The Real Food Challenge (RFC) leverages the power of youth and universities to create a healthy, fair and green food system. RFC makes it a priority to organize with students at agriculture schools, land-grant
universities and in agricultural regions of the Midwest and Appalachia—as the “belly of the beast” of Big Ag, these areas can be difficult places to reach.
This past March the organization focused its efforts at the Ohio State University (OSU). Food movement leaders and food distributors from around Columbus, Ohio gathered with the Real Food Challenge student group for an OSU Dining Listening Session with local farmers. All participants—the university food purchasing staff included—gathered around to hear the farmers’ concerns about current barriers to selling their food to the university, and their visions for developing their businesses and the regional food system through a strong institutional market for their products.
Since this listening session, OSU Dining has begun purchasing from several local producers,
and the RFC student group is on the cusp of securing a commitment from the university to source 20% “real food” by 2020 (see RFC’s definition of real food in the photo below). This pledge would be an important investment in the local food economy. By taking time to hear and prioritize the concerns of area farmers, this large, globally-influential institution demonstrated a commitment to the legacy of the land-grant universities, which were established to serve regional, community-based agriculture.
Farm Aid’s grant funding has supported RFC’s efforts to build relationships with students, farmers and food movement leaders and build a student base that has now gained much ground. “Farm Aid was early to believe and invest in our ability to do this difficult, but essential, organizing – for this, we are so grateful!”