Sustainable Food from Farm to Table and Beyond
Through classes and campus dining services, Brockport’s food initiatives are bountiful.
While Paul Loomis ’10, now co-owner of Growing Family Farms in Spencerport, was working toward his bachelor’s degree at SUNY Brockport, he was already farming as a small-scale hobby. That interest was deepened when he took a course called The Sociology of Food with Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology Amy Guptill.
“That was the spark that lit the flame,” he said.
In studying the diminishing role of small farms in the US with the rise of industrial agriculture, Loomis was inspired by the type of “renaissance” happening within the organic farm movement.
“Realizing I was working in an area that was unsaturated was an opportunity,” he said.
He decided to seize that opportunity by pursuing independent study work with Guptill to fulfill his remaining academic requirements, in preparation for turning his home farm into a more commercial venture. Together, they researched farm markets, added-value products such as hard cider, and the potential for marketing local foods online. Loomis also interviewed local farmers, building a strong network.
Two years after his graduation from Brockport, Loomis took what he calls “a leap of faith,” left his corporate job, and purchased the six acres of land where he now operates his business. In 2016, the farm was certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture, which has helped Loomis’s products remain strong competitors as he moves into larger markets.
Loomis also is the marketing coordinator for the New York chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-NY), a nonprofit organization that educates farmers and gardeners. He enjoys the opportunity this role provides to help other farmers make good decisions.
“You have to be a business manager who enjoys farming,” Loomis said. The business mindset is the piece he most often sees lacking in new farmers. His own foundation in that arena was built with the research, writing, and organized record-keeping he learned at Brockport.
“The tools and information I gathered enabled me to make better decisions,” he said. “And to be able to put agricultural independent study on my résumé when wanting to work with an agricultural education organization like NOFA-NY was definitely a bonus.”
Guptill has also taught a course called The Food System, in partnership with Associate Professor of Political Science Andrea Rubery.
“We wanted to offer students a high-impact experience that involved looking at the food system firsthand,” said Guptill.
They did so in summer 2015 through excursions throughout Monroe County, including dairy and vegetable farms, food processing plants, a landfill, and a commercial composting facility, among others. Richard Reynolds, executive chef and assistant director of dining for the Brockport Auxiliary Service Corporation (BASC), helped the students cook foods they selected together at the Rochester Public Market.
“Food is a great area of study for Brockport students, because they’re problem-solvers,” said Guptill. “They want to make our communities, families, economies, and even our own bodies more vibrant.”
Lauren Daggs ’15 considers The Sociology of Food and The Food System the most impactful classes of her undergraduate career, saying the experiences made her “so much more appreciative of the food that is provided for those of us who don’t play a direct role in the development of it.”
Made more aware of the key role food plays in our daily lives, the sources of it, and the processes behind it, Daggs also became inspired to get involved in addressing the issue of food scarcity.
“So many people are food insecure, in Rochester alone. There is no need for this to be even remotely a reality in our area,” she said.
Daggs is now applying to a master’s degree program in food studies at Chatham University and wants to work with an organization like Foodlink, which she visited as part of the Food System course.
“They have already done such a wonderful job helping these food insecure areas, and I see myself being involved with this objective — thanks to these two courses,” she said.
As illustrated by The Food System’s merging of sociological and political science perspectives, the complex topic of food is examined from many angles at the College:
- Rubery is currently teaching Politics and Food (PLS 336), which studies food as a commodity, a right, an art form, and more.
- Professor of English Anne Panning has taught Advanced Nonfiction (ENG 493) as a writing workshop with a thematic focus on food, including writing restaurant reviews and satirical menus.
- Associate Professor of History Anne Macpherson teaches Modern World History (HST 202) with a focus on the history of the modern world food system, incorporating research projects that lead students to analyze their own roles in food systems on campus, regionally, and beyond.
- Lecturer Christine Zinni regularly teaches Food and Culture (ANT 316), which explores the ritual and celebratory aspects of consuming food as well as the process and politics of its production and distribution.
- Zinni also leads a summer study abroad program, Food and Culture of the Aegean, which in summer 2018 will travel to Athens, Greece, and Crete.
Outside of the classroom, students encounter local and sustainable food practices on a daily basis through BASC, which manages the College’s dining services.
Approximately 90 percent of the dairy products served on campus are produced locally, and approximately 15 percent of produce is locally sourced. In one recent week, for instance, BASC received lettuce from Bolton Farms in Hilton, cabbage from Deconick Farms in Spencerport, potatoes from Bushart Farms in Marion and Case Brothers Clover Hill Farms in Wayland, and squash from Whites Farm in Bloomfield.
In celebration of international Campus Sustainability Month in October, several BASC initiatives focused on New York State’s abundant apple crops. TRAX hosted Apple Mania Week, featuring specials made from apples from local farms. And on October 20, Brockport participated for the first time in Campus Crunch, a statewide event encouraging people to eat local apples, which were provided for free by all of the campus dining areas.
In 2012 and 2013, BASC put on a Farm to Table Dinner at Robb Farms. In 2015, they brought a similar theme to campus for a Harvest Celebration in the dining halls, incorporating a bounty of local foods and décor handmade from leaves, recycled tins, and wood from routine campus tree trimmings. The event was attended by more than 2,000 students and earned BASC a Loyal E. Horton Dining Award from the National Association of College and University Food Services.
BASC’s sustainability efforts are seen across campus. Most of the to-go containers from the dining locations are recyclable. The oil from the fryers is collected in a reservoir, which is collected by Clean Green Services for recycling. The refillable mug program, now in its third year, offers users a 20-percent discount on beverages in any of the campus dining locations. The mugs are available for purchase for $5 and are given to all incoming residential students for free.
A series of Waste Weighs were conducted in 2008–09 to raise awareness about the amount of food wasted by consumers in the dining halls. The following year, the dining halls went trayless to minimize wasted food and conserve resources. The impact quickly became clear, as Harrison Dining Hall was able to eliminate two of its weekly garbage pickups.
One of the biggest impacts has come from an initiative still in its infancy. Last fall, BASC began working with Natural Upcycling to compost all pre-consumer waste — stems, cores, peels, coffee grounds, eggshells, and more. The compost then goes to Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, where it is mixed with animal waste in an anaerobic digester and converted into gas to power the farm. The excess electricity is sold to the local power grid. Through this partnership, more than 52,000 pounds of waste was composted from October 2016 through August 2017.
It's a powerful start to the latest piece of the College's multifaceted approach to making its food practices sustainable and inspiring its students to do the same.