Episode 24: Sustainable Food Systems at UNC-Chapel Hill - Transcript
Dave Karlsgodt 0:00
Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. And each episode we will talk with leading campus professionals thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed and 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, and energy, carbon and business planning firm.
Laura Mindlin 0:34
There's no question that now people are becoming more and more disconnected from the food system and there are so many ways now we can be using our landscapes more creatively.
Claire Lorch 0:45
The garden makes the housekeeper's feel like the university cares about them as people.
Scott Myers 0:50
Quite honestly a number of students come into college and don't even know what a pepper may look like. And so it's kind of neat to be able to see that.
Dave Karlsgodt 0:58
So today's episode is The last in a series of episodes that came out of our summer internship program. You've heard a couple of other episodes, the last two, I believe. But today we have Kaia Findlay. So Kaia, why don't you give us a little introduction for yourself and let's talk about your episode.
Kaia Findlay 1:15
Yeah, I'm really excited to have done this episode. So I'm a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill. And during my time as a student there, I got really involved in food systems and sustainability. So in doing this episode, I wanted to tackle the complexity of sustainable food systems and explore how universities in this case using UNC Chapel Hill as a case study, how they strive for sustainability in all aspects of that complex system, whether that's purchasing or growing organic food, cutting down on energy usage associated with food, increasing access to healthy food or building community, all in the food system. I conducted three interviews with representatives from three different organizations on campus. So I hope each interview will sort of showcase the successes and challenges in each organization but Taken together, they will reveal a little bit more about these food systems.
Dave Karlsgodt 2:04
Well, I like how you got to some folks that were involved in this food system just from a personal level and on then all the way up to the people that are in charge of running the entire food operations for the entire campus. So that was it was kind of fun to hear their different perspectives, as well as how similar a lot of the problems are. Definitely. Well, I'm also excited to announce that Kaia has moved from summer intern to our Podcast and Communications Manager here at Fovea. So welcome to the team, Kaia and we'll look forward to hearing your episode.
Kaia Findlay 2:30
Thanks so much, Dave. Hope people also enjoy it. Here is my first interview.
Laura Mindlin 2:36
Hi, my name is Laura Mindlin, and I'm the coordinator of Edible Campus UNC. We are an education program of the North Carolina botanical garden that converts gardens across the UNC Chapel Hill campus to growing edible medicinal and pollinator friendly plants for UNC student and community engagement. I've been on the program just edging up on three years now. We I am a staff member on the program. Now we do try to keep students at the forefront of everything. So we hire student garden managers and students on your communication and our engagement and outreach and educational programming as best we can.
Kaia Findlay 3:13
Awesome. Yeah.And can you describe the the main garden versus the satellite Gardens is sort of how everything is laid out.
Laura Mindlin 3:20
Yeah, so our main garden is this quarter acre production education garden that's directly behind Davis library. So it's right in the middle of campus. And right now it's about half raised beds and mounted beds, and has a ring of very brushes and some a pollinator patch. And then the other half of it was actually blocked off for construction for the two years of the gardens existence and the contract fence just came out a few weeks ago. So that's now being converted into a lawn and we're gonna have a little stage and all education space and we kind of think of it as Yeah, it's an indication garden and it's a hub of activity for different food and food justice organizations, and also just for the community in general, for non food or garden related activities. This quote unquote satellite gardens that are spring off of this main garden are in all directions from that garden. So there's right now they're clustered into eight sites and got 10 or 11 garden beds that are like the garden the main garden was constructed, it was a it was before an unused land and it was turned into a garden whereas the satellite gardens are gardens that were prior ascetic gardens and now are incorporating edible medicinal and pollinator friendly plants. And all the satellite gardens are free for all picking anyone who's walking by is welcome to pick the garden so long as they're doing so responsibly, you know, leaving at least two thirds of the plant and the main garden we since that is more of an education space. We Don't have people just coming in and free for all picking and they're the majority of the food is harvested and donated to Carolina cupboard which is a student run food pantry on campus. And if their special events we can know that that food will be available for the special event or if their students maybe wanting to engage in some research on a certain crop and like that's a protected space that they can do so in there. So all of the food grown in that main garden is 100% recirculated back into the UNC community. It's just done so in a little bit more intentional of a way then free for all picking.
Kaia Findlay 5:35
Got it. Okay, cool. What need did edible campus fill in the UNC food systems?
Laura Mindlin 5:43
On one hand is I think the part that gets overlooked a little bit is this idea of working landscapes or how we're using the landscapes around us. And college campuses. You know, particularly Carolina is known for their aesthetic beauty, but also for using it Campus landscapes as I think the term they use, like educational landscapes or interactive landscapes that kind of do more than just provide aesthetic beauty but also serve some other roles. Whether it's fostering critical thinking or providing free food and supporting pollinators and edible campus in part was created our network of 11 satellite. Satellite gardens are small gardens that are spread across campus that were prior just ascetic gardens and now are incorporating edible medicinal and pollinator friendly plants. And a large part of the thinking behind those gardens was that these are landscapes that students are walking by every day and what if they could also provide free food or even build community and have a gathering space for people or foster this critical thinking of, Oh, I never even thought twice about how amazing the lance my own home landscape or any landscapes around me but there are so many ways we can be using our landscapes in our creative way. I think the other part which is maybe the more obvious and the more trendy part of all of this is this whole idea of edible landscaping and reconnecting people with the food growing process and with fresh produce. I think there's no question that now people are becoming more and more disconnected from the food system and from just nature and place in general. And gardens are really unique way to address that and to reconnect people to the spaces around them. Yeah, I think especially college students is like a really interesting age to be doing all this with because that's for many people the first time that they're having to fend for themselves food wise. So So I guess that the second piece, another piece is like the mental health benefits of spending time and gardens during, well life in general, but especially during college years, which is a big time of transition and really stressful time for a lot of people behind Davis library that space especially we really hope can be your restaurant for people or a place that people can kind of step away from the stresses and pressures of university life and carry out garden work. Not only are people learning about sustainable agriculture, land management, but it's really providing a mental health value that people found to be really important and necessary during these years.
Kaia Findlay 8:31
Yeah, and thinking about like, you've touched on this, but like, thinking about all these different needs, that the edible campuses feeling like why is it important for universities to have something like this, especially when they're thinking about sustainable food systems?
Laura Mindlin 8:44
Well, I'll talk a specific about Carolina for a sec is there's a very much a entrepreneurial emphasis here. And there are a lot of needs in our food system right now and things that are really broken and there's a lot of focus and attention here at UNC. at Chapel Hill, on the more food justice, food sovereignty, public health and nutrition side of things, and that's really important. Like that's, that's great that that's happening. I think that it is important for people going off and engaging in the more social side of food system work to at least understand the fruit grind process and have some experience with it. So I think this at minimum, people engaging food systems work, like have to see the process and work with a garden for at least a season I can like see, that didn't learn to consider all the different factors that go into growing your own food. So I think that's a part of it. I think also, there are just a ton of initiatives that are again addressing these the more social side of food system work and if we're able to use our garden to just take that learning or those efforts The next level or at like another layer of depth to them, like that's kind of how we are hoping to for campus gardens to be used. So instead of us growing food and starting our own food distribution or food pantry, like there already is a student run food pantry on campus, and they now have the capacity for refrigeration and to hold fresh produce, but they've never distributed fresh produce before. So why don't we just draw our food and filter it to them and then now they can we can do cooking classes together and we could kind of partner and just help that initiative make even more of an impact. Same goes for there's an organization, urban UNC that engaged youth of color and sustainable agriculture and they've had a few kind of scavenger hunt cooking workshops that they've done to students and now we've been able to work with them and have scavenger hunts in our gardens and they collect the veggies and herbs or gardens and make a big salsa together. So there's like at things that were a little bit more like concepts now can be the more closer prepared to reality with these networking postcards?
Kaia Findlay 11:03
That's pretty cool. Yeah. It's interesting to think about how everything's like a piece of everything else like exactly in the system. Thinking about just like from a sustainability standpoint, what makes that will campus a sustainable garden and what sorts of sustainable practices to you and implement.
Laura Mindlin 11:18
Yeah, so we I mean, we haven't gone through like USDA Organic certification or anything. But we do follow organic practices. So we're not spraying anything in any of our beds. We use a lot of mulch, we use a lot of like creative landscaping, so planting whatever its color cover crops are using a lot of mulch or whatever it might be to kind of suppress some of the issues that can come up in gardens. We've been pretty lucky so far. I wouldn't say very lucky but pretty lucky in terms of haven't gotten hit by a lot of like really bad pests and disease and Lester I read so we do crop rotation too. So we're not playing the same things in our beds every year. We also since we are looking to engage as much of the UNC community as possible. A lot of things that could be really tedious for a large farm like hand-waving like we can do. So we don't need to spread different chemicals that are going to suppress the weeds. And I'm like we can have work days of we don't know how fun they are forever. We can, in theory have work days for weed pulling. I think the other layers sustainability, like have to serve program functions. I think we were talking a little bit before that we have tried to create a model that we're not in competition with other food organizations on campus but are rather providing resources to them just to help others maximize their own missions. With that, like just that we're not taking on the world, like even little things like doing cooking demos. Like we're hoping to start stuff in the fall and will partner with classes who are that's incorporating to a curriculum or other student orgs who already do it will just partner with them. Let them use our space to do the cooking demo, as opposed to then us needing to create a wheel. That's right. Totally rolling on campus of a little bit of a permaculture background. And that's kinda like that approach us working on farms in Costa Rica for a bit and one of the permaculture principles is increase or maximize hammock time. And I really like that because it's like, yeah, we should be able to like relax and be in the garden and be as efficient with our resources and our partnerships and everything as possible. We have been working for a little bit now on creating an interactive plant map showing what's going all the guardians how to pick them, how to cook with them what they're good for. And instead of going out and killing a private company to do that, we partnered with a computer science class and we had some computer science students at UNC create that for us. And we've kind of use that model of like, we need this. Okay, well, we need new marketing materials, let's reach out to them public relations class and create new materials. So a lot of just like different ways to create a saleable program for us but then also create more educational opportunities for the the UNC community. So it's kind of a win win. I think first Working on the economic sustainability piece of it, we are getting closer. But we've still got a little bit of funding. We're looking forward just so that we could continue to respond to the demand from every area of campus to have new gardens or new educational programming. We want to be able to say yes to everything. So we're working on that.
