Episode 1: Rachel Chadderdon Bair - At the Intersection of Food, Healthcare, Economy, and Environment

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Dave Karlsgodt 0:00

Welcome to the Campus Energy and Sustainability Podcast. In each episode, we will talk with leading campus professionals, thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency, to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems. We hope you are ready to learn, share, and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host Dave Karlsgodt. I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy, carbon, and business planning firm. Our guest today is Rachel Chadderdon Bair. Rachel is an innovator that sits at the intersection of food, health, the economy and the environment. Rachel is the director for sustainable and innovative food systems at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Rachel, it's great to have you on the show today.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 0:54

It's so great to be here. Thanks so much, Dave.

Dave Karlsgodt 0:57

My co-host, here to help me explore and navigate this broad set of themes is Greg Farley. Greg is the director of the Chesapeake College Center for Leadership and environmental education located in Wye Mills, Maryland where he is also a professor of biological science. Greg, it's great to have you as a co-host today.

Greg Farley 1:14

Dave, thanks for the invitation. It should be a lot of fun.

Dave Karlsgodt 1:17

Excellent. Well, I'm really excited to have you both on the show. I know we dreamed this up over dinner last fall in Baltimore at the AASHE conference. And Rachel, as you were explaining your work to Greg and I, we were both really enamored with both the breadth and depth of the work you were doing in Kalamazoo. You know, most of us choose to specialize or focus on one problem and you have your hands into a half a dozen major issues ranging from food systems, obesity, mental health therapy, sustainability, education, Brownfield reclamation, I don't even really know where to start today.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 1:47

Well, we can start with food as an intersection point, because all of those issues that you just mentioned, they all intersect, and they're all deeply intertwined. And it's very hard to pull them apart. But the work that we do here at the Bronson Healthy Living Campus in Kalamazoo really focuses on food as kind of a driver of a bunch of different types of outcomes. It's a huge economic driver. Here in Michigan, we're actually a huge agricultural state. And it's a 90 some billion dollar industry in our state Food and Agriculture. And so as a community college and a technical school, we like to focus on training people for the jobs that are coming in the economy and, and so the Food and Agriculture economy is a good place to focus. And food is also at the root of our health, both physical and mental. It is something that holds our communities together and helps to define culture. And it's also our most intimate connection with the world around us. Literally, we are what we eat. When you think about that over and over like I do, it still blows my mind every time we are actually made of what we eat, we're made of the earth. And so that makes food, a really great entry point for conversations around sustainability. So, you know, might look from the outside, like we're approaching a number of different issues simultaneously by focusing on this one thing that's at the intersection of all of them, it helps to make a little more sense of the work.

Dave Karlsgodt 3:19

Now that's a great introduction. Rachel, can you give us a little more context here? I know there are a lot of different organizations involved. And I'm still trying to get my head around who's who.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 3:27

Of course. So I sit at the Bronson Healthy Living Campus and I am an employee of Kalamazoo Valley Community College, which is a two year institution. And the Bronson Healthy Living Campus is a new project that the college undertook with two key partners. One is Bronson Healthcare Group, which is the main private hospital system in our area, and Kalamazoo community mental health and substance abuse services, which is a state and county funded Mental Health Services Agency. And so these 3 partners came together around this intersection of a number of different challenges in our in our area, but especially around health and the environment to build this campus. And it includes three new facilities: two are operated by the college, one is operated by Kalamazoo community mental health and substance abuse services. And the whole new campus is adjacent to Bronson Hospital's existing campus. So it makes for a great environment for collaborative programs across the organizations. And as far as the college goes, what we have done with our two facilities is moved our existing health care programs down to this new campus and also created a new culinary program. That's how it's done the new campus as well. And so we've co-located the food and health care programs and are working on building programs that intersect both of those. And then layered on top of that is the really innovative, exciting project that I get to spend all of my time working on, which is called the food innovate center. And this is part of our culinary school, all of our culinary students actually have to spend time learning to grow food, while they're also learning to prepare food and run food-based businesses. And we are showcasing urban agriculture and all types of sustainable agriculture. And we're also running a food processing and distribution facility at the Food Innovation Center.

