We're hearing from more and more college students that they're often interested in eating locally while in school but are faced with mandatory meal plans. Here are a few ideas that other students and colleges have employed to get around this.
Even when held captive to your meal plan, you can still buy healthy snacks and make connections with farmers by going to the farmers markets (most run until Thanksgiving). Find the one in your town through the USDA. If you have a fridge, freeze some berries for a great winter snack. Or buy a dehydrator, there are models for less than $100; my friend Ruben just made some delicious raspberry and apple fruit leather with his.
You can look up which colleges are already serving local foods at farmfresh.org. Smith College and University of Massachusetts in Amherst already do. (Though be warned this doesn't mean it's all local! At these colleges, phone to find out what the 100-mile foods are, congratulate them, and push for more.)
Everyone else: Encourage your college to serve local foods in the cafeteria and as part of the meal plan. This is a worthy political act because institutional vendors, with greater buying power than individuals, can more quickly beef up the local farm economy. More and more schools are - Berea College in Kentucky has its own market garden for really fresh foods. The Farm-to-College website has a report of the experiences of 18 different colleges serving local foods (including MIT in Cambridge), along with a how-to guide.
Without a car? Most colleges are served by public transit - or may even be near the farmers market, like in Seattle, where the "U District" market runs year-round, and is considered the best in the city. Natural food stores tend to thrive near colleges too - and they may well be more receptive than large supermarkets to requests to bring in local foods. You don't have to go it alone! You'll most likely find support for your passion for local eating if you join an environmental or anti-global-warming group on campus. Extra-curricular activities can be the most rewarding you do during your degree studies. It was for me - I worked for the student newspaper for three years. In fact, that would be another great venue to push for local foods.
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