Inside Local Food Security in the Four Corners

Do you know how many days of food we have available in our grocery stores in the event that the trucks stop coming over the hill? Did you ever wonder about what a Food Procurement contract is and how it dictates which foods show up on your plate on a daily basis? To learn more about these topics and the inner workings of our Real Food Challenge and regional local food security, check out today’s radio interview with EC Coordinator Rachel Landis on our local public station, KSUT. Rachel will be available for book signings and autographs all day in the EC 😉

Duke Jackson, 2014 Local Food Fellow, waters tire-stacked potatoes in an effort to utilize space most efficiently for maximum food production in the Environmental Center's on-campus, organic garden.

Duke Jackson, 2014 Local Food Fellow, waters tire-stacked potatoes in an effort to utilize space most efficiently for maximum food production in the Environmental Center’s on-campus, organic garden.

Growth from Fertile Souls


Within the past year of working with the Environmental Center, I feel that I have grown more as a person than in my whole college experience. For my first two years of school here, I was fairly disengaged from everything this school has to offer. I would go to my classes… and then go home. There wasn’t much more to it than that and I felt a void in my experience, in my soul.

Fulfillment arrived when I became involved with the E.C. A good friend of mine invited to me to one the Local Food Team’s “Crop Mobs.” We went to Adobe House Farm, and spent an hour harvesting tomatoes from fertile soil amidst a field full of radiant plant life. I knew I’d stumbled onto the edge of something special, of something important, and I was hooked.

I began working with Local Food Team as an aspiring (and slightly naïve) volunteer. The Local Food Team works to fill the gaps of local food security in our area, and to educate the public about how they can help fill the gaps as well. We’ve hosted multiple workshops on artisan skillsets such as canning and composting. We’ve taught community members how to prune fruit trees, how to prepare garden beds, how to brew their own beer, and much more! We believe that connecting to soil and the food it can provide us, and connecting to the ones who grow what eat, creates a profound sense of community and positivity for all.

For me, my passion manifested from my experience in the campus orchard and garden. I awakened a love for plants in myself, and without the E.C, I may have never discovered this passion. Today, I am the caretaker for the campus garden and orchard. The official position name is called the “Local Food Fellow.” As a Local Food Fellow, I have learned so much about sustainable farming practices, leadership, and education. Currently, I am working on building a small, mobile hoop house for the garden, so that next years local food fellow can extend their growing season!

Some pictures that show some of my favorite times from the Local Food Team:


Creating a Local Food System…and learning how to create social and environmental change along the way

The Fort Lewis College (FLC) Environmental Center’s Campus Garden in Durango, Colorado is home not only to organic veggies and herbs, but also to two Local Food Fellows. These dedicated students learn how food systems create environmental and social change….by ultimately building their own. Throughout their time in our garden and greenhouse, our Local Food Fellows discover the in’s and out’s of sustainable food production. They also distribute what they’ve produced to the people who need it the most and ultimately share their newly acquired knowledge through free workshops.

In the meantime, our Fellows’ view of the world deepens, they become stronger individuals and engage as committed citizens. Current Fellow, Kelly Ann Maes, believes her work matters because, “securing Local Food in this area is vital to the health and wellness of all community members and youth in particular as they are the future”.

This year, our Sow It Forward grant enabled the Local Food Fellows to expand what Fellow, Duke Jackson, loves the most: “creating positive change in our community”. As a result of our revitalized greenhouse and hoop structures, we have extended our growing season and can provide more food and education to individuals in need. Thank you, Kitchen Gardeners International!


Greenhouse and Hoop House Remodel Hoop Houses_S15 Squash Starts_S15 Kelly Ann & Duke Greenhouse interior

Environmental Center 2015 Spring Staff Retreat at Heartwood Cohousing

Environmental Center 2015 Spring Staff Retreat at Heartwood Cohousing

By: Lexis Loeb, FLC Art Major and EC Real Food Challenge Team Member

EC Staff Retreat_Spring 2015

This past weekend the passionate students and staffers here at the Environmental Center gathered for their Bi-annual staff retreat at Heartwood Co-housing located in the beautiful town of Bayfield. Heartwood is an intentional, off-grid, co-housing community that strives to live in harmony not only with their environment but with their fellow neighbors and community members. The community centers around the organic farm known as Grace Gardens. The diversified vegetable, chicken, and llama farm is located on Heartwood’s communally owned 250 acre property.

