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Tim Head ShotThis week’s interview is with Tim Galarneau, who works as the Food Systems Education & Research Program Specialist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Prior to working full time at UC Santa Cruz, Tim was active as a student at UCSC working to establish a campus sustainability council, chairing the Student Environmental Center, and helping create the Food Systems Working Group. In addition to his full time duties at UCSC, Tim also works to further the progress of the Real Food Challenge, a campaign to increase the procurement of real food on college and university campuses, with a national goal of 20% real food by 2020. He shares his thoughts on sustainable food systems.

What you are doing to make UC Santa Cruz a more sustainable campus?

Beginning as a student (from 2002-2005) I helped establish the Campus Sustainability Council which created a $250,000 funding body to fund student based campus sustainability projects. I also chaired our Student Environmental Center and student campaign to increase the sustainability of our campus food system. Through that effort, we created the UCSC Food Systems Working Group (FSWG). The FSWG has set shared action steps and objectives to foster sustainable procurement, enhanced operational practices, composting and waste reduction, and popular education and academic based research and learning opportunities. The FSWG and dining services have worked to increase local, organic food procurement by 24% (with 22,000 meals served a day this is a great deal of food!) and purchases coffee that goes beyond fair trade standards (example- CAN Coffee, which pays $3.32 per lb versus Fair Trade which only gives $1.27 per lb).

Since graduating and continuing to coordinate our campus FSWG and its respective activities I have also assisted with our campus sustainability assessment food section and current design of our campus sustainability plan food section. In addition, my role at the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) has allowed me to establish a Sustainable Agrifood System Fellowship for undergraduate and graduate students working on building further research and education into their campus food systems based work). This year UCSC SAS fellows are working with students from across community colleges, state schools, and other UC campuses.

How did you become involved in working to develop sustainable food systems?

It began with my interests around environmental justice and the impacts of historically marginalized communities, and the environmental and social factors that were part of the problem set. Specifically, issues of pesticide drift, farmworker exploitation, GMO contamination and intellectual patent rights in “developing” nations, and how communities are responding to these, and points of impact and intersection. I further began to see how our global agrifood system contains such a complex set of issues that to awaken students and bring them into a deeper sense of relationship to their food system, we need to begin with where they’re situated….hence their institution. Furthermore, linking food to climate change (as a leading human-induced greenhouse gas contributor) and showing how it’s a major channel for US water usage, offers another set of ideas around which to build popular education and create a student campaign. So I got “both feet dirty” and helped launch Students for Organic Solutions which was a student organization advocating for a shift in procurement practices at UCSC as well as increased educational partnerships and building new ways to provide learning around the intersections of food.

What is the farm to college movement?

The farm to college movement has been rumbling along as a precursor to the most recent surge of food and nutrition concerns. It has its origins in farmers, students, faculty, and staff wanting to see new relationships of support within regional food and farming economies. It varies across region/geography, growing seasons, and ranching and farming systems, and includes various stakeholders, leaders, levels of buy-in and support, and many other important factors in creating lasting partnerships and a more just and sustainable food system. There are over 300 farm to college programs out of about 4,000 institutions of higher education and the number is steadily increasing every year.

What do you find most challenging about incorporating local and/or organic food into campus dining?

The greatest challenges entail a few important variables to note:

Student education/awareness – creating a link for students that have historically been immersed in a complex food system of packaging, branding, and high processed diets and access points requires the need for popular education and course-based programming that can link “local” and “organic” to broader values of health, wellness, justice, and sustainability. Students tend to support their values and question the systems they live within and this provides the opportunity to link broader values with concrete changes in procurement. In a recent study undertaken at CASFS on surveying the farm to college market, students reported that learning about sustainability and food at the point of purchase/consumption was more valuable than in class education around the issues. That really speaks to the need to bridge the institutional operational sites with relevant learning.
Administrative knowledge and time to work on this issue – given the constant demands and challenges within food services, having them understand how to integrate seasonal menu planning in their menu cycling and how to connect to vendors/distributors that supply regional, local, and organic produce that has source verification/direct connections to the sites of production isn’t an easy step for some (and varies across the country). This is an educational opportunity for both the distributors/suppliers and food service buyers and production managers.
Costs of local, organic, & sustainable food – the myth and reality of this issue is worth taking a moment to explore. If a campus can assess their current procurement practices and understand and get a baseline of what they’re currently doing they can then examine incremental steps to increasing sustainable procurement. A few ways to address costs include:

  • Buying in season (when the product volume is high and costs lower),
  • Crop planning with growers to lock down a price and volume of sourcing
  • If creating sauces, jams, and jarred/canned foods, link up with buying the second tier of product which can often be sourced at half the cost of the premium (i.e. tomatoes, fruits, etc….)
  • Rodney Taylor from Riverside Unified School district added a junk food tax at his schools which subsidized sourcing local, organic food for a salad bar in every elementary school in his district (thus added an internal tax of anywhere from $0.10-$0.50) onto a product that is not healthy and doesn’t promote the wellness of students.
  • UC Santa Cruz went trayless last year and has reduced food waste by nearly 40%, which directly provides savings to the bottom line as well as saving over 1,000,000 gallons of water….thus thinking outside of the procurement box to create programs to allow more emphasis on increasing best practices.
  • Meatless or beefless days: either creating education to remove meat off the menu cycle one day a week or beef can provide serious cost savings that you can re-invest into more sustainable product.

What advice would you give to others interested in bringing more local and/or organic food to their campus who are just getting started?

I would advise students to join the Real Food Challenge to link into a network of resources and stakeholders looking to support such activities. Other activities for campus stakeholders would include:

  • Conduct an assessment of current sourcing practices (*ed. note – Tim is happy to provide a template, leave a comment if interested) as well as mapping out educational programs & organizations that could assist in these efforts.
  • Convene a Food Systems Working Group or stakeholder body (which could be independent or connected to a sustainability office, campus sustainability committee, or climate action committee) to lay out purchasing, operational, and educational goals and priorities for your campus’s work
  • Outreach to partner NGOs working on food and farming to help you problem-solve distribution and access issues ; if you’re a land grant work with your sustainable ag. campus stakeholders to assist with such endeavors
  • Link to student leadership and empowerment opportunities through class credit, internships, and student work study/non-work study positions to help with this work

How are your efforts funded?

My current efforts at CASFS are funded through a USDA special research grant that allows flexibility and relevancy to community stakeholder issues as well as my own passion. My advising work to the Real Food Challenge (RFC) & the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) are in kind support.

Tim in CostumeIn what ways are students involved in your work?

From internships, paid positions, to research and education partnerships I am committed to extending mentoring opportunities for students that are interested in being involved in this work.

What aspect or sustainable food systems do you find students to be the most enthusiastic about?

Their enthusiasm stems from social justice, humane issues with animals in food production systems as well as environmental (i.e. pesticide free, water & energy conservation) and community based (i.e. local) indicators. Students understand that the current food system is broken and that they can focus on stronger values driving the three stool legs of sustainability (i.e. social, environmental, and economic) and provide the intersections for good work to emerge.

Are you involved in efforts to incorporate sustainable agriculture into the curriculum? How?

I have assisted with the development of co-curricular and curricular programs and education with undergraduate course at UCSC as well as advising two fellows from UC Davis who focused on the new sustainable agriculture major there. In addition to many class based presentations across different departments on my research, education, and program development work.

You are also involved with the Real Food Challenge, what is your role there and what are your goals?

My role is being part of the national administrative team that advises the ongoing development and structure of the RFC as well as advising the West coast region and the student leaders there. Being a co-founder of RFC I have contributed time to provide research & educational models, studied and accrued overtime to assist the larger movement emerging through RFC. I am constantly inspired and humbled by the young leaders stepping up to inspire their peers, build a hands-on educational/transformational experience while in school, and taking their skills into the world understanding their responsibility for civic engagement.

Final question, what’s your favorite food to grow?

I enjoy growing early-girl dry farmed tomatoes that burst with flavor. I also like to grow padron peppers for a little sweet and spicy kick!

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