Kaia Findlay 14:21
Yeah. And I'd love to ask you a few more questions about that. But before getting into that, I want to talk a little bit more about the partnerships that you have with the other food focused organizations like you talked a little bit about the pantry but like, What's your relationship to the Carolina campus community garden? Yeah, and to Carolina Dining Services.
Laura Mindlin 14:36
To start with Carolyn campus community garden, they're also an education program of the North County botanical garden. They've been around for longer than us. So we are learning a lot from them in terms of the garden management piece of it. Carolina Dining Services, so we I know a lot of universities, it's the campus gardens that then feed into the dining hall. But here I think when we started I remember I was sitting in In a class of Apple service learning students who are closely with us every fall, and I was totally new to Carolina, it's like my first like week of the job. And I was new to this campus. And I was like so you know, one of the food organizations here, and I coming from a small liberal arts school there were like, there's one food or again, one environmental student org and like, those were the ones and I was kind of expecting that and then they started listening for like 20 minutes, like all the different food and food justice and social justice and nutrition bodies here on campus. So with that they're like, don't start another one, like, how can you plug in and then with that, also, I think when we were figuring out what's going to happen to the food that we grow, and we're What are like major partners going to be since there was such a vibrant like food justice, vibe among an energy among student orgs here on campus, I think we thought that we would have a bigger impact, filtering our food through these organizations. As opposed to donating stuff or selling stuff to the dining hall where they serve, you know, thousands and thousands, thousands of meals a day and we would only be able to make a pretty tiny portion of that. So the end with our model being more educational, I think it was more important to us to use our food for educational purposes as opposed to providing food to supplement the dining hall. I think though recently the dining hall is amazing. They're doing unbelievable stuff here on campus to support local sustainable food and source local sustainable. They're like beyond so many other universities across the country. So there's no question that like they believe in all this, and they actually provide some generous amount of funding for our program. And we have been working, especially these past few months on growing our partnership, even just an educational space. So we're going to start leading monthly foraging walks together. So for folks to feel more comfortable engaging in our garden spaces and walk ground the gardens and learn to pick some of the food that's going there. There's a bunch of other potential opportunities for us to partner with them a little bit more creatively. But the thing is more people are learning radical campus, then more people are coming to us to be like, Hey, we're doing this and you want to partner like so we're learning a lot just by people know who it is. And then of course over time to like an empowering students to be the leaders of organization. They know a lot more than I do, of course, so they kind of bring different ideas, or their friends are in this club and want to partner and it's like, Great, that's perfect. That's exactly why we, we have so many students involved in that way. And I'm still, you know, only been here for a few years, like getting to know the university system and the relationship between the universities in the area. But I think that it's also something to consider to like what the specialties of the different colleges and universities in this area are. So I think that's a large part of the reason why there isn't that much agriculture. Education here at Carolina is because you have NC State right next to us and they have a ton of resources there and people can take classes there and that's what they do so well like we the focus here for the focus is more food justice social justice probably help entrepreneurial them like the school emphasizes kind of like that more and then I think do cuz even another focus the Central Carolina Community College is a great sustainable agriculture program there too. But with that, I think that's why I think it will campus is important is because we're not an agriculture school. But I think there's now a food studies minor and there's more food studies people doing self declared majors and it's becoming really popular on campus that probably won't become like an NC State. If we are putting resources into a few studies minor or supporting that direction for the university like you've got to provide some agriculture education, and will campus and Carolina Campus Community garden, Hope gardens all these gardens provide a really important role for the university Just in, that comprehensive food system education here.
Kaia Findlay 19:05
Definitely. And going back to what you're saying before about, like economic sustainability and the sustainability of keeping everything going into the next year, like yeah, you don't have to keep worrying that you're gonna have to dig up some money. Some right are like, go find people out in the pit and get them to come in and work.
