Local Food and its crew at Warren Wilson College

Every student should be aware of the agrarian roots here at WWC.  From its founding in 1894 through 1971, the school was virtually self-sufficient, producing almost all of its food on-site. From 1971 to 1983, the school contracted an off-site contractor to supply its food.  A short-lived attempt to return to self-reliance happened from 1984-1986, but was generally considered to be a failure, and in 1986 the college initated the contract that has been extended to today.  Increases in student body size since then have made any thought of returning to the days of self-sufficiency impossible.  Then, in 1999, the student-initiated and run, all-vegetarian Cowpie Cafeteria was added to the dining options.  Depending on the season, foods served at this outlet can be as much as 99% organic, with as much as 50% coming from local sources, mainly the college garden.  At Gladfelter, the main cafeteria, however, these proportions are much lower.   Together, however, nearly 25% of foods procured by Dining Services is local and organic, with around 7% coming from local sources, mainly from the college Farm, giving the college one of the "greenest" food service in the country..

As you may have already read, this crew got started in the spring of 2007, springing from a campaign created for Mallory McDuff's Community Organizing for Sustainable Living course. Loren Cardeli, Ellie Thomas, Erin Fahey and Katie Miller came up with a statement of need that launched the whole endeavor. It goes a little something like this:

There is a glaring disconnect between what we as students are taught in the classroom, on workcrews and through service and how we behave in our dining halls. Specifically, we learn about the harms of industrial agriculture and the globalized and consolidated food system while living in a rich, fertile sustainable agriculture community.  Yet it is crucial to recognize that sustainably produced food costs more.  Small farms like those found in our region cannot employ economies of scale to produce food as cheap as the global-industrial food system can.  Moreover, numerous studies have shown that organically produced foods from the other side of the world have a smaller environmental impact than conventionally grown food in our own community.  So "local" does not automatically mean better, let alone "sustainable". 

We, the Warren Wilson community, procliam WWC to be a school anchored in a commitment to environmental stewardship, which is articulated in our college's mission statement. Sustainable Agriculture is the most popular concentration within the Environmental Studies discipline.  The Black Mountain Community Garden is one of the most popular service trips offered through Service Learning. The myriad work crews concerned with local food such as the garden, the farm, Cow Pie and the Eco Dorm garden are all testimonies to the community's sentiment regarding food.

During the Fall semester of 2006  Sofia Hatz, Mathew Lucas and Alexandra Meyer conducted an economic study on student demand for local food. They concluded that they community does in fact desire more local food in the dining facilities ,  and that students are willing to pay significantly more per semester for more local and organic foods.  Then, in fall of 2008, Jeffrey McConnaughey, Nora Purcell, Mark Begley, and David Kelly revisited and built upon this study, first noting that, using the additional revenue identified by the earlier study, a doubling of the amount of local and (non-local) organic food procured by Dining Services.  Note that only a small fraction of this increase would be locally grown organic foods, as they are just too darn expensive.  Unfortunately, students are often not the "bill-payers", and these results are thus limited in their application.  However, the latter study went on to point out that in order to achieve this efficient level (bringing the greatest satisfaction to the most people), most of this revenue would go to boosting this proportion at Gladfelter, though some could go to increasing the quantity of food served at Cow Pie.  It also noted that we can likely reach this overall proportion in one of two ways:

  1. Use revenue to focus on procuring globally-sourced "certified organic" foods.  Very little of the increase would come from local sources
  2. Use revenues to invest in new infrastructure for food production at WWC farm, garden, and forest, slowly transitioning this funding to subsidies on their food products sold to dining services, enabling each to pay and recieve what it needs.

 The study culminated in a comparison of different investment options over the long-term, of which all proved viable at least, and employ low-input, sustainable production methods.  It called for an expansion of the garden, investment in freezing infrastructure, transition to pastured poultry and pork (using alternative breeds) and replacing corn used for fattening the hogs with nuts, phasing out the beef herd and replacing it with a "beef-dairy" utilizing a particular dual-use breed, and boosting production of non-timber products (food) from the forest.  New crews would be required for most, if not all of these propositions, and we hope that they one day materialize. 

There have been countless local food efforts and much talk but measureable results, substantial increases in local food purchases by Sedexho, have been limited. This is due, at least in part, to the fragmentation and discontinuous nature of our efforts. We need to see a unified initiative- an informed and unified community voice calling for and demanding increased local food in our cafeterias. Through various organizing efforts we will bridge gaps between disconnected groups and individuals who have a common pursuit.

The Local Food Crew