As I read The American Way of Eating and Farm City, I became curious about the use of local foods and sustainability at Western Michigan University. This led me to investigate what was happening in the way of sustainable food practices at WMU. What follows is a brief summary of what I learned.
The Dining Services web pages are filled with information on local food sources and initiatives to reduce waste in the dining halls. These pages also take users to a map of regional farmer’s markets, lists of recyclables, and an introduction to the Food Diversion Initiative. The latter was started in 2011 as a sustainable way to reuse pre-consumer vegetable and fruit waste. Rather than removing the waste through garbage disposals or to landfills, the Food Diversion Initiative collects the food waste in large bins which are picked up and returned on a regular basis by Bearfoot Farms. The farm uses this waste to feed their pigs or make compost to enrich their soil. At the Dining Services web site there is a video explaining and demonstrating these process for you. To date, WMU is the only one of the 15 Michigan state universities to be practicing sustainability at this level.
Office of Sustainability
Many readers may be familiar with the building at the southeast corner of Howard and W. KL Avenue that used to house the University Bookstore. It is now the WMU Office of Sustainability. I received a tour of the facility, learned about the history of the Office of Sustainability, and about several student projects it supports. In April 2010 the Student Garden Organization with the assistance of the University’s landscape services, community gardeners, and Tillers International began the Stadium Drive Community Garden project, a well thought-out and designed vegetable garden. This project was very visible to those driving or walking by the intersection of Howard Street and Stadium Drive. In 2011, those who shared in the work of the garden had grown about 800 pounds of food.
About this same time, The Office of Sustainability was working with student interns to plan, plant, and harvest the vegetable garden at The Gibbs House on Parkview Ave. The Gibbs House provided a program that allowed students from several disciplines to experiment with native and edible plants. Produce from this garden was sold at a farm stand manned by students, canned, distributed to local food banks, or donated to WMU Catering Services. The total yield of produce from this garden in 2011 and 2012 was over 2,500 pounds. In 2013 the garden at The Gibbs House was closed to make room for a new industrial venture on the Parkview campus, it was decided that more garden space could be created near the Stadium Drive Community Garden.
Gardens are not the only projects supported by the Office of Sustainability. Non-motorized transportation, recycling, aquaponics, bee keeping, and vermiculture are among the other interests of the Office of Sustainability. To learn more about this forward-thinking WMU office, view this slideshow annual report. For those interested in working with the Office of Sustainability, part-time student jobs, assistantships, internships, and volunteer opportunities are available. The Office of Sustainability also sponsors events for the greater Kalamazoo community.
Dietetics and Food Service Administration Programs
Within the department of Family and Consumer Sciences are the Dietetics and Food Service Administration programs. Students electing to study Dietetics or Food Service Administration are involved with food processing at all levels of production.
Students graduating from the Dietetics program can apply for an internship with an emphasis in Sustainable Food Systems. Dietetic interns complete a series of six rotations selected from 25-30 sites. Interns in this program also spend four weeks in a school system working with the food service manager. Once a month the students meet on campus and take a field trip to a local sustainable food location in the Kalamazoo area such as the Kellogg Dairy Farm, Can-Do Kitchen, and the People’s Food Co-op.
The undergraduate major in Food Service Administration was recently revised and starting in Fall 2014 will include an emphasis on sustainable food systems. Students will take three courses that focus on food and sustainability. The first is an introductory course, followed by courses that consider local farm-to-table initiatives and global food systems and sustainability. The revisions to this major are intended to prepare food service professionals to be competent in current trends in the field, including a growing interest in sustainable food practices.
For those considering a career in sustainable food dietetics or food service administration, go to the department’s informative web page.
There is so much to learn about sustainable food practices. Western Michigan University is a great place to start! I am pleased to say that sustainable food practices are alive and well on the campus where I have spent the past 16 years of my career.
~ Miranda Howard, Reading Together Steering Committee
Head of Technical Services, University Libraries, WMU
Western Michigan University Community Garden