Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, flip-flops are flapping—spring is here at last. And aside from breaking out the lacrosse sticks and working on your laptop al fresco, perhaps you’re also eagerly awaiting the first lettuces of spring and spears of local asparagus. It’s no longer hard to find local, seasonal produce in many areas, but what if you’re attending, or are planning to attend, college somewhere far from your usual supply of fresh produce? What are some of the indications that a school you’re considering will help you keep eating local?
When visiting schools' websites, keep an eye out for schools that prominently feature an on-campus garden. Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois, for example, has had its own garden since 2010, according the school’s website, as part of the school’s effort to incorporate more locally and responsibly grown food.
The garden blog, which shows students involved in all aspects of tending, notes that a fall tomato harvest was sent to the dining services for making gazpacho. At a school with its own garden, you may be able to contribute to food-growing efforts, or you can volunteer your services to see just how involved you’d like to be in maintaining a diet centered on locally grown food. And it doesn’t get any more local than raising some of your food in the back yard!
Another option is to check out schools that have signed on with the Real Food Challenge, which aims to shift university food “towards local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources.” To that end, schools on to pledge to “buy at least 20% real food annually by 2020,” and some schools, such as Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, are striving to reach even higher percentages. A list of participating colleges and universities is available at their website.
Also look for schools with a commitment to sustainable issues, such as the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Food is just one aspect of sustainability, so if you’d like to attend a school that takes into account other environmental factors, such as use of resources, environmental impacts, and global justice, look for schools that are leading the way in this integrated approach.
If you’re committed to year-round local food, then location will be a key factor for you, as you’ll need to look for schools in climates that support long growing seasons. For example, Florida International University in Miami has a weekly on-campus farmers market throughout both the fall and spring semesters, according to the school’s website. Depending on what part of Florida you are in, fresh, local tomatoes may be available as many as nine months out of the year, as indicated on the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Crops in Season page.
What if the school of your dreams is in the middle of a big city and you’ll be doing your own cooking? Fortunately many cities now support thriving farmers markets. In the Boston area, students attending Tufts University in Medford are within range of farmers markets at Davis Square, including an indoor winter market. Other Boston students can walk or take public transportation to some of their favorite downtown destinations and find nearby markets, many of which operate into the late fall. When considering the location of colleges, check out such sites at the USDA’s Agricultural Market Directory to see which cities make it easy for college students to shop at farmers markets.
Or maybe you’re happy with college life except for the lack of fresh food in the dining hall. You could follow the example of students at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Real Food Hopkins, a student organization, successfully petitioned the University administration to purchase more local food. Last November, the school became one of the largest universities in the country to accept the Real Food Challenge. The group has also started a community garden.
For the student committed to supporting local farms or to just enjoying fresh produce, opportunities are as bountiful as a well-tended garden!