I have been employed as the Sustainability Intern with ARAMARK at The Evergreen State College for over two years now. There have been many days that I have gone home feeling 100% defeated, not necessarily because I wasn’t doing the best I could, but because the road to success was so long and I felt like we had only just begun. In fact there have been many succeses during my employment through increased composting, reduced food waste, increased awareness of our food sources, recycling practices and our switch to 100% compostable to-go wares across campus.
With a name like Evergreen, many people assume we must have all our sustainable ducks all lined up. They are here on campus, scurrying around like good ideas do, but they are in no way lined up, or institutionalized like many of us hoped when we first enrolled. To combat the hippie-ocrisy I joined the small team of “sustainability champions” while still enrolled in the Practice of Sustainable Agriculture Program, in hopes of using my current contacts to develop a solid farm to fork program in Evergreen’s main cafeteria.
In many ways I succeeded, mainly in that I learned and shared a great deal about the complications of connecting small to medium scale growers to the institutional market and made some meaningful connections between willing local growers and the Executive Chef. The on-campus Organic Farm remains our most local, organic source of produce available, though in the past year they have undergone some serious losses through a greenhouse collapse and a suspected arson on their heated greenhouse and tool shed. ARAMARK has shown their support through large monetary donations and regular purchases featured on our salad bar.
What I’ve learned is that there are so many things built into the currently established food system that prevent the overall availability of local food. Many of these barriers fit into the categories of efficiency, cost and food safety.
When I really break it down, it almost makes sense. Sustainability as a concept is not new to the human race, it wasn’t too long ago we all were recycling fanatics that grew produce in our back yards and conserved the limited natural resources that were made available to us. In many places across the world these practices still hold strong. Since that time in the USA, we’ve had the industrial revolution and all those wonderful practices seem to have been pushed to the wayside for the purpose of novelty and convenience. It makes sense then that the institutional model has very limited sustainable concepts built into it. It’s as if sustainability is a whole new idea to the institutional world.
With that in mind, the majority of my experience in the working field of sustainability has been full of opportunities. Unlike any other department, title or job focus, sustainability has yet to have the structure and demands that come with years of finely tuning the machine. Positions in the field of sustainability tend to have vague job descriptions with long lists of responsibilities, giving the employee the opportunity to make real change within their realm. This is an enormous opportunity for those of us working toward a sustainable future to have a large and meaningful impact.
As the title may suggest, I am soon off to my next adventure of bringing a new life into the world. I have spent many a night dreaming about what kind of life my child will have and I am filled with hope. I seem to have a new perspective on what this work has meant to me and how my position’s mere existence shows an enormous amount of growth toward a more sustainable future. I do believe that we can make sustainable food systems a reality, and honestly I think that’s the grain of sand that will tip the scales. Food is the gateway to the heart, we cannot deny that we all need to eat every day and the more we learn the more we realize that healthy nutritious, whether it be local or organic, food makes all the difference.