In an unlikely but compatible hybrid between environmentally conscientious students, Bon Appétit, and Hmong immigrant farmers, a project to bring fresher foods to campus is underway.
Food Truth, a student organization fighting for food activism and justice, has been working with a national organization called the Real Food Challenge in order to see if the food Carleton purchases and consumes in the dining hall is ecologically sound, humane and locally sourced. They use a tool called the Real Food Calculator, to calculate information based on Bon Appétit’s receipts. Schools who participate in the Real Food Challenge do so out of interest; there is no incentive or prize. This third party standard helps schools avoid arbitrarily deciding their sustainability, called “green-washing.”
Claire Kelloway ’16, one of the leaders of Food Truth, attended a National Real Food Challenge Summit in the Twin Cities last past fall term. There she heard Pakou Hang, the Executive Director of the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), speak about empowering Hmong immigrants and locally sourced food.
HAFA helps Hmong immigrant farmers be successful farmers. Recently, they started a new program that seeks to expand their alternative markets. One of the reasons Hang spoke at the Summit was to garner interest from schools they could source to.
Hang’s speech enthused and inspired Kelloway. She then decided to contact Hang and her employee Liz Johnson about working with Carleton College. Kelloway then spoke with Katie McKenna, a manager of Bon Appétit.
Utilizing locally sourced food whenever possible is integral to Bon Appétit’s philosophy. Therefore it was no surprise that McKenna, Executive Chef Michael Delcambre and other members of Bon Appétit were very open to the idea of working with HAFA.
The biggest concern Carleton had about forming an agreement with HAFA was whether or not HAFA offered produce that we didn’t already get from local farmers. Kelloway looked through receipts and invoices and realized HAFA could provide potatoes, herbs and asparagus, items we do not purchase locally.
Because HAFA tells their farmers what to grow, theoretically, they could start growing something Carleton wants and can’t get anywhere else. Delcambre was also very interested in purchasing traditional Hmong vegetables, something other local farmers cannot offer.
Bon Appétit will begin using HAFA fruits and vegetables in fall of 2014. Carleton College is the first school to make an agreement with HAFA, although Macalester and St. Kate’s were similarly interested at the Summit.
Kelloway’s inspiration for pursuing this alliance stems from the Real Food Challenge. In an interview she said, “We are always trying to up our percentage of “real food.” My goal, through Food truth, is to increase our amounts of local food on campus that the dining hall is buying.”