| UNITY, Maine
UNITY, Maine May 11 Don't tell the red chicken
squawking under Shayne Van Leer's arm that sustainable
agriculture is usually associated with high-priced organic food.
The eight-week-old broiler is destined for a pot at a local
soup kitchen, part of a student-led project at Maine's Unity
College. It is just one example of agriculture students who are
hoping to extend their zeal for an environmentally sound food
supply beyond high-end grocery stores and farmers' markets to
the kitchen tables of poorer Americans.
The 600-student Unity is a leader among schools championing
the sustainable agricultural movement, which in general strives
for a food supply that is community minded and affordable.
Unity has its new chicken-raising effort and a more
established "Veggies for all" program, which raises thousands of
pounds of organic vegetables annually for the nearby Volunteer
Regional Food Pantry.
At Green Mountain State College in Poultney, Vermont,
students have been participating in a popular "Grow A Row"
program for several years, generating crops for local food
banks, and classes have experimented with flash-freezing late
harvest crops for food relief.
New efforts at Green Mountain include gleaning, or
collecting leftover crops, at local farms for food donations and
creating cooking classes in affordable local cuisine.
"After a university starts teaching about sustainability, it
doesn't take long for students to bring up big questions about
who has access to sustainably raised food, and who doesn't,"
said Mark Bomford, director of Yale University's Sustainable
At the most basic level, colleges are increasingly willing
to donate surplus food from student farms, usually destined for
the dining hall, to local food pantries, he said.
"But students also want to address the bigger picture of
hunger, as well as issues of equity and the skills required for
food distribution," he said.
As a result, farm-friendly students are starting to seek
internships with local nonprofits to learn about community food
needs and issues.
"There are so many barriers to get healthy foods in people's
food carts, and campus farms are opening students' eyes to
that," he said.
Agricultural behemoths like the University of California,
Davis, are in on the trend. The college recently began offering
a major entitled "Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems,"
and farming students are working on a number of novel efforts
for local hunger projects, including a new 1-1/2-acre farm
project, solely dedicated to county food banks.
In the Ivy League, students at Yale University in New Haven,
Connecticut, are taking seminars such as "Food Security and
Agricultural Development" and writing grants on behalf of area
Emma Koefoed, an undergraduate studying agriculture at
UC-Davis, teamed up with Zachary Dashner, also an ag major, to
design Food Bank Farms, a project that proposes using fragments
of unused farmland for local food efforts.
"It was quite a shocker to me when I learned that there were
more than 20,000 hungry and food-insecure people in Yolo
County," she said. "This is one of the most agriculturally
abundant places in the U.S., and we ship food all over. Yet
there are plenty of people here with little access to produce."
The Yolo County Coalition Against Hunger's Food Bank
distributes nearly three million pounds of food to some 22,000
people each year. Yet in a county that is one of California's
top tomato producers, only 700,000 pounds of that food bank food
is fresh produce.
Budding farmers are expanding their definition of
environmental responsibility to social responsibility as well.
In Maine, Unity college student Shayne Van Leer, who is
planning to head this summer for a stint in the Peace Corps and
focus on hunger initiatives in Nepal, said he plans to raise
chickens to support himself and help the community.
"It's been pretty gratifying to think these chickens can
make a difference right here in Maine," he said.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)