Food Systems & Resilience: the Vermont Farm to Plate Initiative

by Michelle Giles for SUST 350

Food is an interesting topic. It is not at all unique, since we all eat. And yet, no two people assign food and particular dishes the same value. We may be the only species to consider food as something more than sustenance (many lacking the taste bud infrastructure to pick up on sweetness and saltiness) and routine (my cat, for instance, will bite me if she is not fed her breakfast by 7:01).

Humans culturized food. Often this was based on produce and livestock availability, as well as socioeconomic status. Now with global trade, we enjoy the luxury of habitualizing ourselves to products that North America could never grow (but first, coffee) and sensualize meals that were originally eaten out of necessity (lobster was considered fit only to be fed to Northeast prisoners, an insect of the sea).

As Scott Sawyer points out in the “Food System Lessons from Vermont” chapter of The Community Resilience Reader: Essential Resources for an Era of Upheaval, the food system operating at present does not reflect our gastronomical likes and dislikes. Nor is it culturally significant. Instead, it craves fossil fuels and splurges on cash crops. The idyllic patchwork quilt of grain and green imagined of our countryside is better personified by Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The land that cries year after year with every pesticide application and relentless monocropping. Production is toxic and waste is too affordable for large producers to consider it a problem worth avoiding.

Many millennials are aware that this isn’t working for anyone and are choosing alternative diets that emphasize organic and local. Purchasing power alone, though, is not going to heal our broken food system. These kind of consumer choices are being amplified in states like Vermont which put people to policy and policy to action.

Source: VT Sustainable Jobs Fund

The Vermont Farm to Plate initiative is a highly collaborative platform for connecting local people to local food by providing the network for supply-demand connections between farmers, non-profits, government agencies and retail suppliers. The possibilities are virtually endless since, as noted above, everybody eats! It also supports young farmers and provides funding for land to get people started. To round off the effort, a pillar of the initiative is to reduce waste by providing for foodbanks and supporting the Universal Recycling Law which includes composting organic material (Sawyer, 2017).

The real success of the program is in the people. While Farm to Plate is policy driven, it has an extremely grassroots feel to it. Food can break many boundaries and so those organic smoothie drinking millennials are participating right alongside hog butchers and corner store owners. There also is an effort to include job training in all related fields. The education element lends to a constructive rippling through communities. There is a sense of pride about Vermont providing for Vermont. The regulatory elements of mandatory composting and waste reduction next to the marketplace -friendly local farm economy makes it a plan that appeals to both sides of the aisle.

I think many of the elements of the program are suitable elsewhere. This kind of resilience-oriented, forward, creative, and collaborative food network should especially be prioritized in cities. There is built-in tension in our landscape that results from areas of high population density being only consumers of food. It places unfair burden on our rural land and peoples. That thinking simultaneously robs cities of the opportunities to build those communities and places that local food can generate.

Food is special. It is very much a personal and cultural experience. A fitly run, local food system creates a sense of place. But, as Sawyer points out, the work is relentless. The effort must be sustained which provides the sort of systems thinking and regulatory cooperation that only policy makers can dish out. The Vermont Farm to Plate Initiative is ripe for replication. It is about time the countryside quilt be rejuvenated with creative systems thinking patchwork.


Check out this article informing about Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law put out to the public by the Natural Resource Defense Council last year.

Sawyer, S. (2017). Food system lessons from Vermont. In D. Lerch (ed.), The Community Resilience Reader (ch. 13). Washington DC: Island Press.

Michelle Giles is a senior SUST major @RooseveltU and president of the RU Green student organization. During the Fall 2018 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 240 Waste and 350 Service & Sustainability classes at Roosevelt University are contributing blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Agriculture, Courses, Economics, Education, Food, Resilience, Students, Sustainability, Waste

Join the October EcoChallenge this Week!

This year, Roosevelt University is participating in the October EcoChallenge, a 21-day sustainability engagement program. The challenge takes place October 3 – October 24, 2018 and involves universities, businesses, schools, all competing internally and with each other. Participants track and share their progress online in a robust platform and earn points for taking action. The combination of collective action, camaraderie, and friendly competition makes change a little easier — and a lot more fun.


