By Meaghan Dodson ’17
Although some may argue that Oakland Avenue’s Golden Crust Pizza is the “local” cuisine of Providence College, one group of Global Studies seniors is searching for options that are a little more…well…local.
According to its mission statement, the Local Foods Initiative Capstone Group was created to get students “engaged with the local community, supportive of sustainability movements, and conscious about the impacts of their consumption habits.”
Global Studies majors Amanda D’Ambrosio ’17, Periklis Fokaidis ’17, Vicki Garcia ’17, Elizabeth Longo ’17, Stephen Skelly ’17, and Gretchen Schissel ’17 became interested in the initiative after doing independent research projects during the fall. The students realized that their projects all centered around themes of sustainability, food justice, and community engagement, and they wanted to see how their different research could intersect.
Searching for a launch pad for the project, the group began looking at the College’s on-campus Dunkin’ Donuts since, with PC’s arrangement with CRS about to expire, contract details are in the process of being renewed and renegotiated.
The current contract states that 100 percent of the College’s sales commission goes directly to Catholic Relief Services, a humanitarian organization providing international aid to people in need.
While CRS has put PC’s donations to good use overseas, the GST group believes it also important to support the local community. The group proposed to continue donating 50 percent of the College’s commission to CRS, and then to use the remaining 50 percent to support local sustainable agriculture.
“We wanted to focus on working with people who are trying to make local food initiatives accessible to everyone in Rhode Island,” Longo stated. “Although we are obviously not there yet, our state and the organizations we work with are pioneers in the field.“
According to the group’s proposal, 40 percent of the commission would go to supporting organizations involved in local sustainability initiatives, while the remaining 10 percent would go to student “farm bucks.”
Inspired by the Farm Fresh Rhode Island program, “farm bucks” would be put on students’ PC cards and then could be used at local markets. Ideally, students interested in the program would partner up with Student Enviornmental Action Committee, the campus’ environmental club, for trips to the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market.
In devising their proposal, the students partnered with PC’s global studies, biology, and public and community service departments, as well as SEAC, the PC Sustainability Committee, and various other on and off campus resources. The students also met with members of the College’s administration several times in order to express their enthusiasm for the project and also to discuss practical and logistical challenges.
“It starts with conversations and being able to meet with people, to find strength in common goals and values, and to realize it’s a very interconnected and interdisciplinary issue,” stated Longo.
“We are super proud of and attached to this program, but our ultimate goal is to make sustainability and food justice more prevalent themes on our campus,” added D’Ambrosio.
Brown University and RISD, for example, are two of several Rhode Island schools that have local food initiatives, and the students aim to see PC become another “anchor institution” for sustainable agriculture.
With groundwork for the project in place, the seniors hope to hand off their work to SEAC members Will Bozian ’19 and Marvin Taveras ’19. The biggest hurdle to get the project started is student initiative; if a large group of students are interested, project leaders and administration are more likely to move forward.
Reflecting on the project as a whole, Skelly stated, “We have imagined this project as part of a wider paradigm shift to emphasize not only our role in the local food system and community development, but also a different way of thinking and acting within the PC community. Emphasizing these concepts of development and action here over the long term can not only benefit the city of Providence and state as a whole, but also distinguish the College from other institutions.”
Dr. Nicholas Longo, the group’s capstone professor, felt that his students did extraordinary work. “Starting with their collective passion for addressing climate change and building a sustainable future, they engaged in a rigorous research process and then found a creative and tangible solution for how we can make a difference by supporting local foods,” he said.
“And while they are all seniors, they also cultivated a new generation of leaders to continue with this project after they graduate, so they are leaving quite a legacy,” said Dr. Longo.