Dave Karlsgodt 5:24

All right, wow. That's a dizzying array. But I mean, yeah, so you're growing food, you're sourcing local food, you've got the culinary school, which is using that food, both learning how to use it and cooking and preparing it in more traditional sense. And then you have the hospital and the school using the food. I mean, consuming the food. Is that part of this process, too? Or?

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 5:48

Yes, absolutely. And one of the hospital's main interests in this project is that they want to increase their local purchasing. They spend, I think it's around three or four million dollars a year on food. They serve one and a half million meals a year. And they want to use those purchasing dollars to benefit our local economy here that they were having trouble getting above about 30% local sourcing. And so we are actually helping them procure more food from local farms.

Dave Karlsgodt 6:21

Oh, that's great.

Greg Farley 6:22

So Rachel, it sounds like you are you have to be like sort of chief cook and bottle washer and ringmaster all at the same time. Can you give us a little bit about your role specifically and how you got into it?

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 6:34

Sure. So my role is the Director. My title is Director for Sustainable and Innovative Food Systems. And my role is to direct the operations and the academic programs in the Food Innovation Center. And operations include the urban farm and the food hub. And the academic programs include currently five classes in this agro foods department that as I mentioned, is part of our culinary school, and then a growing set of non-credit community focused classes in food and agriculture related topics. Right now we have a beekeeping class and a master rain gardener class planned for the spring. And that list will keep growing. When it comes to the operations though we are a really lean team, we have a production manager and food hub manager. So they actually are more hands-on in charge of the operations of the building. But it's, it's just us, the three of us. So as an administrator, I am also, for example, on Monday coming in and helping our food hub manager process 100 pounds of potatoes, as a pilot, we are going to be selling diced potatoes to the hospital. So I'm going to come in and help chop them. So we're all hands on deck, we're very lean, though we are hoping to grow our staff.

Greg Farley 7:49

Fantastic. So Rachel, as a community college person myself, I'm curious. So you've got this great set of courses running in your literary arts department in what seems to me to be a very novel and very innovative set of ideas. And we at Chesapeake College worry a lot about transferability of courses. It is if we designed and they've got to appeal to the four year institutions and transfer for credit. Can you describe whether or not your courses transfer for credit? And if so, in what department? And you know how they do that?

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 8:21

That's a really great question, Greg. And that's something that we spend a lot of time thinking about, especially as we plan for new programs. But to speak to the current culinary program, what we've done is focus on developing articulation agreements, so that other colleges and universities will take our entire program that entire associate's degree, and transfer the whole thing for credit into a relevant four year program. So we have two different articulation agreements that are in kind of different states of finality. But one is an articulation that takes our entire culinary program and puts it into a Food Service Administration Bachelor's degree program, and another is a transfer into a hospitality management program. And what that approach has allowed us to do is innovate within our culinary program, while also focusing on making sure we're hitting the objectives that are standard for any culinary program. So the American Culinary Federation, for example, has a set of student learning outcomes that every student must meet. And so as long as we're meeting those, the culinary degree is valid. And if we want to add something extra on top of that, and our students really want to learn that with us, then we can do that. And they can still take that with when they transfer into a four year program.

Greg Farley 9:47

Fantastic. Well done. That's great.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 9:50

Thank you. I actually had very little to do with any of that. There are some really smart people working on the academic details of these programs.

Greg Farley 9:59

So Rachel, it sounds like not only do you work in a number of different capacities, but it sounds like you're trying to collaborate with people who appreciate that sort of broad-spectrum ability. And I want to know, how did you get into this in the first place? And what qualifications did you bring to this position?