EcoChallenge provides tools and inspiration to turn intention into action, and gives participants a fun and social way to think about and act on proven solutions that make a difference for you, your community, and the planet. Over 100 actions within nine Challenge categories provide participants with diverse options to take action. You can also Create Your Own challenge.


The Environmental Sustainability Committee and RU Green invite YOU to join the EcoChallenge before October 3rd.  To join, you just need an email address to create an account. Follow these easy steps:

  1. Go to
  2. Choose Login in the top right of the page and register
  3. Go to the Teams page and search ‘Roosevelt University’
  4. Join the team
  5. Choose your EcoChallenge Actions!

At the end of the EcoChallenge, we can tally up our individual and collective scores and see what we’ve accomplished! This will be our first year participating in the EcoChallenge, so help us build some momentum by signing up now!

Posted in Education, People, Roosevelt, Sustainability

American Dream Reconsidered Conference @RooseveltU this Week

Please join the Roosevelt University community for the kickoff to the American Dream Reconsidered Conference today!

Ida B. Wells Lounge Dedication Reception | 430 S. Michigan Avenue, 2nd Floor East | 5 p.m. Monday 9/10

The reception will honor Ida B. Wells-Barnett and her many contributions to the struggle for civil rights and equality for African Americans. Featuring guest of honor, Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and professor at Columbia College Chicago.

The Historical Oddity of American Health Care | Ganz Hall | 6:30 p.m. Monday 9/10

The panel will explore the post-WWII history of American health care. Panelists will attempt to untangle the web of influences that have given rise to the complicated arena of health care in America. Featuring Dr. Lawrence D. Brown, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health professor; Guian McKee, University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs associate professor; and Dr. Stephanie Vomvouras, BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois vice president of healthcare delivery and chief medical officer.

For American Dream Reconsidered Conference program information:

Join in the Conversation — Submit your questions for the American Dream Reconsidered panelists

The American Dream Reconsidered Conference begins today and now is your chance to join the conversation. Submit your questions today for the American Dream Reconsidered Conference’s keynote speaker events, led by the Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr. and musician and actor Common.

For “A Conversation with Common: Activism in an Age of Polarization,” questions can also be submitted for fellow panelists Dr. Mary Ellen Caron, PhD, chief executive officer of After School Matters, and Dr. Janice K. Jackson, PhD, chief executive officer for Chicago Public Schools. During these events, a selection of the submitted questions will appear onscreen for the attending audience.

Don’t wait to engage in the conversation. Submit your questions now for the Eric Holder and Common keynote panels!

RU President Ali harvests greens from the WB Rooftop Garden during the #AmDreamConf service day, 15 Sept 2016 (photo: RU)

Service Day, Sept. 14 – Volunteers are Needed

We need volunteers! Opportunities are still available at both Chicago and Schaumburg. Sign up at

Schaumburg: Meet between 8:30 a.m. – 9 a.m. in Room 126 for Service Day T-shirt pickup and designated meeting area.

  • Painting and Community Garden Cleanup – 9 a.m.
  • Trash Pick and Window Cleaning – 12 p.m.

Chicago: Meet between 9 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. – Fainman Lounge, AUD Bldg. 2nd Floor Service Day T-shirt pick up. Check your confirmation for room number and time to meet.

  • Feeding Children Everywhere (campus)
  • United Nations Cause Advocacy (campus)
  • Rooftop Garden (campus)
  • Greater Chicago Food Depository (off-campus – bus provided)

SUST alumni & students on the WB Rooftop Garden during Service Day 2017. L to R: Moses Viveros, Diana Ramirez, Beeka Quesnell, & Maria Cancilla (photo: M. Bryson)

For more information:

  • Chicago, call Keturah Brown, 312-341-3543 or email at
  • Schaumburg, call Erica Poremba, 847-619-8650 or email at
Posted in Chicago, Communities, Conferences, Education, Events, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus, Social Justice

Volunteers Sought for Urban Monarch Project this Summer in Schaumburg

The Village of Schaumburg recently partnered with the Barrington Area Conservation Trust to assist the Field Museum with their Urban Monarch Project. We are looking for volunteer Urban Monarch Technicians to monitor monarch butterfly habitat at selected sites in Schaumburg. The Field Museum will train all volunteers in Schaumburg on Monday, June 18th from 9am to 12 noon. RU students, alumni, and faculty may be interested in volunteering on this project.

