UMass Amherst is known for its commitment to establishing a sustainable campus food system. From being the largest institution to sign on to the Real Food Challenge, to a partnership with Food Solutions New England, and countless other valuable relationships with local farmers, it is no secret that UMass is front-runner where sustainability is concerned in college dining.
So who is turning the wheels on this cycle of sustainability anyway?
Meet the passionate food system innovators at the UMass Auxiliary Enterprises Sustainability Department dedicated to bringing healthy, local, and ecologically sound food to the plates of the campus community.
Rachel Dutton Harb
UMass Amherst, Environmental Science & Policy, 2011
Rachel, a Burlington, MA (home of Amy Poehler) native with a love for asparagus, came to the team in January of 2012. Given that UMass Dining is such a large contributor to the local food economy, Rachel acknowledges the responsibility of the university to support local farms and businesses. She believes in the potential of large-volume foodservice providers to create a ripple effect of positive changes in the food supply chain. It's all a part of moving towards a more sustainable UMass, and ultimately a more sustainable New England.
"In college, I had a dream of finding a job that would allow me to change food systems for the better. I was learning about the challenges with modern (read: “big”) agriculture and wanted to re-localize food. But that job didn’t exist at the time! Or at least, I couldn’t picture what it would look like. But as I was graduating from UMass, an opportunity came up to ask for a job with Auxiliary in a permaculture support staff role. And so they created a new job for me! Shortly after, I was able to redesign the role to support local/sustainable sourcing in the dining commons, reduce waste, apply for grants, build new partnerships, and a lot more. So my dream job actually came true for me in the end!"
Senior Sustainability Coordinator
UConn, Agriculture & Natural Resources, 2009
Brittany, the newest member of the Auxiliary Enterprises Sustainability Department, joined the team this Fall Semester, 2015. She values brainstorming with the department, engaging with students, and observing our 5 beautiful permaculture gardens on campus. A holistic outlook is a part of Brittany's lifestyle, who enjoys crocheting, hiking, exploring new plants, eating brussel sprouts, and reading in her free time.
"I was looking for a job that utilizes my skills in permaculture design, program development, crop production, student mentoring and community engagement. I was ready to work with a team of passionate people who are catalysts for great social change!"
Sustainable Food Systems Coordinator
UMass Amherst, Food System Policy (BDIC), 2013
Following her graduation from UMass in 2013, Joanna transitioned from Student Auxiliary Sustainability Coordinator to full-time Sustainable Food Systems Coordinator in 2014. As a certified EMT, Joanna has always been interested in helping people, especially when it comes to food. To Joanna, food is medicine. Elucidating the intricacies of food systems to the UMass community is truly fulfilling for Joanna; bringing awareness to students and staff about the "mystery" of where our food comes from is all a part of breaking down the barriers our culture has constructed surrounding food.
"I was turned on to food systems after a particularly enlightening semester in New Orleans in 2012 where ideas of food deserts and the issues impacting who had access to fresh, real foods really became a reality to me. Food impacts everyone regardless of socioeconomic standing. It’s a point of intersection where everyone has a reason to care. At UMass, I had found a team of people who realized this, too, and an institution that really made it a priority. I couldn’t think of a better way to feel like I had the power to really begin to influence the food system for the better."
UMass Permaculture Garden Manager
UMass Amherst, Sustainable Food & Farming/Resource Economics, 2014
Lilly has been a full-time team member since 2014, although her journey with Auxiliary Sustainability began as a student in 2012. She became involved with UMass Permaculture essentially upon her arrival to the university, and received a Permaculture Design Certificate from Sowing Seeds in 2012. Lilly is passionate about community building and regenerative ecology. You can find her sharing her wealth of knowledge with anyone coming through the gardens, whether it be students, staff, community members, or special visiting groups.
"I get to work with awesome people and grow food in an ecologically sound way. Being in the garden and teaching people about the power of permaculture is what get's me up in the morning!"
