In the early 1980s, a sustainable agriculture movement began in North America to ensure the livelihood of farmers and rural communities. From this movement, the development of sustainable food systems locally, regionally, nationally and globally emerged to ensure environmentally safe approaches to producing food and fiber that would sustain people as well as the land.
Dr. Maureen Zimmerman, Nutrition/Dietetics and Sustainable Foods faculty at Mesa Community College explains, “A sustainable food system is one that provides a connection between the growers of food and the consumers of the food; it provides safe, fresh, healthy, mostly local, and affordable food for all; and safety and equity for farmers, food workers, and animals. This system consists of interdependent components such as production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management and it contributes to economic prosperity.”
With the growth of sustainable food practices, Rio Salado College and Mesa Community College, along with other colleges and universities throughout the nation began offering sustainable food systems, sustainable agricultural systems and other similar degree programs.
Rio Salado College offers a Sustainable Food Systems program that is designed for a diverse student population, including those who are currently working within the food service industry and are interested in building upon their culinary skills in sustainable practices, as well as those with no culinary background. Courses include concepts supporting the real food movement, which represents reeducating the individual and the community on the way food is purchased, brought to the table, and consumed.
In fall 2010, Mesa Community College (MCC) began offering the Sustainable Food Systems Associate of Applied Science and Certificate of Completion degrees. Much like the Rio Salado College program, students learn the way food is grown, purchased, prepared and consumed in the current model while studying and developing alternative methods for creating local, regional and global sustainable food systems. Internships allow students to work with local farmers and growers on food production, preparation, justice, distribution or education.
The Garden @ Rio and MCC’s student garden provides an opportunity for students to grow native foods. They harvest produce from the college gardens, learn basic cooking principles and discover the nutritional benefits of the food they select to grow. The Garden @ Rio also provides food items for the Café @ Rio allowing others to experience the benefits of sustainable foods.
Students completing their degrees at either Rio Salado or MCC are prepared to lead the way in creating new sustainable food systems.
“People are increasingly seeking a connection with food that wasn’t seen 20 years ago. Farmer’s markets, household gardens and farm to table restaurants are more popular than they’ve ever been. I think it is important that we focus on education and teach our children about “real foods” and their origins. Kids should know that chicken nuggets don’t come from momma chicken nuggets. When they visit a farm or start a backyard garden with their parents, kids see where “Real Food” comes from and it gives them a whole different appreciation of what they are putting in their bodies,” stated Michael Hodgins, Director of Sustainable Food Systems at Rio Salado College.
On October 24, from 11 am to 1 pm, the public is invited to celebrate Food Day at Rio Salado College. Food Day provides an opportunity to learn about farm to table healthy initiatives featuring cooking demonstrations, local farmers and growers, numerous educational and informational booths, and garden tours of the Garden @ Rio. Attendees are encouraged to bring a health, non-perishable food item to donate to the United Food Bank. Food Day is sponsored by Rio Salado College, Mesa Community College and Tempe Union High School. The event is free.