Sustainable Food Initiative
EMU’s Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI) is a student organization that grew out of a group of concerned students who witnessed cafeteria waste of unused food. Students organized the donation of untouched cafeteria leftovers to Our Community Place, a local gathering place and the home of the Early Church, a Virginia Mennonite Missions effort. The collaboration between students of SFI, dining hall director Bruce Emmerson, and staff at Our Community Place, provides students with the opportunity to help those in need without going abroad.
SFI’s vision is to focus on working with EMU students, faculty/staff, community members, and growers to work towards further sustainability and social responsibility in food. Through our campus gardens, initiatives, and partnerships away from campus, we seek to expand learning and education for all involved, as well as providing fresh and local produce to students and community members in more environmentally friendly and accessible ways.
Chickens at EMU
The Sustainable Food Initiative decided to partner with Earthkeepers to bring chickens back to campus in the fall of 2014 with the hope that it would be able to provide affordable eggs to EMU students living in Parkwoods and Hillside. The chicken coop now sits east of the turf field where the chickens can roam and forage around while also benefiting from the security of a coop. SFI provides the chickens with GMO free feed and organizes students to care for the chickens on a daily basis. The chickens serve multiple purposes at EMU. Not only do they provide free-range eggs for the students, they also give students a hands-on way to help in the locally grown mission of SFI. In addition to this, the chickens are a wonderful learning tool in our community outreach efforts, providing kids with a tangible example of sustainability.
Community Outreach and SFI
Community connections are a huge part of our SFI network. Partnerships with experts and educational programs are an important part of who we are and the ways in which we learn and share knowledge, as well as engage in relationship with our local community.
We work with schools in the area, such as Eastern Mennonite Elementary School and Keister Elementary School, are a part of how we get outside of our campus projects and spend time working with community members and children to teach about gardening, as well as spend time getting them excited about the food they eat and where it comes from. EMES includes their gardens in their Peacebuilding Program, and students learn to engage the Earth as a part of caring for people and the broader global community. We have been working with Keister to write a gardening curriculum to better incorporate time spent digging and tending to the gardens as something that goes beyond their science classes – they learn about gardening and food as a social system.
Churches, specifically their Creation Care Groups, have not only invested in our program, but have continued to invite us into their spaces. We work with their gardens, they help with ours, and we are often connected in sharing community meals.
New Community Project
NCP is a local organization near downtown Harrisonburg. They are a group that works to live in community, and practices alternative lifestyles – living simply. They work with local schools to provide fresh produce in the cafeterias on a regular basis, and host educational events for schools and community groups. They have often been an advisory group for us, and we connect through meals and joint events.
Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community
VMRC is experimenting with a 50-acre farm on Willow Run, right next to EMU. Our staff works on a regular basis with Tom Brenneman to farm for VMRC’s kitchen. This partnership works to connect the VMRC and EMU communities under the banner of fresh, locally grown produce. We share ideas, equipment, and labor in order to work more efficiently and effectively. Through this long-term relationship, we hope to continue a conversation with VMRC about sustainable food systems.
Part of SFI’s mission is to partner with other groups and clubs around campus who have similar visions and goals for creating a better world. We hope to strengthen the efforts of our fellow students and faculty who participate in these organizations: