Who, us?

And, when you’re done with that big news, here’s another interesting tidbit from the NYT: a piece that ran a couple of weeks ago about the possibility of constructing buildings to facilitate urban farming. I’m always wary of stuff like this on principle–it sounds like greenwashed marketing, a ploy to employ architects and scientists and construction workers in the name of good old fashioned economics rather than actual sustainable thinking. But I think it might have interesting implications for college campuses, places that are almost always adding new buildings and acquiring land, places that spend small fortunes on importing food, places that have a captive, able-bodied workforce eager to pay down ever-steeper tuition costs in any way possible.
Think about it: what if, instead of requiring PE or community service, as many institutions do, students were obliged to work on their campus’ farm for some number of hours a week to produce food to be served in their dining halls or perhaps purchased from some kind of co-op? Lower labor and transportation costs might well lead (eventually!) to some significant savings–or students could be paid for their time as part of a work-study program.
One of the major issues of getting local food into college cafeterias is scale but, with the right resources (the kind that many private universities are under investigation for hoarding as tax-exempt institutions), these buildings might provide the space (and climate control) necessary to start making a serious impact on the source of dining halls’ produce.
That kind of scale, however, confronts us with the issue of vertical integration: what might it mean for universities that already buy local to divert those resources back into themselves? Shouldn’t the preservation of existing farmland and mid-size local farmers be our first priority? It’s certainly not a perfect solution by any means but, thoughtfully considered, I think this might have the makings of something important for the future of slow, sustainable food on our nation’s college campuses.

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