Photo: Field Museum

Applications are now being accepted through Friday, June 8th, 2018. Please contact Martha D. Dooley, Landscape and Sustainability Planner with the Village of Schaumburg, with any questions and to apply. See detailed application info here (pdf).

Project Contact Information

Martha D. Dooley | Landscape and Sustainability Planner
Village of Schaumburg | 101 Schaumburg Court |Schaumburg, IL 60193
Office: 847-923-3855 | Fax: 847-923-2335

Posted in Biodiversity, Communities, Conservation, Landscaping, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus, Students, Sustainability

Glimpsing America’s Suburban Future

Sequel to SuburbiaMIT Press has published an interesting new book on suburban planning and design entitled A Sequel to Suburbia: Glimpses of America’s Post-Suburban Future. Penned by  Nicholas A. Phelps, a professor of urban and regional development at University College London, the book includes a lengthy case-study on Schaumburg IL as well as on two other paradigmatic suburbs: downtown Kendall, Florida near Miami; and Tysons (formerly Tysons Corner) near Alexandria, Virginia.

The book’s highlighting of Schaumburg as “a regional capital for Chicago’s northwest suburbs” is of particular interest to the authors and readers of Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future blog, and further establishes Schaumburg’s relevance in the scholarly literature on suburban planning and sustainable development.

See this informative review by Kevin Sloan on The Nature of Cities blog, and check out the book’s website here, from which the following is quoted.

In the years after World War II, a distinctly American model for suburban development emerged. The expansive rings of outer suburbs that formed around major cities were decentralized and automobile oriented, an embodiment of America’s postwar mass-production, mass-consumption economy. But alternate models for suburbia, including “transit-oriented development,” “smart growth,” and “New Urbanism,” have inspired critiques of suburbanization and experiments in post-suburban ways of living. In Sequel to Suburbia, Nicholas Phelps considers the possible post-suburban future, offering historical and theoretical context as well as case studies of transforming communities.

Phelps first locates these outer suburban rings within wider metropolitan spaces, describes the suburbs as a “spatial fix” for the postwar capitalist economy, and examines the political and governmental obstacles to reworking suburban space. He then presents three glimpses of post-suburban America, looking at Kendall-Dadeland (in Miami-Dade County, Florida), Tysons Corner (in Fairfax County, Virginia), and Schaumburg, Illinois (near Chicago). He shows Kendall-Dadeland to be an isolated New Urbanism success; describes the re-planning of Tysons Corner to include a retrofitted central downtown area; and examines Schaumburg’s position as a regional capital for Chicago’s northwest suburbs. As these cases show, the reworking of suburban space and the accompanying political process will not be left to a small group of architects, planners, and politicians. Post-suburban politics will have to command the approval of the residents of suburbia.

2015. ISBN: 9780262029834. MIT Press. 248 pages.

Posted in Planning, Schaumburg, Sustainability

Still Time To Claim a Plot in the Schaumburg Campus Garden!

RUrbanPioneer gardeners and volunteers spread compost on the expanded garden on April 20th  (photo: L. Bryson)

RUrbanPioneer gardeners and volunteers spread compost on the expanded garden in 2012
(photo: L. Bryson)

Roosevelt’s Schaumburg Campus Community Garden is one of the origin sites for our university’s sustainability movement, and is a thriving hub of gardening innovation and community building. Right now, three 5×5 plots are still available for this year’s growing season. The only cost associated with joining the Community Garden would be for the materials that you personally purchase for your garden plot (seeds, soil amendment, etc.).