The four student teams at the EC (Local Food Security, Zero-Waste, Campus Sustainability and Real Food Challenge) strategized, collaborated and celebrated their current projects and events for the year ahead. Ideas were shared, delicious local food was consumed and boots were stuck as we helped Rachel, the Grace Gardens’ manager, prep for the upcoming spring season.

As a third-year, returning EC staff member, it was my observation that this spring’s staff retreat was extremely pro-active and focused.  There was a spirit of collaboration amongst the teams this year that is going to make for some awesome campus events and pro-active action toward sustainability and social-justice at FLC. With the help and guidance of EC Coordinator, Rachel Landis, and Assistant Coordinator, Erin Murphy we were charged to take up the Spring Semester’s Program Goals:

  • Do less, and do it well
  • Increase/diversify student engagement “beyond the choir”
  • Collaborate and Integrate all EC projetcs

Overall, the Retreat was a nice escape from the chaos of college life and an excellent team-building opportunity to inspire the hard-working, dedicated students at the Environmental Center who are constantly working toward a more environmentally-conscious and socially-just FLC community.

Keep your eyes peeled for some awesome EC events and volunteer opportunities this spring and if you would like to learn more about Heartwood Cohousing visit the link below. A special thanks to Dick Grossman and the Heartwood community for hosting us and showing us around their home!!

Real Food Challenge update

It has been an active semester for the Real Food Challenge Team (RFCT) at Fort Lewis College (FLC). Attempting to move the Real Food Challenge (RFC) forward at FLC has been the team’s top priority since last fall when they began working on the initiative. Specifically, the RFC is a nation-wide campaign that aims to provide students with particular resources to gain the interest of their respective college toward purchasing 20 percent of their annual food budget of “real food”. Real food refers to food that meets particular sets of criteria found in four categories: fair, local, humane and ecologically-sound.

Real Food Challenge Team members promote Real Food Day, a meal which provided local foods to students made possible by the partnership of the school's food vendor, Sodexo, and the EC.

Real Food Challenge Team members promote Real Food Day, a meal which provided local foods to students made possible by the partnership of the school’s food vendor, Sodexo, and the EC.

Thus far, the team has set their agenda to achieve this goal by continuously meeting to form projects, goals and education around the challenge, in conjunction with staff from the Environmental Center (EC), FLC and Sodexo (the college’s dining hall food service. Preceding the current semester, the team was fortunate enough to have FLC Environmental Studies intern Laura Owens evaluate a semester’s worth of Sodexo’s food purchases for FLC using what is known as the real food calculator. With the systematic methodology and rigorous research of the calculator, she revealed that, currently, Sodexo purchases about 4.6 percent of real food per semester.

With a bit over 15 percent more real food needed to be bought annually to reach the overall goal of the challenge, the team is continuing to seek innovation and progress. This is a two-fold process: they’ll look to expand on educational type events for students, faculty, community and other college staff members, while doing additional research and analysis aimed at better efficiency in general and enhancing the processes by which they measure their results. The former of these has been somewhat more practically-driven as of recently. For example, on October 24, 2013, the RFCT, EC and Sodexo, put together a real food meal event at FLC. Essentially, the lunch showcased mostly a small variety of local meats and vegetables, as well as some foods which met the other four criterion of the RFC. From the staff of Sodexo to the students of FLC, the day made important connections, and illuminated the progress the RFC is making at the FLC campus. The latter of these tasks has involved reaching out to leaders within the RFC and student leaders from other campuses across the country, which the RFCT can utilize in terms of their successes and failures, etc.

Currently, the RFCT is work on planning more real meal days, including one more this

Sodexo sourced ingredients for the Food Day meal from local Durango farmers, meeting at least one of the four criterion of the Real Food Challenge.

Sodexo sourced ingredients for the Food Day meal from local Durango farmers, meeting at least one of the four criterion of the Real Food Challenge.

semester in December. They are also working on creating a press kit and a webpage. In doing so, they will open a new wave of media outreach which should help spread the word about the RFC here at FLC. Furthermore, a few team members have shifted their focus upon contacting other schools committed to the RFC to learn from their experiences. So far, what they have found is that is that the RFCT and EC may want to consider working on further analyzing the calculator results to highlight the campaign and raise its awareness. Similarly, it has been found that more education and learning opportunities need to be provided to the Sodexo staff in order to foster a stronger relationship with the FLC food vendor. Needless to say, the following weeks and semester ought to be full of busy and important work for this team.

