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"We need to build a better future" - Real Food UMaine Statement to Board of Trustees

on January 26, 2016

On Monday, January 25, members of Real Food UMaine made a powerful statement to their Board of Trustees, after passing out local, UMaine-grad-grown carrots to supporters in the meeting. Here is their statement:

Who we are: Real Food Umaine

My name is Currenn Mackie-Malcolm and the people you see holding locally-grown carrots are just a handful of supporters of a group called UMaine Real Food Challenge. The Real Food Challenge is student movement that works to build a truly nourishing food system through shifts in institutional purchasing.

Carrots of support as UMaine Real Food presents to UMaine Board of Trustees - 1/25/16

As members of the Real Food Challenge we are dedicated to ensuring that the food provided in the UMaine System is REAL, meaning it’s local & community-based, fair, ecologically-sound, and/or humane. Why are we dedicated? We need to build a better future for our own students AND the people of Maine. New Beat Farm, an organic, horse-powered farm located in Knox, Maine, is owned by a UMaine graduate, who sold us these fresh carrots at the Orono Farmers Market. These carrots symbolize our commitment to supporting our local producers who treat the earth, their livestock, and their employees well. We invite you to help yourself to these carrots, to join us in celebrating what Maine has to offer.

As the next generation of Maine’s leaders, we are concerned about the livability of our future:

  • we are already seeing the effects of climate change;
  • huge corporations are limiting what we can grow, resulting in a loss of seed diversity;
  • we know that we’re at risk for food shortages;
  • and on an emotional level, we’re experiencing increasing cultural disconnect from the land and sea.

It is for these reasons that we advocate for our University leaders to sign the Real Food Campus Commitment, a pledge to annually procure at least 20% Real Food by 2020. So far, over 60 universities in the US have have committed to at least 20% - some pledging to procure even more.

Honing in on Maine, I’d like to give you a sense of what we have achieved as UMaine Real Food Challenge.

  •  Last spring we collected over 1000 signatures from students who want to see more REAL food in the UMaine System. For the past year, we have been a part of the Maine Food for the UMaine System Coalition which advocated for these changes on a statewide level.
  •  For the past 2.5 years, we have worked with UMaine staff and administrators with the goal of procuring a greater percentage of “Real Food” for the University of Maine.
  • We have completed research using a tracking tool called the Real Food Calculator, which was created and run by students. Most recently, we secured 5 student positions to run the calculator for the year 2015-16.

We are committed to research, relationship-building, education, and advocacy and all of the long hours this work takes because it is necessary. If we do not commit to a future of Real Food, we are resigning ourselves to a future in which we don’t have a fair shot.


Praise for progress so far

Hello, my name is Saird Mackie-Malcolm. As students who are committed to building a sustainable, healthy, and socially-just future, we have been thrilled to see our administration take steps in the right direction. For example,

Last fall, the Board decided to incorporate 20% local food into the UME food system, which not only has brought in healthier options of food, but has the potential to open business with local farmers, stimulate a healthier local economy, and put into motion steps that ensure we move towards a more sustainable future.

We’ve also heard through the grapevine that there have been more conversations about local, sustainable, and real food at a system-wide level, which implies that people are becoming aware of what is at stake when we discuss what will happen if the food system continues on as it has.

In addition, a governance committee of multiple stakeholders is being developed and currently includes two students. It is encouraging that the Board is making efforts to include students in decisions that will be shaping the world that they must live in.

Recently, the Procurement Office has ensured that Maine Farm & Sea Co-Op had a fair chance at bidding on the UMS Request for Proposals. If they win the contract, next fall, the majority of the UMaine System’s food will be provided by local companies, providing many of the aforementioned benefits.

These actions lead us to believe that our values align with yours and therefore, we want to work with you.

What must happen next

While much progress has been made in the realm of food procurement, it hasn’t been enough. We still need a concrete, specific commitment to real food. Let me explain why this is of utmost importance.

Last year at the University of Kentucky, well-intentioned administrators committed to local food, just like we’re doing here. However, the loose language in their foodservice provider contract led them to lose $1 million in contracts with local farmers. How? Aramark found that they could fulfill the local requirement by buying ice and Coca-Cola from a nearby factory, instead of produce from nearby farms.

We are here today to say: we are better than that. We can avoid this situation by taking two specific actions:

  • One: Including a system-wide commitment to Real Food in the contract. Now that we succeeded in getting enough bidders and can negotiate a favorable contract, there are no barriers to including language about Real Food. We must include this language to make sure our contract has teeth and that we don’t end up cheated like Kentucky.
  • Two: Supporting a UMaine Orono commitment to Real Food Why? Because an explicit pledge from our university will allow us to be consistent across UMS as we move to the one-university system despite having different food service provider models.

We have a vision for 20% Local and 20% Real Food by 2020, and that’s perfect vision. One that will allow us to be seen as leaders, rather than as folks who missed a huge opportunity like they did in KY.

Therefore,

  • We need you to know that we are ready and excited to work with each one of you to see a REAL commitment to Real Food here at UMaine and across our one university system.
  • We know the food system involves all sorts of stakeholders, and we want to practice collaborative problem-solving.
  • We need you to know that we are in this for the long haul.
  • We know that our futures depend on building a just and sustainable food system, so we are investing the enormous time and energy it takes to develop and implement solutions.
  • We want to work with you.

Please know that it has been extremely difficult to access you. The timing of this meeting is prohibitive for the vast majority of RFC’s membership, and for the wider student body, to attend due to our class schedules. We are here because we care, and because we need change.

So how do you plan to engage with us so that together, we can build a REAL Food future?