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 10:15

Boundless enthusiasm and willingness to fail I would say are my chief qualifications for being in this position. Seriously, though, I previously was involved with a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor, Michigan called Fair Food Network that was running a program called double up food box that matches food stamps when they're spent at farmer's markets, and now some grocery stores and other retailers. And that program, it's another intersection of programs. So it was intended to help low income families get more healthy foods on their dinner table, and also support Michigan's farmers. The food stamps program, also known as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the largest by a very significant margin expenditure of the USDA, we spend some $70 billion of taxpayer money. And so that program was designed to redirect some of that investment that we as a country are making into our local food economy. And so I worked on that program for about five years and it really helped me understand this intersectionality of food and health and environment and, and how to work with people with very different interests and motivations. And that's what I really bring with me to this program. I call myself a secondhand farmer, I'm married to a farmer, I don't actually have much skill at growing food. I have some limited food service experience, as well. But really, my my strength is in collaborative projects and big, unwieldy projects as well. And I have graduate degrees from the University of Michigan in both public health and natural resources.

Dave Karlsgodt 12:01

So Rachel, now that we've established that both you have an amazing job touching on all these different pieces, and you know, it sounds like the kind of thing that's ripe for articles in, in the local paper in the, in your alumni magazine, etc. You know, all that said, I mean, it's amazing work. That's great. But tell us some of the dirt. I mean, and I'm not talking about the soil here, I'm talking about what has made this a difficult journey for you and where is this hard? You know, we don't hear those stories enough and that's a lot of what I want to explore on this podcast in general, is, where are the roadblocks? Where are the failures? Why is this hard?

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 12:37

Well, you know, Dave, our farm is mostly hydroponics. So I have to say there is no dirt.

Dave Karlsgodt 12:42

Fair enough.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 12:46

But of course, there are lots of failures. I hear no on a regular basis. And you mentioned you actually mentioned articles and local papers, there have been several of those, they'll send a reporter out to interview me and I tell them very similar things to what I'm telling you right now. And then they send a photographer out. And the photographer wants to take pictures of me in action. And so I say, well, I'll be here at my desk, writing emails and making phone calls out all afternoon. You're welcome to photograph me doing that because that's what I do. And they say, no, no, no, no, we need to go to the greenhouse. And so I actually have to go out to our greenhouse and pretend to harvest vegetables. And then they take photographs of me doing that and put them in local publications. And people assume that I actually work in the greenhouse, which I do occasionally, but probably, on average, less than an hour a week. And in one of these interviews, I actually cut the tip of my finger off with a harvest knife while the photographer was there, while pretending to harvest herbs. So these are some of the dangers of the job.

Dave Karlsgodt 13:52

Well, I think we're going to ask you for a picture, typing an email with a carrot or something like that.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 13:58

Yes, it'd be, I'll have my coffee, and it will be local coffee. That's what you'll get. But as far as some of the the challenges of doing the work, we are in this really interesting place where we have the support of a large institution. And that affords us a lot of freedom to experiment and a lot of time to make sure that we're planning things out before we actually execute them. But it's always a balance with being a little too constrained within the bounds of this institution. And so you know, we are running a food distribution hub, as I mentioned, and it has taken us about a year to figure out what the business practices of that enterprise need to be in order to be compliant with all of the regulations that are appropriate to a community college, and also allow us to function flexibly enough to support our farmers and to support our customers. So that's one example of something that's been an ongoing challenge. And we also have challenges related to you know, we're running a farm, but we don't live here. We are, we're open five days a week, like you would expect a college to be. And that means that sometimes over the weekend, things go wrong. And so one example of that is that we have a verma composter, a large wormed in, and it's very large, it's about I would say it's about six by ten feet in horizontal dimensions, and then maybe six feet deep. So this is a big system that's intended to handle about 500 pounds of food waste a week, using worms. And we got this, this piece of equipment, and we ordered the worms, and they came to us and they were a little bit late arriving, they were supposed to be in two day mail, and they came in five days. But they arrived on a Friday. And we installed the worms into the worm bin. We put them in, we gave them some food and some newspaper and then we all went away and it was Labor Day weekend. And we came back on Tuesday. And it turned out that most of the worms were actually dead because they had been in the mail for too long, and no one was there over the weekend. So our whole building smelled like a bait shop for quite a while. So there's a there's more colorful...

