Hill ’04 and Fulmer ’05 use grant to bring local food to R.I. public schools

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Wednesday farmers market outside the Sharpe Refectory is familiar to most students, but its origins may not be as well known. The event, which is weekly during warm weather months, was the first stage in Louella Hill’s ’04 mission to bring locally grown produce to Brown – a project she still helps oversee through Farm Fresh Rhode Island, which received its third consecutive grant from the Rhode Island Foundation last month.

Farm Fresh RI, which was initiated by and maintains connections with the University’s Department of Environmental Studies, will use the $35,000 grant to jump-start the Farm-to-School project, which will connect local farmers with school districts. Since Hill and Noah Fulmer ’05 co-founded Farm Fresh RI in 2004, the organization has connected local farmers with food buyers to encourage production and consumption of locally grown foods. The Farm-to-School project will be the organization’s largest effort to bring healthier foods to Rhode Island schoolchildren.

The project is in coordination with Kids First, a Rhode Island organization that seeks to “guide communities to improve the nutritional and physical well-being of children,” according to its Web site.

For two years, Kids First has run a pilot program, Food-to-Schools, that brings locally grown food to children in Pawtucket, and the recent grant will allow them to expand it to school districts statewide in partnership with Farm Fresh RI.

“Basically, we are getting rid of the middleman so that the food in cafeterias is fresher,” Fulmer, executive director of Farm Fresh RI, said.

Fulmer and Hill brought local food to Brown in the same way. In her senior year, Hill lobbied President Ruth Simmons to commit the University to buying local food, and set up a weekly farmer’s market, organized the annual corn shuck-off and helped start the Ratty’s Roots and Shoots line. Because Brown Dining Services selects its own food suppliers, with help from Hill the University’s eateries quickly began offering local vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat and milk.

Hill is currently abroad on a “cheese sabbatical,” Fulmer said.

Fulmer’s involvement with Farm Fresh RI began when he designed the organization’s Web site, FarmFreshRI.org, which allows users to order fresh produce online and stay informed about upcoming farmer’s markets and the organization’s other initiatives.

“I was looking for a place to create social change and food was a good place to start,” Fulmer said. “I knew Louella from school and decided to get involved with the project.”

Farm Fresh RI is part of a larger trend of organizations, some connected to colleges, that support locally produced food. According to the Community Food Service Coalition, which also promotes locally grown food, Yale University spent the most money on locally grown produce and meat in 2005 among all North American universities surveyed – $1.5 million out of its $4 million food services budget.

Farm Fresh RI’s efforts have already expanded beyond Brown – it is currently trying to preserve the 858 Rhode Island farms that remain of the 3,000 farms operating in the state in the 1930’s, according to the Brown Alumni Magazine – and Fulmer is optimistic that the organization will continue to grow.

“I see promise in (Farm Fresh) to go forward,” Fulmer said. “Some Rhode Island school districts are already starting with our programs.”

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