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Smith Joins National College-Based Real Food Challenge


President Kathleen McCartney displays the college's Real Food Challenge commitment

Published October 24, 2016

Smith has signed onto the Real Food Challenge, making the college the 41st in the country—and the second women’s college—to join the national sustainable food initiative.

A commitment signed October 21 by President Kathleen McCartney pledges that 20 percent of the food provided on campus will meet sustainability and fairness standards set by the Real Food Challenge organization by 2020.

Those standards define real food as food “which truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the earth” through sustainable agriculture, fair labor practices and humane treatment of animals.

Meeting the 2020 target will mean doubling the percentage of “real food” now offered at Smith—a goal McCartney said she is delighted to see the college take on.

“I’m honored to be the Smith president who will sign the Real Food Challenge and demonstrate our commitment to real food,” McCartney told a crowd of students, faculty and staff gathered for last week’s signing ceremony. “This means more than three-quarters of a million dollars will be spent on farms in our area.” In addition, she added, “we will support farms that have fair labor practices.”

McCartney credited students with leading the successful effort to get Smith to join the Real Food Challenge.

Lily Carlisle-Reske ’17, one of several student leaders attending last week’s signing ceremony, noted that students have been working for the past three years in collaboration with Smith’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability (CEEDS) to research food practices and raise awareness of sustainable food issues on campus.

“The Real Food Challenge empowers college students to work together for a more just food system,” Carlisle-Reske said. “I am so happy to be here to share this important moment.”

Dining Services Director Andy Cox said the initiative builds on existing efforts to use more locally grown products in campus meals.

Meeting the goals of the Real Food Challenge will involve working with food suppliers that meet the initiative’s standards, reducing food waste and training staff, Cox said.

He noted that Dino Giordano—former executive chef at Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst—has been hired for the new post of executive chef at Smith. Giordano, whose position is supported with funding from the Kendall Foundation, will be responsible for designing menus using local, sustainable food.

Cox is no stranger to the Real Food Challenge. Before coming to Smith in 2015, he worked at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn.—the only high school to have signed the real food commitment.

“I am confident we can make the 20 percent goal at Smith,” Cox said. “We have a willing administration and a welcoming student body that has been working to make this happen.”

Other highlights of Smith’s real food commitment include:

  • Creation of a Food Systems Working Group made up of diverse members of the campus and Northampton area communities who will help guide the college in sustainable food purchases and priorities;
  • Student internships supported by Dining Services and the Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability to keep the community informed about Smith’s progress in meeting the challenge; and
  • Outreach and educational efforts ranging from creating a real food labeling system, to hosting speakers and events that draw attention to issues of sustainable food production and consumption.

Peg Toscanini, a chef at Smith for six years, said she and her co-workers are excited about being part of the Real Food Challenge.

“It’s not only the right thing to do, it also means food just tastes better,” she said. “We’re all really looking forward to working with the good food that’s going to be coming our way.”

A Conversation with Members of Smith Students for Food Justice

By Maryellen Stohlman-Vanderveen ’19

Lily Carlisle-Reske ’17 and Lily Williams ’18 are two members of Smith Students for Food Justice, the student group behind the Real Food Challenge initiative at Smith.

Those efforts date back to 2014, when Smith’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability (CEEDS) shared information with students about the Real Food Challenge.

This inspired Carlisle-Reske and Claire Westa ’17 to undertake a special studies project to record and calculate how much real food the college was using in campus meals.

They and other students also organized events and meetings to inform and involve the campus community in the Real Food Challenge.

“It’s important that young people are passionate about where their food comes from and are aware of the impact of where it comes from,” says Williams, a Spanish major with an environmental concentration in sustainable food.

She notes that the national Real Food Challenge group has the goal of shifting $1 billion dollars to the sustainable food industry.

Carlisle-Reske, who is majoring in environmental science and policy, says student leadership is a key part of the national real food campaign

“Colleges and universities have a really big impact on communities both near and far,” she says. “I think it’s important that students use their influence to leverage these institutions to encourage them to invest their resources justly.

President Kathleen McCartney displays the college's Real Food Challenge commitment, along with (from left) Claire Westa '17, Dining Services Director Andy Cox, Lily Carlisle-Reske '17 and Lily Williams '18.