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Photo of Student volunteers with Auburn Real Food Challenge with their Spirit of Sustainability Award.

Student volunteers with Auburn Real Food Challenge with their Spirit of Sustainability Award.

Auburn Real Food Challenge — Group

Auburn University, Auburn, AL

Because of their amazing collaboration with Tiger Dining and many other individuals and organizations, the Auburn Real Food Challenge is one two Spirit of Sustainability recipients this year have helped to make considerable improvements in the sustainability of the campus food system in a very short period of time.

The Real Food Challenge (RFC) is a national grassroots student campaign dedicated to incorporating 20% “real” food (food that is local, fair, humane, and ecologically-sound) on campuses by the year 2020.

Showing the power of academic pursuits to be the catalyst for action that moves beyond the walls of the classroom to have a lasting effect on the community, the Auburn RFC started as a class project in the Freshman Honors Symposium with students Maggie Scott and Sara Geonczy working with Dr. Ken Thomas. As they gathered supporters and the group evolved from class project, to a project within another student organization (the Auburn Sustainability Action Program), to eventually become its own officially recognized student organization.

In a few short years, the Auburn Real Food Challenge has been successful in getting more local, organic, and healthy food options in the dining halls. Bulk grains, trail mix, dried fruit, and fresh fruits and vegetables are now regularly stocked at the Cub Stop and other campus convenience stores. Through a collaboration with Emil Topel and Tiger Dining, they have supported a program to offer real silverware in the dining halls to reduce single-use materials that wind up in the landfill.

The members of the Auburn RFC also work to connect individuals with the production of their own food through the revitalization and operation of the Auburn RFC community gardens (on Samford Ave near Shug Jordan Parkway). One member wrote a grant that is currently pending to incorporate real food education in the Boys and Girls Club.

This empowered group of students has taken the time to engage and gather input from a wide range of constituents and community members by hosting a mini-food summit in 2011, and the first Auburn Real Food Fest in 2012. The Real Food Fest was created by Auburn’s RFC in conjunction with the kickoff for Auburn Slow Food and invited community members to enjoy an evening of local foods and beverages produced by some of the areas finest culinary artisans combined with an inspiring panel discussion about real food needs in the area. The impressively attended event also raised more than $10,000 in a single evening to support and improve the Auburn RFC community garden.

Currently led by Rosco Davis (President) and Jennifer Sellers (Education and Outreach Coordinator), the Auburn Real Food Challenge has been one of the most compelling and inspirational examples of how a group of passionate and dedicated students can create positive change for a whole community as they work to create the future they want to see.