Laura Mindlin 19:23
It. There's so many layers of this, we have definitely been putting a big emphasis on how we can institutionalize any area of our program. So the example of that would be the satellite gardens. We those gardens are spread all across campus so very hard for our like 1.5 staff people on this program to manage on our own obviously, we're even first student garden managers to manage on their own. So it seemed like a really natural fit early on for us to be partnering with rest life because a lot of the gardens are close to dorms and that's such a cool way to Unum bond with your community and feel a sense of place in the craziness that isn't that is college. So we are now actually in the RHA, Residence Hall Association constitution that will they actually provide some funding for materials for those gardens and they will appoint usually to sustainability coordinators of each dorm that helped to water maintain, and plan for the gardens that are close to their dorms. So that's one way that we've instead of having to every year recruit waters to adopt the gardens and hope we find enough, there's a little bit of certainty in that partnership and it's still new, it's still being piloted. Once we get comfortable in that, that we can have them for creating even more you know, educational programming and, and community activities and different stuff using the gardens. We have an apple service learning course that has students dedicated specifically to our garden and Carolina Campus Community Garden every fall and Every spring now, so that's a good sustainable source to people. We also hire a team of five or so interns every semester and then a to garden managers over the summer. Those and we haven't at this point ever had trouble filling any of those positions because this is a really growing area of interest right now. If you talk to any campus gardening program, the biggest issue is turnover, not like bad turnover, but turnover, just people go abroad, people graduate just working with students and the fact that a lot of the exciting gardening stuff is over the summer and not once do the schools in session. So those are things we work with, I think we would love to shift and we're getting closer to it. And we'd love to shift to having our whole team whatever area they're working on be returning year to year or at least be committed for the entire academic year. Again, that's a win win for students and our part of our staff because a lot of students like it takes a few months to like really feel comfortable and feel empowered, and autonomous and ready to leave and grow the program and then they'll leave. So we've had a lot of students who are eager for longer term appointments anyways. And we also are just for the first year have created a student organization counterpart to our program. And that was totally born out of one of our students who just was really excited. He was working with us Apple service learning and really excited about the program and thought that we were meeting and not meeting our potential and how broad of the student body we could reach and that a student orientation and really help us to do that. So the student or will now have a lot of more of the outreach educational components of our program, and people can filter it and become lead projects or initiatives or anything. It's something we've been thinking about a lot recently is since we're still new and people are still learning what Edible Campus is and not sure that they could, how they can get involved with the program or if they're allowed to pick the produce and just like a little bit excited about It but hesitant to really jump in. It's shifting really quickly and people are learning and getting more comfortable really quickly. We are a little bit worried about what's going to happen when more people find out and more people want to attend our work days or more people are picking from the gardens. That's kind of why we're now we're also trying to really build up the outdoor classroom, vision of the garden and thinking of other creative ways that we can engage people in the garden spaces beyond just attending work days and picking the produce. And that's everything you know, from working with these marketing communication classes are having people create videos on how to grow in your own backyard or in your window sale or leading other educational offerings. But we'll see across it for journey to get there. We're not quite there yet. But I think we're getting closer.
Kaia Findlay 23:53
Yeah, definitely. And you mentioned Have you talked a little bit about this, but I'm just wondering like, what are your hopes for the future like Here's your five year plan next steps.
Laura Mindlin 24:02
I think the, you know, three year plan is we really want to have this model of like, we're now going to have student organization with different working groups. And we're going to have work days and we're going to have student leaders and kind of having that model all figured out and have that kinks worked out for that and have it be as maybe just might just be me, I'm a pretty structure oriented person, but having that structure that every year we're just filling in and being as ingrained in the university as possible. So I think the three year plan is like using all our resources as efficiently as possible and our partnerships and really increasing the use of our gardens in every way from social to academic. For example, we've had the Office of accessibility and resources reach out to us and they work with a lot of students who require extra time on tests or have midterm and final time can be really stressful time and thinking about whether we create sense regarding part of our garden or have some activities that we know will happen every midterm and final period using our garden spaces. So we're really excited about opportunities like that. So I think we're just excited in these next 20 years to have a bunch of these ideas come into fruition and continue to build on them and just continue to reach more and more students here at UNC Chapel Hill.
Kaia Findlay 25:26
Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Laura for taking the time to talk with me. I really enjoyed hearing Laura's perspective on how edible campus could plug into the efforts of countless other UNC food organizations and use resources effectively to create sustainability. This next interview with the manager of a sustainably run community garden that provides its purpose to you and sees low wage employees will explore how University food organizations can address food access issues as well.
Claire Lorch 25:51
My name is Claire Lorch, and I'm the garden manager education coordinator for the Carolina campus community garden. I'm responsible for everything that happens at the garden basically. But so I have to do the planning for what we're going to be planting so, thinking about just the general overall maintenance of the garden. also manage the volunteers. We have three work days a week. So plan out the work days and then come up with how I'm going to use the whatever number of volunteers that turn up. And I didn't quite know, planning out how I'm going to win and how I'm going to distribute the food to the housekeeper's with all the food waste because the housekeeper so planning those distributions, responsible for funding, making sure we have enough money so that most of my salary is covered but everything else like I have a part time garden system. Everything else has to be fundraise so that you know and I guess overall I added a new goal for next year and that's community engagement because I think that's so much a part of what we do and so important to our success.
Kaia Findlay 26:58
When did the garden get started? And how did you get involved? And how did What did it look like and how far has it come?
