Hampshire College aims to launch 100 Percent Local Food Challenge

By Shelby Ashline

Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian
Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian

Faculty at Hampshire College are intensifying their efforts to improve the campus’ sustainability by launching the 100 Percent Local Food Challenge, whereby their aim is to get nearly all of the campus’ food from within a 150 mile radius.

The effort is part of the college’s Healthy Food Transition, an initiative aimed at “redefining what the college dining experience can be…by changing how food on campus is produced, prepared, served and consumed,” according to a Hampshire College press release.

“I think the goal is really to use our ability as an educational institution to educate students who will be leaders in the future and to allow them to see how food is produced,” said Beth Hooker, Hampshire College’s director of food, farm and sustainability. She also said that faculty hope to “engage (students) in not just the on-campus community but the local community and the regional community in an effort to promote regional resiliency for the future.”

According to a Hampshire College press release, the 100 Percent Local Food Challenge will be supported by a $50,000 grant from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the production of local, healthy, sustainably produced food throughout New England.

“We chose to support this initiative at Hampshire because colleges are key levers for change in the food system,” Kendall Foundation Executive Director Andrew W. Kendall is quoted as saying in the press release. “They are able to create a meaningful impact on the production and consumption of local food through their purchasing capacity. Longer-term benefits result from the learning and engagement of students, faculty and the broader community.”

Having received the grant in December, Hooker said that the money will fund student agricultural internships as well as collaboration within the Five College system, expanding their efforts to improve sustainability throughout the region.

In addition, Hampshire received a $240,000 grant in February from the Lydia B. Stokes Foundation which supports sustainable agriculture and the development of local food systems. Hooker said the grant will fund agricultural research performed by students and faculty.

Hooker considers Hampshire’s cooperation with the two foundations to be a great opportunity that will help the college reach its goals in agricultural sustainability.

“We’re just really fortunate to have the support of these foundations whose philosophy and goals are aligned with ours and so we’re happy to be partnering with them,” she said.

Thus far, Hampshire’s efforts towards sustainability have been extensive. The 800-acre college is able to offer 200 shares in the vegetables grown on their farmland through the Community Supported Agriculture program. Once students and faculty purchase shares, they are able to pick up a box of vegetables each week at the campus’ CSA barn throughout much of the fall semester.

According to Hooker, about half the shares are sold to students, 30 percent of them are sold to faculty and the remaining 20 percent of the produce is sent to the dining hall. A share can typically feed four to six people.

The vegetable operation, which accounts for 15 acres of the college’s land –not including an additional 50 acres which is leased out to local farmers– is run by CSA Program Manager Nancy Hanson. Livestock and Pasture Manager Shannon Nichols oversees the animals and the 65 acres of pasture and hay. Animals on the campus farm include dairy cows, pigs and chickens.

Hooker explained that the pigs support the dining hall as well as a meat version of the CSA program, while the chickens provide the dining hall and the Bridge Café marketplace with eggs. She and other faculty members are working to come up with a new CSA model specifically for egg shares in time for the fall semester.

In addition, the college also operates its own sugar shack and beehive sanctuary, providing them with maple syrup and honey respectively. An on-campus greenhouse also provides the Bridge Café marketplace with lettuce and spinach to sell throughout the winter.

Although Hooker is optimistic about the 100 Percent Local Food Challenge and its future at Hampshire College, she acknowledges potential roadblocks to its ultimate success that she said need to be addressed, such as an obvious inability to grow crops during winter and discerning how to obtain food not easily grown locally.

In order to find solutions, Hampshire faculty are currently exploring a range of technologies that would aid in expanding the growing season and increasing efficiency, as well as further promoting sustainability.

“We have a grant application in to the National Science Foundation. Part of that would fund movable greenhouses that would use heat-pump technology to heat them in the winter and cool them in the summer,” Hooker said. “We’re also looking at some innovative ways of keeping squashes and root vegetables for longer periods of time after our harvest.”

Furthermore, she added that faculty members are looking to convert one of the college’s gasoline powered tractors into an electric tractor.

Regardless, there are several items that can’t be grown locally that the college must have shipped in, such as coffee and citrus fruits. They also intend to get their fish from within a 500-mile radius, according to a Hampshire College press release.

Aside from promoting regional sustainability, Hooker hopes that the 100 Percent Local Food Challenge will effectively educate Hampshire students about the food system, allowing them to see that local food is delicious and doesn’t have to be overly expensive. She believes the program is “a way that we can help begin to educate the students on what their future choices can be like and how they can be part of changing and transforming the food system.”

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected]