Students from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions attended the Real Food Baltimore Regional Action Training and Strategy Retreat, hosted by Real Food Hopkins, at Charles Commons from Feb. 11-14. The weekend’s events centered around protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, as well as planning new initiatives and strategies to promote “real” food on college campuses.
Real Food Hopkins is Hopkins’ chapter of the Real Food Challenge (RFC), a national, student-led food movement whose goal is to shift $1 billion of food budgets towards purchasing locally grown, sustainable, fair trade and ecologically sound food.
Approximately forty students from schools such as The University of Vermont, Princeton University, Clarke University and University of Maryland — Baltimore County (UMBC), among others, travelled to Hopkins to participate in the action training and strategy retreat.
On Friday, students marched from Penn Station to Congressman Elijah E. Cummings’ office to protest the TPP, a free trade agreement between the United States and eleven other nations. Students met again in weekend workshops to discuss and brainstorm ways to implement effective changes to promote adoption of real food.
Junior Sunny Kim, a member of the Executive Board of Real Food Hopkins, explained the importance of collaboration and partnership between regional universities.
“Real Food Hopkins volunteered,” Kim said. “We wanted to make sure schools in this area know that they are part of a larger movement. The big focus of this retreat is power and what stake students have in our food movement and in the world.”
Past initiatives by Real Food Hopkins have included the Weigh Your Waste campaign in the FFC and the Real Food Campus Commitment. Signed in 2013 by University President Ronald J. Daniels, the Real Food Commitment promises that “real food” will make up 35 percent of food purchases by 2020.
It also works in conjunction with another organization, the Food System Working Group, which is comprised Real Food Hopkins students. The two organizations work together to advise University purchasing. Recently, Hopkins has partnered with local companies like The Taharka Brothers and Stone Mill Bakery.
As food was the topic of conversation for the weekend, Real Food Hopkins provided an array of “real” food for participants to consume. The Taharka Brothers and Stone Mill Bakery donated ice cream and baked goods, respectively. Several students took time away from workshops to prepare make-your-own-taco-bowls for lunch on Saturday. Before eating, students described where the different ingredients were from.
Additionally, Margaret Smith, Outreach Coordinator at Common Market Philadelphia, where Hopkins sources some of its food, came to talk to participants about university dining and the food industry.
Kim emphasized the importance of forming relationships with local companies and schools.
“We hope that out of this retreat there will be a lot of regional partnerships,” Kim said. “Hopkins on its own has huge purchasing power, but imagine if we combined it with UMBC and McDaniel and we bought [food] together? We could reduce costs significantly because the demand is so high. I’m very excited to think about those things.”
Participants praised the collaborative aspect of the training and enjoyed sharing stories of their different experiences with the RFC. Clark University student Io Brooks appreciated how the Action Training and Retreat provided an opportunity to talk with students at other universities about real food.
“I came to [Baltimore] because it’s really good to connect with other schools that are doing similar work,” Brooks said. “Since we’re just one small liberal arts school, it’s really good to see what everyone else is doing... There are a lot of good things going on at Johns Hopkins and I would love to steal some of the ideas and implement them at Clark.”
Brooks also described how some students struggle more than others to convince their universities of the importance of promoting “real” food.
“One person was talking about how they were trying to get their school to be more transparent about what they were buying and where [the food] is coming from,” Brooks said. “They almost got sued by the [dining] company, and they were banned from the dining hall.”
Freshman Clarissa Chen valued the diverse ideas exchanged during the workshops.
“It’s interesting to hear everyone’s different perspectives of where they are in their campus campaign and see how we can help each other,” Chen said.
Freshman Melissa Mai was inspired to join Real Food Hopkins because of her commitment to reducing food waste.
“It’s empowering to see that there is something we can do as students,” Mai said. “We are very fortunate that the dining services here at Hopkins are very cooperative, and we have a fantastic relationship with them. Some universities don’t have that... so even if we don’t have the same experience, we can offer advice.”