Claire Lorch 27:05
The idea for the garden emerged back in 2009. And I just happened to be at the table when it did. And we were talking about it was a group of administrators, mostly, we were talking about the impact that the great recession was having on UNC boys at that time. Somebody at the table said, why don't we start a community garden. And at the time, I was working in the Carolinas and for public service, and the director of that program was also there at the table. And she mentioned that the university and recently purchased this piece of land in front of the Center for Public Service. She saw my busy as the idea of starting a garden so she gave me permission as part of my job to try to organize it. That's kind of how it got started. And then it wasn't hard to find other people who were equally these Yes, it was Get on board. And yeah 2010 we had our first in March 21 day spring we had our first day, and we've been going ever since. And so we started as 8000 square feet. We're now 14,000 square feet, where we are on temporary space. But as far as I know, the University doesn't have any plans to ask us to move at this point in time. Hopefully they won't anytime soon.
Kaia Findlay 28:26
Can you paint a picture for me now what the garden looks like 10 years later,
Claire Lorch 28:30
aside from the weeds that I'm visiting right now, you know, we've got 43 beds. We have a solar powered greenhouse at their beautiful cedar tool shed. We now have 11 compost bins. We started with three, you know, we have four accessible beds so that people with mobility issues can still garden with us. We've got fruit trees, we've got grapevines, we've got she talking machine. There's a lot going on. So we've come a long way.
Kaia Findlay 29:01
Can you tell me more about sustainability practices that you just do on the farm?
Claire Lorch 29:05
Is it okay well, again, we've got so in terms of water neutrality, we have a drip irrigation system. So we can really water most of the garden into nice. Oh, we do it overnight to minimize evaporation and then with the turn of a switch, we can water half the garden. We plant intensively, and we also plant and this has been really a wonderful partnership with Botanical Garden, a lot of native plants. So that's about it for water neutrality. When it comes to zero waste to landfills. Composting, we take it very seriously the garden so we have again, I think we started off with three bins and did it casually and we are now with 11 bins we have three during academic year with three compost co-manager. So these are students who do nothing else when they come to the garden generally accepted Welcome to campus and they really take it seriously and we have an Excel sheet so the record which been got turned which been got added to and which been we're letting grassed we also have been outside so that anyone in the community can come and contribute compost to us 24 seven and inevitably whenever I'm out there and which is lately every single day, somebody comes by and breaks accomplice and I always you know from the other side of the garden thank you and they are always as appreciative if not more because they want some placed, bring their food waste and they know they're contributing to the current success. So that's worked out really well for us. We use we grow a lot of things vertically, and so we use bamboo, which right now we're harvesting from Carolina north to keep leads out the pathway we put down cardboard which we get out of bins behind restaurants and wood chips that we have. We have a teacher in the friend he comes in delivers which gives us what we need. It's good for him he doesn't have to take him to the landfill. And you know anytime we're creating a new structure we always try to use what scraps. Greenhouse gas neutrality. As I mentioned, we have a greenhouse it's it's completely solar power, we don't have any electricity on property. So that's been a fantastic addition to our garden so we can grow all of our most of our rooms evenings. And by providing the fresh produce to the gardens recipients, the housekeeper's. They don't have to go and buy them from the grocery store which may or not be locally sourced. So that's another plus. And then because we're located so close to the to the campus, most of our volunteers either walk, take the bus or bike very few people that have to drive and other sustainable practices. We plan to attract beneficial insects. I think I said that right now with two beehives, we had up to four They help us colony our crops. You know we practice crop rotation cover crops, we don't use any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and whenever possible we try not to use any pesticides. So we either catch cabbage, Maspeth butterfly nets or we do whatever we can to minimize the impact because even organic pesticides in fact, the good stuff,
Kaia Findlay 32:26
How do you stay sustainable and both in the sense of being green and green sustainable but also like making sure that you have enough money and have enough enough hands to do what you want the next year.
Claire Lorch 32:40
You know, in terms of the people piece we have, we really have a core group of people who have some of them have been with us from day one that first day. So these are community people, some are retired, and then their staff people that has helped so you have a core of people that continue to come year after year, and know what to do. And so I can put them in leadership positions and they can then share with the next crew that comes on. So that's helpful. And it's surprisingly enough we have students even when they graduated, they stay in the area, a lot of them still come back and volunteer with this when they can. So that has helped and, plus, you know, great partners is really been helpful. The employee Forum has been with us from the beginning. They contribute funding to us they it was easily thousand dollars a year just wanted to 20 $500 they sit on our advisory committee and they're just totally behind us. And Alice Ammerman, who came up with the idea. She in the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, another partner and the Botanical Garden are all sort of, they've been with us from day one. And so, you know, I feel like I can go to them when I have issues and they're they're very helpful in terms of just brainstorming ideas. You know, funding is always a struggle. You know, we've gotten grants from struggles as much as a local foundation that funds all kinds of cool things in the community, but they're really interested in beautifying the community in food access. So we're really good match. And we've gotten quite a few grants from them. And they've been a great source of support for us. And, you know, we also write letters appeal letters. We've been lucky to have somebody who has contributed over the years and has made really significant contributions such as trying to keep up those relationships and not take anything for granted. You know, we also maintain records so that we can say when we're writing grants, right now, I think we've given away 21 tons of food, things like that, that can impress people that these people are serious, they have a history, they know what they're doing, it's worth investing.
