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Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy signs the Real Food Challenge as part of Campus Sustainability Day

University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy signed the “Real Food Challenge” at a public event on Wednesday evening, committing the campus to serve 20 percent local, sustainable or fair-trade food by 2020.

Maria Uminski/ Collegian

UMass is now the largest institution to sign onto the Real Food Challenge, a nationwide campaign to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and towards local and humane food sources.

“Our commitment to sustainability, originating in our agricultural heritage, is a long-standing priority at UMass Amherst, putting us at the forefront of the green campus movement,” Subbaswamy said in a speech before the signing.

The signing was held in the Student Union Ballroom and was the last of a series of events celebrating the University’s third annual Campus Sustainability Day.

The day kicked off in the Earthfoods Café with a panel featuring UMass alumni now working in the green jobs industry. A student sustainability fair and “real food” tasting followed in the Student Union Ballroom, which featured interactive table displays by student organizations and a sampling of local food. The University’s oldest acapella group, “Vocal Suspects,” also performed at the event.

Subbaswamy praised the campus for its continued efforts and success in sustainability, on both an institutional and academic level. The University now offers some 300 academic courses related to sustainability, he said.

“Sustainability is a core value of this institution,” he said. “Our exemplary leadership in sustainability provides a model for universities across the country.”

Last spring, a two-credit internship with the Real Food Challenge was established at the University. Over the course of a semester, students learn to run the “Real Food Calculator.” This involves going through UMass Dining invoices and researching companies to determine what percentage of “real food” the University is purchasing.

“The best thing about this campaign is that it’s something everyone can connect to,” said senior Joanna Benoit, one of 10 Real Food Interns this semester.

Director of Auxiliary Enterprises Ken Toong, said during a speech at the signing, that the University is setting an example for New England campuses to follow. The more that sign on, the more accessible “real food” will be for everyone, he said.

“We have a very ambitious and clear goal—to purchase 20 percent real food well before 2020,” said Toong.

Other speakers included Drew Love, northeast assistant regional coordinator for the Real Food Challenge, Victoria Rosen, communications manager for sustainability at UMass, and three students who have played a key role in bringing the Real Food Challenge to the University – Sara Hopps, Molly Bajgot and Lila Grallert. Each talked about their own experience being unhappy with the status quo, and how they were able to make a change and get the campaign off the ground.

“All of us chose to reject the idea that our voices couldn’t result in change,” said Grallert. She added that the University’s support means more than just a commitment to 20 percent real food. “It represents this University’s commitment to listening to its students,” she said. “Now all we have left to do is grow.”

Subbaswamy said one pet peeve he still has is the amount of paper that’s wasted every day in the school’s administrative building, and urged students and faculty to go paperless. He said that Campus Sustainability Day is not only about celebrating the University’s successes, but also about exploring the opportunity to do more.

“The actions we take today and tomorrow will have an effect for generations to come,” he said.

Aviva Luttrell can be reached at aluttrel@umass.edu.

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