Real Food Challenge – Gearing Up for The Year Ahead

Have you heard about Real Food Challenge? It’s a non-profit supported by a network of student leaders across the country who are working toward shifting 1 billion dollars in campus dining money to “real food” by 2020. Isn’t that amazing? I’ve been working with them since July on a few projects, and I am perpetually impressed by the enthusiasm and passion of this network. As we’re gearing up for an uber-busy year ahead, I wrote a piece for the Real Food Challenge blog in reaction to the USDA’s bail-out of the chicken industry to remind us of why we work.

{Originally posted on the Real Food Challenge blog on August 31, 2011.}

Throughout August and September, the Real Food Challenge is hosting regional summer trainings for student leaders all across the country. Student leaders will be participating in intensive, four-day trainings as they prepare for a jam-packed year ahead of them. Come September, they’ll embark on a year filled with campaigning and strategizing on their campuses. The leaders are working towards the Real Food Challenge’s long term goal of shifting $1 billion of campus dining funds away from industrial food and agriculture to more sustainable, community-oriented farms and processors – or ‘real food’ – by 2020.

These regional trainings couldn’t come at a more relevant time. Last Monday, the USDA purchased $40 million in chicken products in a move to bail out the chicken industry. (Thankfully, they’ve pledged to donate the food to soup kitchens and families in need.) The chicken industry (read: industrial agricultural conglomerates) cited the rising cost of production and the apparent struggle to turn a profit as reasons for the bail out. We can’t help but wonder where these funds are actually going to end up, and something tells us that it won’t be in the farmers’ wallets. Some argue that the bail out was necessary, but this is just another example of the government supporting the industrial producers who are “too big to fail” as the smaller, real food farmers are left in the dust.

This is why we need passionate student leaders and people like you – because real food farmers, those who are farming for our environment, our animals, and our communities, don’t have the USDA to bail them out when times get tough. They instead depend on a network of people who believe in shifting power away from the industrial conglomerates that abuse the environment, laborers, and animals, and into the hands of real food farmers.

The USDA transferred $40 million into the chicken industry, but Real Food Challenge hopes to shift $1 billion of campus dining funds to real food farmers and processors over the next nine years. Imagine what kind of change $1 billion affords: increased access to markets, higher wages for laborers, improved farm infrastructure, just to name a few. The prospect of that change is exciting, and should empower our student leaders, grassroots leaders, field organizers, and anyone passionate about transforming our food system as we continue working toward our goal.

Don’t forget to check out this inspiring video of the 2011 Northeast Regional Summit! It captures the importance and influence of the Real Food Challenge’s radical regional student summits:

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