With the gardening season now moving into high gear, the time is ripe to claim a plot! If you are interested, please reach out to Rebecca Quesnell, Sustainable Operations Coordinator, Dept. of Physical Resources ( Plots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Posted in Gardening, News, Recreation, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus

Earth Month 2016 Activities at Roosevelt

It’s been decided that Earth Day —a single day dedicated to the importance of preserving our planet and the life it holds– is simply not enough! That’s why the entire month of April has been deemed Earth Month by a team of sustainability-focused students, faculty, and staff at Roosevelt University! Several events and competitions will be hosted during April, the month of Earth Day (22nd). We encourage you to show your support for preserving our planet and sustainability at Roosevelt by participating in the upcoming events and competitions. The majority of events and competitions will be held during the last two weeks of April and there will be prizes, giveaways, and/or food at the events!


Reuse Art Competition — April 18-22: Students, faculty, and staff will be able to collect items that would otherwise be thrown away, and use the items to create their own personal art piece. Your creativity will be on display in both the Downtown and Schaumburg libraries from April 18 through April 22. This is an opportunity for art minors, as well as students, faculty, and staff that are art-inclined and/or passionate about sustainability to show their talents to the RU community. Show us why the materials and items you utilize are not just trash, but worth much more! An online voting form will be available for the whole RU community from April 19 through April 30 to choose winners of the competition. Prizes will be awarded to the top three participants! Get started with collecting your items now, and contact Sarah Tag, Environmental Sustainability Student Associate, at to sign up. The last day to sign up will be April 14th.

Green Office Competition — April 25-29: This challenge is open to all Roosevelt faculty and staff at the Chicago and Schaumburg campuses. A sustainability tracking form will be provided to all competing offices. The goal of this competition is to get faculty and staff to think and act sustainably, and we hope for it to continue after the competition ends. All participating offices will be recognized for their participation with a Green Office Certificate, and the office in 1st place will be in for a treat! The competition concludes on April 29th. Please contact Sarah Tag, Environmental Sustainability Student Associate, at as soon as possible to get started.

Indoor Walking Course Competition – April 25-29: An out-of-your-office, interactive challenge, this competition encourages those at the Schaumburg campus to avoid the ‘2:00pm crash’ and instead get up to stretch a little throughout the day. The course (starting in the Licht Center) will have signage posted and 4 laps (in either direction) amounts to 1.13 miles. Each day you can mark your name, email, and distance you walked on the course on a slip of paper and put it in a box— the paper and box will be at the start of the course. You may also email the information to Nick Waskowski, Environmental Sustainability Student Associate, at The top 2-4 participants with the most miles walked, will receive a grand prize.


Safe Cycling Demo
Thursday, April 14
1:15-1:45pm, Wabash 1215
Katie Bowes, Special Projects and Enforcement Coordinator with the Chicago Department of Transportation, will be discussing safety while cycling – being visible and predictable, proper helmet use, bike locking, commuting, bike lane use, and more.  There will be time for questions as well.


Schaumburg Prairie

Outdoor Workday/Cleanup
Monday, April 18
9am-12pm, Schaumburg Campus
In an effort to get outside and work together as a community, an outdoor work/cleanup day will take place at the Schaumburg Campus. We will meet near the kiosk at the main entrance area of the building. Activities will include planting flowers, cleaning up any trash,and—best of all—getting some fresh air and having a lunch after, near the volleyball court.

Student Teach-Ins by SUST 340
Tuesday, April 19
2-5pm, WB Dining Center and AUD Congress & Fainman Lounges
Students in SUST 340: Policy, Law, & Ethics Class will be hosting multiple teach-ins on various applications of sustainability in the Dining Center, Fainman Lounge, and Congress Lounge. The event focuses on increasing awareness about positive sustainable action on campus and beyond. Students from SUST 340 will run interactive exhibits/activities and provide information about environmental justice, food waste, campus/community sustainability, and water quality. Free RU t-shirts and reusable water bottles will be available till they run out. Please stop by and engage in conversation and fun activities! Contact Professor Mike Bryson at with any questions or for more info.

