For three Vancouver Island University students, encouraging more people to eat locally produced foods begins on campus.
Celia White, Jesse Alexander and Leah Chesterman hope to encourage more local and sustainable purchasing practices at the university.
They have funding from two national organizations, Meal Exchange and Sierra Youth Coalition, to start a campus food strategy group. The university is one of five campuses across Canada chosen for the funding.
When an institution as big as VIU starts buying from local farmers, it encourages these farmers to grow more food to meet this demand, said White.
It also raises awareness in the community about the benefits of eating local, sustainable food, she added, as opposed to food mass produced by large industrial companies using unsustainable methods, and highlights food security issues – much of the food consumed on Vancouver Island is produced elsewhere.
“Eating locally doesn’t just affect our community, it minimizes the harm elsewhere in the world,” said White.
As co-facilitators of VIU’s food strategy group, the students are charged with bringing together a broad range of stakeholders involved in the food system on campus and initiating discussions and connections that help make local food choices more accessible for students.
“There’s no mandatory participation from anyone on campus,” said Chesterman. “The more local we can get the better.”
She envisions using land at the G.R. Paine Horticultural Centre as an organic vegetable garden, employing students and providing food to the cafeteria, and an institutional mandate that a certain percentage of foods on campus must be acquired locally.
“I think it’s going to be incremental,” said Chesterman.
About a dozen student groups, programs and departments on campus have already agreed to participate in meetings organized by the students, said White, as well as a community group – Nanaimo Foodshare.
White, Chesterman and Alexander are paid to spend about 10 hours a week on the project and given a $600 budget for expenses incurred by the group over the next two years.
Chesterman said the first step is meeting with as many groups as possible and determining how much food on the campus is already produced locally, then the group will look at where different departments and groups can work together to expand this.
Having that discussion at a post-secondary institution is vital, added Alexander, because young educated minds will become society’s future leaders and policy makers.