Kaia Findlay 34:57
UNC has all these sort of different parts of its system. Sustainable Food Systems. What role does the garden play in sustainable food systems at UNC?
Claire Lorch 35:06
You know, we see ourselves as addressing the food access issue for staff, particularly low income stuff. You know, when we first started the garden, we decided that the impetus was that people were struggling to feed their families during the Great Recession. So that's, and we decided early on that we would garden all the beds communally, and we identified the housekeeper's. Partly there, one of the largest units on campus, and certainly with some of the lowest paid workers plus status, and at the time, political things were not good. They got a lot of negative publicity for things that were going on in the administration with the housekeeper's and everything else. It seemed like, this would be a win win. And so that's how that was decided. And they're about 400 housekeepers, you know, and most of them work second and third shift when I first started, I think Was 40% were refugees from Burma and that's like 70%, you know, refugees from Burma African American and some Latina, some white. So it's a it's a real mix. You know, they tell us that it just helps them, you know, in terms of saving money. But it's also I think it's more than that, as I think one of the zone managers on the supervisor said it, the garden makes the housekeeper's feel like the university cares about them as people and not just housekeepers. It's symbolic of, you know, we recognize that you probably don't earn enough money to be able to buy this fresh local produce. So we're going to provide it for you. And we're also going to give you work time to come and get it. So it's done during their work time. So we you know, we distributed at 6am for the third shift 7:30am or shift and 5pm per second. And we also do cooking demonstrations too. So that's another thing in terms of your juicing it foods to some folks or introducing new ways of cooking foods. We also raise plants and we give plants have to ask it was and we just recently asked the brother sent me sent me photographs of their tomato plants because they are so proud of him and so again I think that I guess also contributes to sustainable practices if they're growing their own. You know, one point we were even looking at expanding to meet the needs of the staff that are not UNC employees and do not get the same benefits and you'll see does I get benefits but their salaries are significantly lower and decided that we didn't have the capacity to do that. I mean another 400 people or something.
Kaia Findlay 37:49
What are you hoping will be the next steps for the garden, your one to five year plan and
Claire Lorch 37:57
just doing whatever we doing better? Adapting to, to this climate change think which, And I have to do things differently next summer, you know, we just won't be able to grow the things that we want to grow. This is just too hot while we have to create, you know, good shade cloth or high tops or do something different as this this morning.
Kaia Findlay 38:19
Yeah, that's gonna throw a new wrench into things.
Claire Lorch 38:21
This is the first Year, that's really felt like a huge impact for us, even though it's been creeping along. This year is really hard. I feel like my job in the workplace is keep people from passing out.
Kaia Findlay 38:35
Make sure people are hydrating.
Claire Lorch 38:37
Kaia Findlay 38:38
And why is it important to like have this garden that's filling this need and playing this role in UNC's sustainable food systems and feeding all the people who work there, not just study there?
Claire Lorch 38:50
Well, I mean, I think it's important because it sends a message to the employees but it's, it's also an incredible learning opportunity, I think in a service opportunity. For staff, students, faculty, community members, it's really important as a classroom as educational opportunity. It needs a lot of needs. And, you know, I think it's an important statement for this university to say, yeah, we, you know, committed this piece of land because we think it's important not only to feed our low wage workers, but our students and staff, faculty to have this opportunity to learn and to do other things that you might not be able to do otherwise if you didn't have it right there.
Kaia Findlay 39:34
Yeah. Thank you so much, Claire. It was great to talk with you today. Well, my interviews with Laura and Claire focused on the impacts that small gardens can make in a big university. I wanted to go to the sustainability efforts of UNC's biggest food provider, Carolina Dining Services. This next interview will explore how a big universities purchasing power and decision making can be used for sustainable good.
Scott Myers 39:56
My name is Scott Myers and I'm the director of auxiliary services. One of my responsibilities is overseeing Carolina dining services. There's 16 different food operations on campus. The biggest facilities that we have are all you can eat dining halls that serve a million and a half people a year between the two of them. At those dining halls, you have 10 different food concepts in one and then eight in another that's being expanded now to nine. And then we have three different food courts ranging from about half a million people served in the largest one of those down to like 250,000 a year and the smallest one
Kaia Findlay 40:38
What do you think that the role of the dining halls is in UNC sort of sustainable food system like what power do you wield to make the food systems on campus more sustainable?
Scott Myers 40:49
So I think that the two biggest areas that we're impactful in is the obvious one of we buy $10 million worth of food every year in terms of impacting, you know, food purchases and that sort of thing, we certainly have the lion's share of that opportunity. And then the second thing is, is that we're serving over 4 million people a year in our different operations. It's funny that different pockets of campus kind of view sustainability differently, I think, or whether or not as on their conscious or not in certainly, I mean, there's 10,000 plus faculty and staff too. So you're also trying to meet their needs as well, which could be kind of contrary to to what your overall goals are. I mean, you have to balance what you're doing, to make sure that you're trying to serve everybody as best as you can. But yeah, so are facing the students with our operations and our people, as well as our purchasing power gives us a unique opportunity, I think.
