The old adage says, “You are what you eat.”
In which case, I hope I can soon say “I am Duke.”
What I mean by that, of course, is that having eaten food grown locally and sustainably—by Duke students on Duke land at a Duke farm—then prepared and featured in an eatery on campus, I will be able to say, “I am what I eat, I am Duke.”
This is not a pipe dream, and it all started in a class: Professor Charlotte Clark’s “Food and Energy.” Now holding the title of project manager for the farm, Emily Sloss, a Trinity ’10 public policy major, told me “the idea for the Duke Campus Farm came out of a research project to see if a farm would be feasible, and it was.”
So what started as a class project has turned into a full-fledged effort by several current and recent graduates to start the Duke Campus Farm. The Farm’s mission, according to its website, is to “educate the student body on sustainable farming practices, increase Duke’s sustainability and reconnect our generation with its food.”
Duke is not an agricultural school in the vein of public land grant universities, nor is this endeavor aiming in that direction. But, food is perhaps the most classic of interdisciplinary subjects. It has implications in health, environment, policy, economics, business and technology-related fields. In this sense, it fits the Duke model perfectly.
We each follow our own journey toward food awareness. For some, like Sloss—who comes from a family of farmers in Iowa—it can be inherited. “They are conventional farmers,” she told me. “And it’s important, I realized, that there was some sort of disconnect between their farming practices and how I connected with my food.”
For my turn, I ventured over to the library. The last five years have seen a proliferation in food-related exposés exploring the true nature of our national food systems. I started with “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” a book by Micheal Pollon that follows the food chain from “earth to the plate” along an industrial, pastoral and forest food chain. I then moved to the couch to catch a few movies, starting with the documentary film “King Corn,” before venturing into the more recent film “Food, Inc.” (Ah, movies. Sometimes research can be so fun.) I know I haven’t hit it all because each person I talked to in putting this column together has suggested another book or resource to add to my reading list.
Perhaps representative of the recent blossoming of both Duke’s food scene and the larger literary dialogue is Emily McGinty, a sophomore who discovered the same books and more while in high school and has since jumped into the burgeoning Duke food scene as president of the Duke Community Garden. Located next to the Smart Home, the Duke Community Garden was started in Fall of 2008. It is run by undergraduates and attracts its growers mostly from the faculty and staff populations.
A short hop away, the Honey Patch is another garden on campus. Located next to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, the Honey Patch is operated largely by Nicholas School students and the Duke Apiary Club, who make honey on the site as well.
These several existing food- and garden-related groups on campus don’t diminish the role of a farm. They enhance it. Aiming for something the garden groups have had limited success in accomplishing, the Duke Campus Farm aims to partner with Bon Appétit, the food service company that manages the Great Hall and East Union Marketplace, and takes in roughly 30 percent of the food revenue generated on campus. The smaller garden projects have each faced hurdles trying to sell to Bon Appétit—largely liability related—that a dedicated farm can overcome, especially with the backing of administrators.
This is not a new or novel idea for Bon Appétit, which touts a sustainable food philosophy that includes a commitment to a 20 percent minimum allocation of food dollars to locally sourced goods from producers and growers. They have also successfully partnered with campus farms and gardens at other schools. To encourage the idea, a student garden guide is available on their website. It addresses some of the issues that can hinder a healthy relationship, emphasizing planning, communication, customer expectations, pricing and invoicing, all very relevant issues that fall on the business side of agriculture.
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With plans to hold workshops and incorporate class lessons with activities on the Farm, the learning opportunities are clear and limitless. This is a win for Duke.
Support the gardens. Learn about your food. Support the farm. Connect.
“You can change the world [and Duke] one bite at a time.” (Food Inc.)
Note: The Duke Campus Farm will be holding its next work day this Saturday, Nov. 20. Get more information and sign up at: http://sites.google.com/sites/dukecampusfarm/.
Liz Bloomhardt is a fourth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Friday.