Greg Farley 16:25

Suggested another thing you should add to the project, you should definitely now be you know a combination food hub and vape shop. Works very well.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 16:34

Well, I mean, there's a lot of worms in there, we just we finally reinstalled the worms and you know, they're going to be reproducing, I'm sure, enough that we could be selling them for bait as well as digesting all of the culinary school's food scraps.

Dave Karlsgodt 16:49

And I assume that's not going to make the alumni magazine this year.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 16:54

I hope not.

Dave Karlsgodt 16:58

Excellent. Well, I'm gonna take this in a little different direction now. I have a question more kind of near and dear to my heart. I mean, in the work that I do in energy, a lot of times that dissonance between sort of the research, education and operational missions of the school. A lot of times schools are thought to be you know, we can be innovative and we can be cutting edge. But when it comes to say, a new air handling system, I mean, you don't really want your university experimenting with that, because you also have world class research going on where, you know, if that cutting edge air handling system fails, all of a sudden, all the research you're doing at the school fails with it. I'd be interested to hear where you sit, kind of in the spectrum of innovation? Are you guys more operationally focused? I mean, trying to just pull all of these cutting edge things off, getting it to a mature business? Or you trying to mostly focus on the educational aspect, you know, teaching people about it? Where do you see your programs fitting? And I'm sure there's different answers to different components. But what are your thoughts?

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 17:54

There's a few different layers to my answer. And I will start with first and foremost, we are an educational institution. So education is always our first goal. But we are we are innovating within this operational space. So we're running our farm and our food hub like businesses, and, you know, allowing our students to participate in those operations, but we are trying to run them like businesses that break even. And that requires a little bit different thinking. It requires us to be a little more flexible and agile. And to that end, my the Food Innovation Center, my department is actually under a part of the college that is non-academic in focus. So we offer a few classes that are part of the credit-bearing culinary program, but we report up through our Center for Strategic Economic and Community Development, which is where we offer non-credit training programs for corporate partners, for community members, and then in very specific fields for go-to-work, academy-style trainings. And that allows us a little bit of freedom from the restrictions of academia of the accreditation processes. And so we're able to develop non-credit bearing classes and roll them out and see how they land, if there's demand for them, and then think about redeveloping that same content into credit bearing coursework if it seems like the concept will stick.

Greg Farley 19:29

So Rachel, in that environment, where you're focusing on education, and you have this sort of structure within the college, I'm wondering, you know, what is longer term success look like for you? Have you done strategic planning for this at all?

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 19:41

I like to say that long term success for us is nothing short of a complete remodeling of the food system in Southwest Michigan. That's what I say on my really ambitious days. But I've been in this role for about a year and a half. And I fully expect that it won't be for another five years or so that I'll feel like we're in sort of a steady state we are, there's a lot to grow into in this project. And we are doing strategic planning. So our long term plans include an off site farm in a rural area where we can either have an incubator program or a more intensive field crop growing program. It includes a number of food security programs in our area, including a food pantry on our campus, and other projects with community partners. It includes an annual conference that we're putting the the first round together for April, that will bring our community together to talk about the history of the food system in our area and the implications for the present and really focus on some actions that we can take as a community. And it includes a number of academic programs in food systems in agriculture that are intended to train the next generation of workers and our food system in a way that they really understand the intersections of food, health, economy, sustainability, and community.

Greg Farley 21:15

I want to go back to the first part of your answer. Do you think it's possible for a community college to reshape the food system in a region? And if so, what signs do you have that might be moving in that direction, or that it might be possible in the first place?