Kaia Findlay 41:53
Like what are some of the most significant decisions maybe that you've made with purchasing power they think have made a really big impact.
Scott Myers 42:00
Well, in the all you can eat operations, I think we've gone more towards a vegetable centric type of food menu. So, meatless Monday's, which we've branded as actually less meat, instead of taking away all the meat, we just market more to people to be mindful of eating less meat. So less beef really is kind of one of our big observations over the years. The other thing is, is I think menus over the last 10 years have gotten more our students have become more desirable of ethnic or international type of menu. So you see more Asian menus, Latin and Indian also, in a lot of those were actually more vegetable based type of recipes, you know, so they kind of went hand in hand as well.
Kaia Findlay 42:52
And can you talk a little bit about the real food commitment, like what that is and what that looks like in the dining hall?
Scott Myers 42:58
Sure. So the real food commitment is actually a commitment that the Chancellor signed back a few years ago was 2016. And committing the university food service in its main, all you can eat dining halls, to purchase 20% of its food purchases qualifying as real food, which real food is a national campaign that has a matrix that identifies how foods can qualify as real along four different categories. Local is one of the categories fair, ecologically sound and environmentally friendly. And so there's different criteria in each of those categories that you can, depending on how the food is produced, where it comes from, who makes it will determine whether or not it qualifies. And then part of this commitment was actually working with students as an academic venture. To analyze food every year with the what they call the real food calculator. And so you have a, a non biased I guess best way to put it, you know, learning opportunity for students to actually look at exactly what's bought. They get invoices from the food contractor and they categorize them into a spreadsheet that is basically flushed through the National Organization for verification. And then they come up with a percentage of food that qualifies in two different categories a real food a in a real food be real food, a being the more desirable and real food be still qualifying but allowing some room for improvement in terms of how it qualifies.
Kaia Findlay 44:46
And what are you UNC's most recent real food numbers.
Scott Myers 44:49
The commitment was that we would reach 20% of our purchases by 2020 qualifying under at that time it was version 1.1 One of the real food calculator, the year that we signed, the Chancellor signed the agreement, we exceeded 20%. And we've exceeded every year on version 1.1. Since then, this false fall of 2018, which was analyzed this spring, for version 1.1, they actually exceeded 25% of the purchases, but the updated version of the real food matrix is now on version 2.1. And under 2.1, the criteria gets more stringent and the exceeded 18% on that version,
Kaia Findlay 45:42
are you trying to like still get to 20% on version 2.1.
Scott Myers 45:46
So we kind of look at it that in terms of priorities, our first priority being to exceed what we committed to which was the 1.1 version. So we're looking to do that, but we're also tracking What 2.1 version is so that we can try and improve that as well?
Kaia Findlay 46:05
Yeah. What are the challenges of making the real food decisions and making sure that you meet commitments while also satisfying the needs of the students?
Scott Myers 46:15
The biggest challenge with the the actual commitment, or the calculator itself is making sure that the criteria is correct, and that students are actually analyzing it correctly. One of our challenges, again, has been the change in the versions of what the the real food national puts out their latest versions, the biggest Roadblock, I think, is a criteria that requires vendors of fresh produce to be $5 million or less. And those people in the food service industry know that that's an incredibly low volume of business. And quite frankly, we don't really see how that actually It applies to being able to improve our real food numbers. So there's a point of contention there that that we would like to get clarified. Nevertheless, that's kind of how they're, they're looking at that now. And obviously, the goal being to increase support of small farming, we just don't have the science behind why that number? And is that the appropriate number and that sort of thing. So that's something that's pretty much under discussion now. Then, you know, in terms of the service points, one is basically communicating to students, what is real food and what isn't? I'm not sure if real food has a branding identity that big with your normal student. So what you're trying to do is kind of send the message that what we're trying to do is more local, more fair, more organic, those type of things and then serving menus that are conducive to that and then trying to get, you know, food into menus so that you can consistently know that that that product is actually local or whatever it is. And so what we've tended to trend to over the years is say, Okay, well, let's just put more money into hamburger. So all of our hamburgers are local, but we've kind of moved around some depending on feedback and criteria we get from the students that are doing the research for that. Because there's been producers that we have basically qualified some years, and then later said, Now these guys aren't cutting it now. And it may be because that their their qualifications change, or maybe because, well, we're interpreting the data differently. And so dealing with those kind of changes, you know, is something that's an ongoing process, I guess. Right?
Kaia Findlay 48:51
Yeah. One thing I wanted to follow up on, and you talked about some of the challenges with real food and that's a big part of sustainability. But are there any other main challenges with just making some inability to physicians in general,
Scott Myers 49:02
the industry is still evolving, I think, because the model is actually built off of, you know, big manufacturers producing lots of food at the cheapest cost they can over the years that they've had to evolve. And I see that continuing to evolve. And then I see more people kind of getting into producing and manufacturing. So there's more opportunities to do different things. And even though our, our focus right now is really to try and balance with affordability, so I think we would be taxed to to try and spend more money on sustainable food. I expect that more producers and better technology and better systems can help make more food available at a better price. There's an operation we're looking at for this fall, called your local greens that is then hydroponically out of overbuy by Greensboro, and they have a huge factory where, where they're actually producing a good bit of hydroponic produce. And it's difficult for us to find single vendors that can produce anywhere near enough produce for us to purchase. So it's a innovation for them to be able to have such a large operation that can meet a good bit of our needs.