Local Food Consultant/New England Food System Strategist
UMass Amherst, B.B.A. 2008, M.S. 2010
Ryan's relationship with Auxiliary Enterprises began in 2009, when he invited Ken Toong to visit the permaculture garden at his house, a part of his master thesis, in order to demonstrate the value a similar project could have at UMass. Ryan became the first Sustainability Manager by writing a proposal to Ken, and you could say that the rest is history. Now acting as a consultant to Auxiliary Enterprises, Ryan is still a huge part of making the programs the Sustainability Team has developed flourish, and an essential, positive, player in the Healthy, Local Campus Food System funded by the Henry P. Kendall Foundation.
"I believe that institutions like UMass Amherst have an opportunity impact thousands of lives every single day. I felt called to help with the transformation toward a more sustainable campus, specifically by focusing on the food system. I have learned a great deal working at UMass and I can honestly say that my experiences here have profoundly impacted my life. I’ve also made incredible friendships and relationships while working at UMass, and as a result I’ve had some of the most fun times of my life!"
Student Garden Coordinator
UMass Amherst, Sustainable Community Development, 2016
Sammi, a lover of carrots and gardens, became one of two Student Garden Coordinators in January of 2014. She finds the gardens to be a place of peace and values the sense of calm they bring to her in between classes on this busy campus. Sammi, a driven student passionate about social justice, is always eager to share her enthusiasm and knowledge about food and the systems it exists in with other students.
"I love the community and empowerment that food unites us through."
Student Garden Coordinator
UMass Amherst, Sustainable Food & Farming, 2017
Erik was accepted in the Fall 2013 Semester as a member of the Permaculture Committee during his Freshman year. In the Spring semester of 2015, Erik signed on as our second student garden coordinator. Erik has always felt called to be a steward of the earth; a gap year fighting wildfires in America's west only heightened his fervor for regenerative agriculture.
"The time I get to spend outdoors and working with the soil, the bearer of so much life, is what really makes this job worthwhile for me. And getting to take beets home, that's also pretty cool."
Student Auxiliary Sustainability Coordinator
Culinary Institute of America, Culinary Arts, 2014
UMass Amherst, Sustainable Food & Farming, 2016
Xochi has a passion for all things food, but especially teaching others about it. Whether it's how to plant a seed, make jam, or sharpen a kitchen knife, Xochi will eagerly share her knowledge and passion with any curious community member. She has always felt a great connection with the earth and a need to help it restore itself, in addition to a strong pull to empower its people through education. Xochi came to the team in the Spring 2015 Semester. Acting as the bridge between students and the Auxiliary Sustainability team, Xochi invites her peers to become active members of their campus food system.
"When I was working in restaurants and going to culinary school, I loved making food for people because it was this universal way to touch people, to make them happy. Everybody needs to eat! And yet, my love could not blind me from the perils of the restaurant industry, this smaller narrative in our larger, broken food system. One day it just clicked for me, and I couldn't be a part of the problem anymore; I had to be a part of the solution!"
Student Auxiliary Sustainability Coordinator
UMass Amherst, Political Science/Public Policy & Administration Certificate /International Relations Certificate, 2016
Matt was drawn to the team in the Fall 2013 semester because of a subject then foreign to him: permaculture. However, what he knew about permaculture, this idea of an agricultural system inspired by nature's resilience and cyclical inclinations was completely brilliant to him; so, Matt was hooked. To Matt, being a part of the Sustainability Team is a critical part of catalyzing positive change in our foods systems on campus, plusit means he gets to eat local, delicious, sustainably sourced sweet potatoes. Working with some pretty inspiring individuals is just another huge bonus.
"Through interviews for the Farmer of the Week blog, I get to hear a lot of interesting stories from local farmers who represent a segment of the population that is often misunderstood and under-heard. It’s a great opportunity for me to engage with some of the people that operate behind the scenes to provide us with sustenance."
Thanks for getting to know our team! If you'd like to contact us please visit our contact page here.
Entries are submitted by project staff and UMass students.