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 21:29

It's not possible for any one player to reshape the food system in the area because the food system is such a complex web of interconnected businesses and individuals and organizations and, and every single one of us is a part of the food system. But what a community college can uniquely do is bring people together. We're an institution in our community that has strong relationships with businesses because we work with them on placing our graduates into jobs. And we have strong relationships with thousands of people in our area who have come here for school or even just for one or two classes, and strong relationships with our government entities as well. And so that that places us in a really unique position to bring people together around shared goals. And that's how we can hopefully reshape the food system is just by being a convener.

Dave Karlsgodt 22:30

So Rachel, following up on that, if folks from other schools are listening to this and excited about the work you're doing, how could they learn from what you guys are doing in Kalamazoo and translate it to their local area? Of what you're doing, how much of it is transferable? Like I know a lot of this got started, I think with a grant? You know, is that a critical piece that somebody has to start with? Or are there are lots of elements of what you're doing, that people could start on their own in their own condition?

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 22:53

From what I understand of the history of this project, this started with a bunch of organizations and businesses and the city government, all coming together around a shared vision for some sort of health focused campus in our city that would be a catalyst for redevelopment in our downtown area and that would provide some educational and training opportunities that we knew were needed. And the funding followed. And but it was, it all came out of partnership building.

Greg Farley 23:27

It sounds like you might have needed to do some internal relationship building too. This sounds like a pretty high-risk enterprise for a community college. How did you get the leadership of the college on board for this?

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 23:39

We are incredibly fortunate here in Kalamazoo to have a visionary leader at the helm of the Community College. He's actually been president for over 30 years, and has spearheaded a number of really innovative projects, many of them focused on our downtown area and on urban redevelopment. And with her leadership and the relationships that she has forged over the last few decades, she was able to put the pieces together.

Dave Karlsgodt 24:05

So following on that, Rachel, if people are interested in talking to you personally, especially colleagues at other community colleges or other you know, institutions that might be listening to this show, are you open for people reaching out and directly connecting with you?

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 24:20

Absolutely. I would love to hear from people, I would love to hear from other colleges who are doing similar projects. I am always looking for models and co-conspirators and collaborators. You can find information about the entire Bronson Healthy Living Campus and the academic programs here at kbcc.edu/healthyliving, and people are welcome to email me directly. It's rbair. So that's rbair@kbcc.edu.

Dave Karlsgodt 24:51

Excellent. And we'll put all of that in the show notes as well. Greg, do you have any final questions for Rachel that we haven't asked yet?

Greg Farley 24:58

I think anything I can say at this point would constitute me fawning over the great work you're doing Rachel, this is fantastic. I'm really, really impressed about the sort of what you've been able to do. And I'm really thrilled to see it happening at a community college because community colleges are really embedded in the communities they serve. So I'll stop asking questions and just say congratulations, good on you. And keep going. Good luck.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 25:20

Thank you.

Dave Karlsgodt 25:21

And Rachel, I'll fall onto that by saying, you know, for me working in more of the energy and carbon planning world, it's exciting to hear some of the great work going on in areas I'm not so familiar with. So one of the wonderful things about doing this podcast is I get to kind of dive in deep and do lots of informational interviews to learn about all the great work that's going on out there. And lots of great inspirational work here.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 25:42

Thank you and I look forward to the rest of your podcasts.

Dave Karlsgodt 25:44

Well, and for both of you. I hope my my intent for this show is to have people that have been interviewed be future co-hosts. So Rachel, you may serve in the role that Greg has today and help us interview somebody else.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 25:55

Yes, happy to do it. Anytime.

Dave Karlsgodt 25:57

Well thanks you both.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair 25:57

Thank you so much.

Greg Farley 25:58

Alright thanks Dave.

Dave Karlsgodt 25:59

We hope you enjoyed this first episode of the Campus Energy and Sustainability Podcast. You can find links and other show notes on our website at campusenergypodcast.com. We'd love to hear your feedback on the show or suggestions for future podcasts. Feel free to email us at feedback@campusenergypodcast.com. Thanks for now.