Environmental Justice Twitter Chat
Tuesday, April 19
12:30-1:30pm, online and WB 1214
RU Sustainability Studies professor Mike Bryson (@MikeBryson22) hosts an #RUjusticechat on Twitter about environmental justice (EJ) in Chicago. Share stories, photos, questions, and comments about #Environmental(In)Justice here in Chicago, the birthplace of the urban environmental justice movement. Tweet from where you are, or bring your laptop/device to the LEED-Gold Wabash Building (room 1214) at RU’s Chicago Campus to join Professor Bryson in person for some communal Earth Week tweeting and accompanying verbal conversation. All are welcome!

Garden Planting Day & Recyclable Sorting Contestewaste
Wednesday, April 20
2-5pm, Wabash 317
The RU community will be able to start seedlings for the rooftop garden, create and decorate personal, potted plants to take home, and compete in a recyclable sorting and jump-shooting contest. All three activities will be hosted by RU Green (student organization) and Physical Resources, with help from RU Reforesting, in WB 317, on April 20, 2-5pm — there will be prize giveaways and free food! This is an opportunity to take part in the expanding rooftop garden in the Wabash building, learn more about sustainability on campus, and much more.
The recyclable sorting and jump-shooting contest will allow you to show off both your sustainability knowledge and jump shot! Participants will sort through (thoroughly-cleaned) dry waste, and determine what is recyclable and what is not. After the recyclables are sorted out, the items will be shot into their respective bins. 1st and 2nd place winners of the contest will receive $25 gift cards to Cafecito! Please join us at any time during the event from 2-5pm.

Earth Day Meal
Friday, April 22
Wabash Dining Center
The first 100 people to order an Earth Day Meal (all vegan and plant based) will receive a free tree seedling – White Fir or White Dogwood (1 per person, for the first 100 people). We look forward to celebrating Earth Day with you!

Arbor Day Observance, 2015, with Bright Horizons

Arbor Day Observance & Tree Planting
Friday, April 22
10-11am, Schaumburg Campus
The History of Arbor Day can be traced back to 1872, when J. Sterling Morton first proposed the idea. In the 1870s, the tradition of this observance and celebration expanded and by 1882 schools nationwide participated.

In an effort to recognize this long-standing tradition, and to express the importance of trees to the community and environment, Roosevelt University, via the Physical Resources Department, will be holding an Arbor Day Observance at the Schaumburg Campus from about 10am-11am on Friday, April 22 (Earth Day). We will meet near the Torch and the tree planting will take place near the front entrance of the building—you won’t be able to miss seeing the location. Free give-a-ways will be available and we look forward to participation from the RU Community.

Sustainability Studies Student Symposium
Wednesday, April 27
2:30-5:30pm, Wabash 1214
This spring’s SUST Student Symposium is hosted by students of the SUST 390 Sustainable Campus honors seminar, and is the biggest symposium to date since this biannual event began in Fall 2013. Honors students will describe their campus sustainability/activism projects undertaken this semester starting at 2:30pm, then at 3:45pm senior SUST and BCPS majors will present findings from their internships and research projects from this past year. Join us for lively conversation and scrumptiously healthy refreshments, and be dazzled by the work of our students! Refreshments at 2pm; presentations begin at 2:30pm. Free and open to the public. Come late, leave early, stay for everything — all are welcome to attend! RSVP to Professor Mike Bryson (

Questions or comments on any of the events/competitions? Contact Rebecca Quesnell, RU’s Sustainable Operations Coordinator at or 312-341-3673, and you will be directed to the right person.

Competition/Event Organizers and Contributors: Physical Resources, Sustainability ru green logo 2Studies Program, RU Green, and Wabash Dining Center
Prizes Contributors & Sponsors*: RU Admissions, RU CSI, RU Bookstore, Cafecito, Mark Vend*
Author: Reece Krishnan, SUST Senior and Environmental Sustainability Associate in Physical Resources

Posted in Chicago, Education, Events, People, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus, Students, Sustainability