Thank you so much for participating in changing the way we interact with and appreciate our world. I know at times the environmental plight can seem overwhelming and dire, and the individual impact that we all have can seem small, but I just wanted to send along some holiday cheer and a reminder that each and every person can make a change that aids the health of our planet and our home. I want to do so by sharing with you an incredible change that some of our very own Batesies made happen.
This year, a group of 11 motivated Bates students representing all class years came together and participated in the “Maine Food System Innovation Challenge,” a challenge that called for a creative and inspired idea for addressing and supporting “the expansion of production, distribution, processing, and consumption of local, sustainably produced food and seafood.”
The planning stages of the project took many weeks and many meetings at the Ronj, involving ideas such as “edible landscaping to using milk that was past its expiration date (but still perfectly fine to consume!) to making yogurt at a kitchen in Mill #5 in Lewiston.” While all of these ideas were exciting, the group settled on pursuing a project involving gleaning, which entails “reducing food waste by distributing excess crops to people who could use them, rather than leaving good food in the field to rot.”
As they developed the idea further, the days passed quickly until finally the big competition day was upon them. The weekend of the competition involved an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workshop on Saturday, followed by the various teams pitching their ideas on Sunday. During the workshop, the Bates team met with “over 15 professionals from Maine involved in all aspects of the food industry and/or running a business, including lawyers from Drummond and Drummond, the owner of Rosemont Bakery in Portland, farmers from all over, a representative from Sodexo, and more!” Sophie Landes described the experience as a wonderful learning opportunity. “Our team went into the competition with very little prior business and entrepreneurial experience. Through the wide variety of experts brought in for consulting and step by step guidelines on how to create a value proposition…we were truly able to learn so much over the course of a single weekend,” she said.
After a long weekend of inspiration and hard work the team was finally ready to pitch their idea. They took to the stage, and in a live-streamed presentation, delivered an incredible plan to make a change to the way we address “the twin challenges of food waste and food insecurity, both locally and beyond.”
Eventually, the time came to announce the winners. The Bates team sat anxiously until the announcer proclaimed, “And First Place goes to the Bates College team!” While I, Sustainable Abigail, was not there, I can only imagine the crowd went wild. The first place team received a cash prize of $2,500 to implement their project.
Professor of Environmental Studies Francis Eanes will be teaching a Winter Semester and Short Term course called “Urban and Regional Food Systems” in which students will continue working on this project to make it a reality. “So what?” you may ask, “How do I know that I can do that too?” This project and sustainable change was founded in the passion and inspiration within just a few Bates students, and came together when they shared in and built upon each other’s thoughtfulness and creativity.
If you have an idea, a question, or even the beginnings of a passing thought about making a difference, know that there are people at Bates and beyond that want to help you make the world a little better. Perhaps every idea won’t come with the $2,500 cash prize, but I can guarantee that every idea you have will spark an inspiration and conversation in someone in your community. Just remember, keep your head up and your heart open to making a difference, because you can!
*Quotes throughout the piece came from various Bates students that participated in the competition*