Kaia Findlay 50:28
Yeah, sounds really interesting. Yeah. One of the other things that I wanted to talk to you about was what is your relationship to the other food organizations and groups on campus that are smaller but also doing work to with food accessibility and with education.
Scott Myers 50:43
First of all, with the remnants of the food for all theme committee, we try and stay in contact with and, and participate. We still have regular meetings to where we can share ideas and events and things like that to where we all can see energize where there's overlap in our opportunity. And we've always worked with our campus partners, departments like housing and student unions and, and trying to utilize each other's programs and strengths to be able to bring better services to the students. So, so we'll go out to residence halls and things and with our chefs and to cooking demonstrations and, and dietary type of consultations. Then there's a there's a number of student groups on campus that usually we're we're either engaging with them on just information and things that we can help out with, in terms of well, this is how it works sort of thing. And then there's the campus garden and the edible campus that had been partners of ours. And we've communicated with on on our program so that we could both trying to take advantage of the opportunities that we have, mainly the edible campus which maintains a garden in our bed out front of our main for facility on campus Lenoir, it's probably the most visible spot because the pit, which Lenoir is located, it is the highest traffic area on campus. And so everybody kind of has to walk past that garden, and they label it and maintain it and, and it looks really tremendous and students can actually get to see your food growing there. Although we don't use any of the stuff that grows there in the dining halls, the it's still an opportunity for for students to see what real food looks like. Quite honestly a number of students come into college and don't even know what a pepper may look like or a more tomato or squash. And so it's kind of neat to be able to see them and then they have a big garden right behind the library on campus that's is a tremendous garden. It's the best I've seen on a college campus. It's not an agricultural campus. It's very informative to students to see how to actually grow What you're eating. And so part of our partnerships with them is actually we support them with some funding and they support us with some visibility. And we try to work on things like messaging and discussions as to food insecurity and how they could actually get information from edible campus as to what kind of things they can get a grocery stores and how to prepare things and, and actually glean some of the harvest I guess, to take back to residence halls to us. And so we continue to work with them. We're actually looking at an initiative we're bringing in some equipment into the new renovated chase Hall this year. And we're talking to edible campus about setting up some kind of oversight of growing some micro greens and, and some other vegetables inside the dining hall with this specialized equipment. So I'm looking forward to see how that works out.
Kaia Findlay 53:57
Yeah, to come back and visit and check it out.
Scott Myers 53:59
Yeah, and eat some.
Kaia Findlay 54:00
Exactly, yeah, that's the best part. And I'm curious what you think are the important elements of a sustainable food system and how UNC is doing on having all of those elements and where there's still room for growth?
Scott Myers 54:15
I think defining what is sustainable is probably the key thing. And that was one thing that real food actually helped out with was here is a ready made matrix that gives you the framework to, you know, how you could define what would be sustainable? Do they need improvements? My thoughts are Yes, but I haven't seen anybody else come up with something yet that's like that. If you compare it to the he surveys, which are self reporting, and there's no mechanism other than tying it back to real food to gauge things by you, the real food calculator is actually a much more usable tool. With that said, I think it's starting to get a little bit broader and scope and I think there's going to be a difficult In actually getting people involved in that if it gets too much broader and tries to tackle too many things, I think part of the success has been to be able to focus in on on specific food purchases and the actual components or qualities as opposed to, to some of the more social aspects of businesses. And one of the things we're working on this year, students, faculty and staff is actually trying to get more of a dialogue to get a seat at that table to help define where, you know, where are the parameters for the real food calculator matrix? And also just I mean, honestly to consider are we evolving past that into something where we needed to find something that's that's customized to the University of North Carolina and meets the needs of the population here in to give you a good example. So, you know, should we look at supporting north carolina business more than just, you know, some other tool and terms of what logo or not? Do we really want to exclude businesses that are more than $5 million in sales? Those sorts of things.
Kaia Findlay 56:10
And I know we've covered a lot of topics real food to sustainability in general to relationships to sustainable food systems, but have I not asked about something that you think is important?
Scott Myers 56:22
I think we pretty much covered the highlights of how sustainably work sustainability works on food service. Okay.
Kaia Findlay 56:30
Cool. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.
That's it for this episode on sustainable food systems at UNC Chapel Hill. Thank you to Dave Karlsgodt and Sarah Barr for their assistance in editing this podcast. And thank you to my three interviewees for their time and insights. To learn more about today's episode or any of our shows, you can visit our website at campusenergypodcast.com. You can also follow us on Twitter, we are @energypodcast or find us on LinkedIn by searching for the Campus energy and sustainability podcast. If you'd like to support the show, please consider leaving a rating or review on iTunes or sending a link to a friend. As always, thank you for listening.