moment to reflect on the tremendous progress made by colleges and universities in the ever-shifting food system, and reconnected on how deeply important and necessary this work is to build a food system that is nourishing to us all. The network also took this moment to honor the legacy of student power that built this movement from the ground up. 

2020 Celebrations commemorates the real food achievements the Real Food Challenge network has made so we can move into the next decade with clarity and purpose towards a just and sustainable food system. 

Student and Alumni Spotlights

Meet the campaign organizers, student researchers, and leaders who drove this campaign and built and sustained the energy for a real food movement!

The 2020 Results

See the collective results and progress made by the Real Food Challenge network through the Get Real! Campaign.

Participating Schools

See the list of colleges and universities who took part in the Get Real! Campaign by signing the Real Food Campus Commitment.