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The Brown chapter of the Real Food Challenge, a national campaign to bring more local and organic food to university dining halls, obtained $25,000 from President Ruth Simmons' discretionary fund for a two-year pilot project and created four paid student positions within Dining Services. The students will research sustainable dining options and help determine how the $25,000 will be spent.

Real Food will soon begin working with BDS to hire students for the positions, said Andrea Gaines '10, a Real Food group member.

The group presented its goals to the Brown University Community Council in November 2008. The group asked the University to create eight paid student jobs in BDS and to allocate $2 million to sustainable food over five years.

"Our goals are twofold," said David Schwartz '09, a member of both the Brown chapter and the national committee of Real Food. "We want to capitalize on success from last year and work with BDS to make dramatic changes to support farmers and workers and use dining dollars to promote a healthy, sustainable environment."

"This embodies the merging of Community Harvest and the Real Food Challenge," said Schwartz, referring to BDS's own local food initiative, founded in 2002, which makes local food available at student dining halls and facilitates the Farmers' Market on Wriston Quad.

"This is not only a source of economic development for Rhode Island, it's a great learning opportunity for students," Schwartz said. "There is a lot to do, whether it's research, designing new menus or ensuring fair labor standards are implemented. We invite everyone to get involved."

Real Food members supported dining workers during negotiations last week. "We want to see food dealt with in a comprehensive way, with all the pieces of justice," Gaines said. According to the national Real Food campaign — which assesses food for four qualities, "local, fair, ecologically sound, and humane" — a variety of factors determine the sustainability of food.

Four student groups — the Sustainable Food Initiative, emPOWER, the Student Labor Alliance, and Students for a Democratic Society — collaborate on the initiative at Brown.

Gaines said she hopes the group can extend beyond Brown and improve local food accessibility. "Parts of Providence are a food desert," she said.

BDS recently received an A- for overall sustainability and an A for "food and recycling" from the College Sustainability Report Card 2010. According to the report, BDS spends $150,000 on locally grown food and $58,000 on organic food out of a total annual food budget of $6.2 million.

BDS "is thinking about these things, but the proportion of sustainable food is still relatively low," Gaines said.

Other Real Food Challenge participants include Yale, Cornell, Johnson and Wales University and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Real Food members said they are looking to other schools as models for sustainable dining. Yale, for example, maintains a dining hall that exclusively serves regional food, and the University of California system has set a goal of reaching 20 percent sustainable food by 2020.

Schwartz said he hopes 20 percent of Brown's food budget will be dedicated to sustainable food.

Schwartz said there was much more in the proposal created by the Real Food Challenge last year and that his team will continue to work on the university's commitment to sustainable food.

"We will be evaluating all the way, updating Ruth Simmons and the community on our progress," he said.


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