By: Erin Pesut
At the small low tables in their small blue seats, preschoolers at the Early Childhood Learning Center at Fayetteville State University (FSU) shouted out their answers.
When someone yelled, “Apples,” a small boy responded, “Aren’t apples red?”
As the nutrition discussion around which foods were what color continued, these children ate their first meal provided by Campus Kitchens at FSU (CKFSU), a newly launched food recovery program where students transform surplus edible food from dining halls, grocery stores, restaurants and farmers markets into meals for those in need. FSU is the second Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the United States to host a Campus Kitchen and the first HBCU in North Carolina.
Food waste is a huge problem in our nation, and The Campus Kitchens Project (CKP), based out of Washington D.C., cites that currently approximately 40% of food is wasted in the United States while 1 in 6 persons experiences food insecurity. The Campus Kitchen at FSU was launched in May and is ready, as the CKP’s motto reads, to teach, reach, feed and lead.
During the Mr. Fayetteville State University competition in the spring of 2015, competitor Joel Cook wanted FSU to launch a food recovery program. He vowed, whether or not he won the competition, that he would begin something to help.
“I knew we could do more to help out with food insecurity, and if we had the opportunity, I wanted to do it. This was one of my platforms,” Joel said.
CKFSU came to fruition through the collaboration of many people and departments at FSU. Dr. Stacye Blount, Assistant Professor of Sociology, FSU’s Teacher of the Year for the 2015-2016 school year and the faculty advisor to the CKFSU student leadership team, worked diligently to see the process through. It was with the help of the Sociology Department, the Office of Civic Engagement and Service-Learning (CESL), Division of Student Affairs, Office of Academic Affairs, Aramark Dining Services, the FSU Farmers Market and other community organizations that CKFSU came into being. FSU also received a $5,000 grant to assist with the launch from their success in the Campus Kitchen video competition. Dr. Blount did a considerable amount of leg work, or “field work” as she called it, to get the program off the ground.
In June of 2015, Dr. Blount attended a High Impact Priorities Conference at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and visited their newly launched Campus Kitchen. In August, she attended The Campus Kitchens Project boot camp at the national office in Washington D.C. and when she attended a conference in Chicago, she didn’t miss a chance to catch the train to Northwestern and visit their Campus Kitchen and take notes.
“Not until we embarked on this project, I mean, I was maybe semi-conscious of the amount of food that we waste, but now I follow just about everything to do with food and food recovery and diminishing food waste on Twitter and Facebook, and it’s just amazing,” Dr. Blount articulated.
If you’re still not sure what food recovery is, you’re not alone.
Dr. Blount said most people were asking her the same thing. Questions came from curious people: Where will you get the food? How will you collect it? Do you take it out of the garbage can?
Food recovery refers to the practice of collecting surplus edible food that would otherwise go to waste and using it to create healthy meals for people. For instance, what happens to the extra food that never gets eaten at the FSU cafeteria?
As FSU evaluated how their Campus Kitchen could best serve the population at FSU, it was decided they would use it to help feed the children and preschoolers at the Early Childhood Learning Center.
On the day of the launch, Gloria Moore Carter, Director of the Early Childhood Learning Center, thanked Joel for his vision and his passion.
“I have a heart for seeing children eat healthy,” Joel said. “It is a great concern for me, and we have an opportunity to do that here.”
During the monthly PTA meetings, when it was difficult for parents to provide children with a wholesome dinner on-the-go, CKFSU will offer children a healthy meal from food that would otherwise have gone to waste. While kids eat their free, fresh and nutritious dinner, parents can fully focus on the meeting.
Veronica Jones, a member of the CKFSU advisory board said, “It’s not just feeding the kids, it’s about teaching and the importance of nutrition, of fruits and whole grains. We even made sure we all washed our hands before.”
She explained the importance of nutrition education, especially with young children and mentioned how in the classroom, they encouraged the kids to share their preferences—Did they prefer grapes or melon? Veronica said that they also talked about the benefits of drinking more water and less Kool-Aid.
In the future, Dr. Blount hopes the nutrition lessons will continue even after the kids leave the classroom, perhaps CKFSU will provide recipe cards for parents or even offer experiential learning options with the possible implementation of a garden at FSU, a way for both toddlers in pre-school and the two early college high school’s students on FSU’s campus a chance to get their hands dirty.
But where would CKFSU be without the chefs? And they certainly stepped up.
Chef Paul Stanley, an FSU Aramark chef, is completely on board. For someone who has been in culinary arts for 27 years, he said, “I have a heart for things like this.”
On days when there is a PTA meeting, Chef Stanley, at work in the FSU kitchen, will think about what food can be refurbished for the kids at the Early Childhood Learning Center. To “refurbish” the food for the kids, Chef Stanley makes sure the food is prepared properly, cooled properly and monitored all day to ensure food safety.
Olivia Rogine, Community Development Coordinator from the Campus Kitchens Project headquarter office in Washington D.C. travelled to Fayetteville to attend the launch. She mentioned the “adoptability” of the Campus Kitchen model. At various Campus Kitchens around the country, some volunteers address student hunger on campus or senior-based hunger in their own community.
“It’s very inter-generational. Every community is different. What’s so unique about FSU is they wanted to focus on children, on childhood hunger.”
Nearby, in the kitchen, Joel was at work seeing how much food was left. Some children were ready for seconds. He cited the duality.
“We are a nation of abundance and still a nation that goes hungry. This is a community project. It’s not just me.”
Campus Kitchens at FSU starts up again this school year. For more information check out the Campus Kitchen website and search for Fayetteville State University, or find them on Facebook: Campus Kitchen at Fayetteville State University.