By Aolani Peiper, Real Food Challenge Team Coordinator
I came to the AASHE conference with an open mind and so much excitement, I could barely contain it. I am very thankful I was able to have the opportunity to be surrounded and connect with so many people that cared about sustainability and were doing things at their institutions and organizations to do something about it. I saw that these organizations and movements they started, didn’t just have connections, funding, and many people to put their heads together to perform tasks. It was a place full of people, passionate about their cause and starting from the grassroots to work their way up!
I thought I was coming to this conference to present on the Real Food Challenge and Vote Real at Fort Lewis. Little did I know that I would be asked to share stories and help our regional representative and calculator coordinator to present on the Real Food challenge and social change as a whole as well. It was a humbling experience and I was able to present and share my story at the Student Summit. It was the perfect platform and space for it. The Real Food challenge team and I put together a presentation and had been working on it every chance we got for weeks. We presented on the last day of the conference and it was a huge success! We were able to connect and network with other participating Real Food Challenge schools as well as organizations that are familiar with the campaign and willing to help us advance.
Some of my favorite moments were lunches where we all got to network and meet new people. I made so many connections with people, especially students. It was a great space to converse and talk sustainability and how intersectional it really is. It was impactful and very empowering to share stories and experiences with people that were promoting sustainability, like we try to at the Environmental Center here on campus. I also have to brag about my amazing team; At AASHE we really put our name on the map for Real Food Challenge schools. It was truly incredible to walk up to an individual or representative of an organization, say our name where we are from, and have them already know us! After an intro it was always answered with “oh you’re from Fort Lewis? I know about your work on the Real Food Challenge team and your commitment and it’s great to meet you.” It was almost like we were famous! Our presentation only made our school and our team that much more impactful and known. It helped us establish relationships and expand our resources. It also reinforced that our work isn’t going unnoticed and we should celebrate our victories. I’m proud to say that I am not just the coordinator but an active member on the Real Food Challenge team trying to make a difference.
“It also reinforced that our work isn’t going unnoticed and we should celebrate our victories.”
I did have a major take away from the conference and it is that the Real Food Challenge team and Environmental Center in general is making moves, and I mean it just like that. We have been extremely successful in our initiatives and continue to promote sustainability in ways that campuses are only just starting. It’s been amazing to see over the years how the Real Food Challenge has continued to grow. Our team developed and presented one of the first democratic mechanisms to get students involved in our food system and vote on real food they wanted to see on their plate. After this experience, the team has so much in store and can’t wait for you all to be involved.