What are we eating?

Image courtesy of Fighting Hunger at Mines.

Meet the organizations evolving the food culture of Mines.

I’m aware of mental health programs on campus and sometimes I hear about physical activity programs, but I haven’t seen movement in the realm of healthy, local, even organic food as a part of both our mental and physical wellbeing. That is, the food students are eating and how they are getting that food. For a world-class engineering school, we haven’t quite tinkered our way to a sustainable and health-centric food culture but, someday soon, I envision a campus-wide email announcing the opening of a farm-to-table dining concept or even the addition of an agricultural engineering degree to the CEEN department. What gives me confidence in this vision? The answer is the student organizations and movements that are on the rise. Those include Fighting Hunger at Mines (FH@M), the Mines Greenhouse Project, Mines Green Team (MGT), and EarthWorks. These groups are connected by their desire to provide the Mines community with educational and cultural experiences that convey the ties between our campus food culture, the larger agricultural systems at play, and the ecological and social environments that are affected in the process. They are presenting both traditional and alternative modes of food production, distribution, and preparation.

In this issue, we took a deep dive into FH@M while future issues of The Oredigger will explore the Mines Greenhouse Project, MGT, EarthWorks, as well as introduce the Golden community members of the Hunger Free Golden Community Collaborative such as GoFarm, BGoldN, Golden Backpack Program, and the Christian Action Guild.

FH@M was represented by Estelle Cronmiller, current FH@M president and a PhD candidate studying waste to biofuel conversion, who provided her take on the past, present, and future of the organization. To begin, FH@M is a student run organization that is working to fill the gap between food insecurity and food surplus. Not only are they trying to provide more sustainable methods of obtaining food on-campus, but also more nutritional food options to support student mental health, success in academics as well as their personal life. They collaborate in the community through volunteering and service. Uniquely, they are able to knit together and provide food to members of both the Mines and the Golden community bridging a gap not often discussed.

FH@M was formed in the spring of 2019 by Dylan McClain due to personal experience with food insecurity due to financial reasons. To end their days of dumpster diving, he and roommate turned to the South Golden Co-Op where they began volunteering in exchange for food resources. Dylan had not only stumbled upon an inspiring food assistance program but also the hidden issue of food insecurity throughout the Mines and Golden communities. For shared and dissimilar reasons as low-income families, students can and do struggle with food insecurity whether it be due to financial reasons as was Dylan’s case or other personal crises. Mines students are working now towards a future salary, “That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re able to sustain themselves in similar ways during their education,” Estelle clarified. Dylan realized that other students may be interested in this sort of experience for not only their personal benefit, but for the benefit of the community. Thirdly, he had seen firsthand the massive volume of waste that is generated by grocery stores and perceived an opportunity to assist the co-op in diverting local food resources that would otherwise be thrown away. As Estelle noted, “That is just the tip of the iceberg, think of all the food that is wasted before it even gets to the market.”

Once established, the student organization quickly gained the attention of students, campus administration, and Golden community representatives. Symbolic of their community recognition, FH@M was honored by the Former Mayor of Golden, Marjorie Sloan, with the Golden Mayor’s Gold Mine Award for Excellence in the fall of 2019.

As Estelle explained, the team has continued to expand their community impact, form new partnerships, acquire a bus, and most recently began offering cooking classes. Their goal is to “teach people the basics of cooking and the importance of cooking” as a building block of a healthy lifestyle. They are thankful to the Board of Student Organizations (BSO) and Graduate Student Government (GSG) for funding previous and current programming. Their current Golden community partners are the Fresh Food Co-Op in south Golden and BGoldN.

Looking to the future, the FH@M team would like a permanent space on campus that students can come to through the week to provide direct services to the campus community. The vision is a cafe-grocery concept with students preparing hot meals throughout the day alongside a rotating assortment of items for purchase such as vegan butter, gluten free bread, organic produce, or free range eggs. That is, while retaining the free aspect of providing complementary surplus items as they currently do.

Briefly touching on current dining options, Estelle expressed concerns related to Sodexo’s presence on the Mines campus as related to their management. Sodexo’s misalignment with student interests has been expressed in previous iterations of The Oredigger and rightfully so. For the most part, Sodexo presents itself as a corporate organization that is closed off from student involvement in decision making processes. This aversion to partnerships with student groups and organizations or collaboration with student representatives has left some students wary of their dominance on campus. Estelle spoke to her previous experience with Sodexo and BU Acres, a student-led compost and gardening organization at Binghamton University. In particular, she described Sodexo’s involvement in preparing the Acre’s harvest at a farm event each fall. This made them more than financially-driven to students, they were a corporate institution connecting with the students they serve. The moral of that story is that Sodexo-student collaborations “have been done at other schools, so it can happen here,” Estelle stated.

The conversation then turned to organization longevity in the collegiate environment and making long term impacts through collaboration. The initial questions were, how do you establish something that is going to last? How do you reach the student population that is here now and organize an idea that is going to be relevant to people down the road? What is the framework that sustains the organization or movement? These are almost always some of the first concerns raised by administration and potential financial investors. Surveys of the Mines community, completed by various organizations throughout the past couple of years, have revealed the food security and nutritional health deficiencies of Orediggers. Student organizations have formed and worked to address these issues from the platform of a student and, now, several of these organizations are at a crossroads. Do they continue operating and iterating as they have (letting group members cycle in and out as is natural in a university setting) or do we collectively pursue a physical space on campus to establish a long term solution? Do we take charge of the sow, harvest, and preparation of foods and address the health and sustainability issues associated with our current dining and food sourcing framework? As Estelle, I, and others are aware, there are campuses around the United States who have incorporated student-sustained agriculture programs and dining options on their campuses (e.g. Binghamton University’s Acres project, Haverfarm at Haverford College, The Farm at Davidson College, the Village Center Greenhouse at CU Boulder, and more). At Mines, there are students prepared to invest in such a collaboration organization and facility. Not only does the student body then become emotionally and physically invested in the facility and fight to protect and sustain it, but the university sees it and respects it as something real that is supporting student life. Is Mines ready?

Even stressed out, overworked, and underslept engineering students want diverse food options, access to healthy, local, organic, and alternative food sources and some of them even want to get their hands in the dirt and take pride in producing their own food. It says something that there are students, undergraduate and graduate, on this campus that, alongside other obligations, are willing to invest extensive time and effort towards these organizations and movements. There are even a few willing to prolong their stay at Mines to see our vision through to fruition.

Food is a pillar of our culture and of our mental and physical wellbeing. It is more than a commodity that the school is investing in. First, Orediggers need the school to be an advocate in this arena and then the school can put funds towards those improved food standards. If we can help build offshore wind turbines or explore microporous crystals, then I’m confident Mines can work towards a healthier and more sustainable food culture. Innovation should start at Mines and investing in food-centric programs is not only investing in today’s students but the future of engineering across its many subdisciplines. The actions these student organizations and movements are taking and the discussion they are having are not only for current Orediggers. The problems they address and the support they have found throughout the Mines community won’t fade as classmen cycle through their time at the school. The moment is past due for the administration to be a part of the conversation and take an active role in supporting this shared vision for the future of dining at Mines. Before another residence hall is built on campus, Mines needs to address the alternative modes of food production, distribution, and preparation that these student organizations can provide. The school is approaching its sesquicentennial, it’s time to talk about food.

To keep up to date with FH@M events and food deliveries visit: FHMines on Instagram. •




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