Conference feasts on organic food issues



Farmers, food distributors, chefs and representatives from various colleges gathered on campus Friday to discuss the Sustainable Food Initiative at Yale and similar programs at other colleges.

The one-day conference, titled “Tilling the Soil, Turning the Tables,” included speakers, panel discussions, workshops and a dinner in Berkeley College dining hall that allowed organizers to promote the project and explore the ways in which the project has been successful.

“Our intention in holding the conference is sharing what we have learned and hearing from others,” conference organizer Melina Shannon-Dipietro, an associate director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, said. “We had a desire to bring together the many people who contribute to the project: dining service directors, farmers and distributors.”

The Yale Sustainable Food Initiative is best known for its incorporation of organic, locally grown foods into the menu of Berkeley dining hall. The Initiative is also responsible for organizing the distribution of food from local farms to Yale Dining Services.

“Our job is to figure out which farmers we should be buying from,” Shannon-Dipietro said. “[Without the Sustainable Food Initiative], local farmers aren’t set up to send products, and colleges aren’t able to receive products from twelve different farms.”

The conference began at Luce Hall with welcoming remarks by professor James C. Scott, director of the Agrarian Studies program, followed by a panel discussion of dining service directors from Yale, Williams and Bates colleges.

“The high point for me was seeing Luce Hall — all the seats were filled, and people were in the isles and leaning over the banister,” Shannon-Dipietro said. “It was an exciting mark of how this event appealed to people.”

The panel discussion was followed by two keynote speakers — Gus Schumacher, former undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and professor Joan Dye Gussow from Columbia University.

After an afternoon of workshops, the conference concluded with a dinner in Berkeley dining hall.

“Since most of the food here is all locally grown, we felt it was a fitting place to end the conference this year,” Jim Barnett, manager of Berkeley dining services, said.

Some of the fruits and vegetables in the dinner came from the Yale Organic Farm Project. Initiated two years ago, this farm is used to provide produce for the Yale University Dining Services’ Sustainable Food Initiative, to provide composting services, and to serve as an educational resource for the Yale and New Haven community.

Shannon-Dipietro said that although the conference did not formulate concrete plans for the future of the Yale Sustainable Food Initiative, it did provide an opportunity for dining service directors, activists, farmers and distributors to share what they have learned and heard from others.

“We hoped to create an awareness of our food and where our food comes from,” she said. “We hoped that people would come away inspired but also with a practical sense of how to do such a project.”

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