UMass Amherst Permaculture Committee Wins ‘Real Food Award’

AMHERST, Mass. - Boston-based Real Food Challenge (RFC), an organization that aims to shift university food purchasing from conventional to "real" sources via student-led campaigns, recently honored the 12-member University of Massachusetts Amherst Permaculture Garden Committee with its national Real Food Award in the student group/activist category.

The award recognizes excellence in promoting real food at colleges, developing new leaders and building bridges between worker-student, producer-consumer or town-gown communities, say RFC organizers. They define "real food" as not artificial, a seed-to-plate system respecting human dignity, health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability. RFC’s goal is to shift at least 20 percent (about $1 billion) of U.S. college and university spending on food to local or sustainable sources by 2020.

Campus teams were nominated by students nationwide; winners were chosen by RFC students and staff based on the votes and comments of over 2,000 people, mostly students. RFC says the Real Food Awards are the only national recognition for excellence in food service voted on by the customers themselves.

UMass Amherst’s Ryan Harb, chief sustainability coordinator for auxiliary services and enterprises, says campus permaculture interns and volunteers were recognized for transforming two campus lawns into sustainable permaculture gardens over the past two years. This involved over a dozen local K-12 schools and more than 1,000 participants who moved more than 500,000 pounds of UMass compost, recycled cardboard and wood chips without using any fossil fuels on site.

The flagship garden near Franklin Dining Commons has supplied over 1,000 pounds of locally grown fruits, nuts, berries, herbs, flowers and vegetables and provided a working classroom in sustainability education to the campus, he adds. "For UMass Amherst, permaculture serves as a reminder of what one big idea, a lot of recycled newspaper, cardboard and food waste, and a supportive community can accomplish in an ongoing effort to make the Earth a more sustainable and healthier place to live."

In addition to awards, the RFC organization has developed a real food calculator providing definitions and a tracking system for institutional purchasing. It assigns real food to one of four core categories: Local/community-based, Fair, Ecologically sound and Humane.