PUBLIC PROFILE: Nancy Shea: Director, SOU Center for Sustainability
RVM: What is the main goal of the Center for Sustainability?
NS: Initially, the idea was to get a farm going, and then we’ll think about what kind of educational efforts we’ll do around the farm. I think the idea was really to inspire students to think about eating sustainably, knowing where our food comes from and what it takes to grow food organically. And then eventually the farm would spread and we would start doing more educational and outreach programs to get the community involved.
RVM: What happens to the food grown in the student run farm?
NS: It could have gone to farmers’ markets, but we decided we wouldn’t compete with the local farms. So we would use SOU as our market. We have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, selling to students and faculty at SOU. We started with 10 the first year, we’ve got thirty this year, and we’ll probably shoot for about 50 next year. The second market, which is potentially the biggest market, is selling to the dining hall. We’ve been working on that relationship and the dining hall’s coming around, and they’re beginning to kind of brand themselves around serving locally grown organic food. So they’re starting to buy our food more and more, and we’re actually working right now on a contract to get them to keep buying more. And the third way, is we have our own farm stand on campus once a week where students can come buy food.
RVM: What are some cool projects going on right now?
NS: I would say mostly we’re focused on getting the farm going and getting it to be functional. We’re also working on getting an indoor/outdoor classroom built. We also are building relationships. one of our prime relationships right now is the Rogue Valley Farm to School Project. They’re a non-profit in Ashland, and they teach public school kids about farming and how you eat more sustainably. They like to bring their students out to a farm, so we’re one of their farms. So we have ongoing programs with them.
Also, we have a pretty active apiary, and SOU has become a “bee campus”. There’s a national project called Bee City USA, and it designates certain cities in the US to be “bee cities”, which is basically an effort to keep bees from, you know, dying off. Ashland became a bee city, so then SOU decided to become the first bee campus. So we have bees and are working on reworking the landscaping to make it more friendly to bees and monarch butterflies.
RVM: What is the nature of food insecurity among SOU students, and how is the center working to address it?
NS: The original conversation about this project was, can we provide food in a way that it’s cheap for students? So it is true, that when we run our farmstand, we sell way cheap compared to, for example, if you went to the farmers’ market. There is a lot of poverty in the Rogue Valley. So participating in helping students deal with that and finding cheaper sources of food were definitely some of the originating ideas behind this thing. And then of course we also sell cheap to the dining hall, which is trying to keep its food reasonable. Also, any extra food we end up with we donate to the Food Angels [a local food rescue non-profit].
RVM: How can the general public get involved with the Center for Sustainability?
NS: We do want to continue our capacity for that. Right now, the main way the public gets involved is through volunteering on the farm. You don’t have to be a student to come help out, and we actually have individuals coming out every week. The community is beginning to more and more step up and help us in that regard. We think of the center as a nice bridge between SOU and the community.