Hanging out with students yesterday at Mt. Holyoke College, I got to thinking about how college campuses have played important roles in social change, particularly in corporate campaigns. When it comes to how college students have been able to shift corporate behavior, part of the reason comes from this simple fact: Most of the time, we consumers are a disparate bunch. We are millions large, but we don’t always see our connectedness. We’re hard to organize.
On the other hand, the industries selling to us – whether it’s yo-yos or yurts – tend to be pretty concentrated and resourced. With college campuses, the consumer-seller relationship gets flipped. As tuition paying members of the community, students can make a strong case for why they should have a say in how universities spend their money -- how they shop, in other words.
Using this powerful position, the student anti-sweatshop movement, for instance, has made a big splash. The student fair-trade movement has similarly had a huge impact. Entering the scene in force just a couple of years ago, the student movement for fair and local food on campuses and for launching college-based farms is taking off across the country. It feels like every day I hear about a new success story, a new effort blooming on a campus.
[News flash: As I write this, I just got the news that friends at Grow Montana, one of these awesome new initiatives, have just been honored by the Glynwood Center for their work in their home state].
The motivation for this work is manifold. In part, students are fired up about health and the food we eat: As one of Yale’s Sustainable Food Project put it: “Students shouldn’t be reading The Jungle in English 101 and then eating it for lunch.” Another motivating force is the desire to strengthen local economies and to keep small-scale farmers farming. And another inspiration is that students, like the ones I met at Mt. Holyoke tonight, who want to get in touch with how their food is grown and share fresh food with friends and family and colleagues.
Gathering for the first time next month, students from Northeast campuses are hosting the first ever, Real Food Summit, to share successes and strategies and to continue to build the movement. May the event be a huge success!