By C.J. Clayton, RFCT member

Sodexo supplies students with a local food meal

Students of Fort Lewis College enjoyed a lunch that was fresh, delicious, and in sync with their ideals last Thursday, October 24, 2013. Together, Sodexo Dining Services and students from the Environmental Center compiled and promoted a meal made with “real” food to celebrate Food Day. In total, approximately 300 people were served.

So what is real food? Real food is something that you eat— it comes from your community (Local). It ensures that the producers or farmers who grew it got paid a fair price (Ethical).  If what you eat includes animal products, then these animals are kept content and healthy (Humane). Finally, this food is something you put in your mouth that is not produced in ways harmful for the planet (Environmentally Sound).

If reading about those types of foods makes your stomach grumble, don’t worry, there will be more real food on campus very soon. These meals are part of a larger project called the Real Food Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to serve 20% real food in the dining hall on a regular basis. Over a hundred other colleges around the United States have adopted the Real Food Challenge, and we want Fort Lewis to join their ranks.

Are you someone who gets excited about real food, but you know it is out of your price range? Perhaps one of the most exciting things about The Real Food Challenge is that colleges investing a large chunk of money into the real food market will drive the cost down for the individual eater. The Real Food Challenge is pushing for access for healthy food for everyone.

How can you get your hands on some real food and support permanent change on campus? Stay tuned for more meals like this one! These meals are a great way to show the administration your support of the Real Food Challenge. There are also items that are sold on a regular basis that are real: James Ranch burgers, Dessert Sun Coffee, and beets and carrots grown by Fields to Plate at the salad bar! By choosing these items, you can “vote with your dollar” and see more real food on campus. Happy eating!

By Melanie Weber-Sauer, member of the Real Food Challenge team

Throwing Away Energy

Confessions of a trash bin.

When you take out your trash, do you think about where it ends up? Most of the waste produced on the Fort Lewis College campus goes to a landfill 45 miles away in San Juan County, NM. Waste-related fees add up to $30,000-$35,000 annually, one of the many reasons why Fort Lewis aims to become a zero-waste campus in the future.

On a larger scale, the United States leads the world in both annual waste production and energy consumption. Combined, these factors present a serious issue for the U.S. What if there was some way to solve both problems in one stroke? What if the trash you put into the dumpster could turn into energy? In fact, it can and some places have been doing it since the 1980’s.

My hometown of Syracuse, NY, has been using waste resources to create energy for the city since 1995. The Waste-to-Energy facility takes in garbage from the surrounding area and burns it, using the heat to make electricity. The process dramatically reduces waste and simultaneously produces energy, conveniently solving both issues at once! Up to 990 tons of waste are burned each day, which generates around 35 megawatts (35,000,000 watts) of energy for the surrounding homes. This saves 7,330,000 barrels of oil annually- powering 380,000 homes throughout the year. This is just one of the reasons Syracuse is called the Emerald City.

So why doesn’t every city have one of these facilities? There are some questionable aspects, including, isn’t burning trash dirty and smelly? Actually, the Waste-to-Energy facility operates very cleanly. All of the fumes and smoke from the burning process are thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned before their release into the atmosphere. Air pollution from the plants is still a concern, however. The ashes leftover after burning still must be put into a landfill (but at a 90% smaller volume than the trash would have taken up previously). These ashes are sometimes considered hazardous waste. Lastly, the plants can consume not all waste products; most hazardous waste cannot be burned. However, the pollution concerns are very small and are greatly outweighed by the benefits.

Over one hundred similar facilities currently exist in the U.S., handling fourteen percent of the total waste produced. None exist in Colorado and Florida has the most, with 11 facilities spread throughout the state.

What if Durango had one of these plants? The FLC campus could produce some of its own energy and fulfill the goal of becoming a zero-waste campus. Although such a facility is a huge investment, it could one day create huge benefits for the city of Durango. With enough support, a Waste-to-Energy facility and a more sustainable community could be in Durango’s future.

Links for more information:



By Erica Gilrein

The Truth About Hunting

a gun used for hunting deer

Photo used by Fair Use.

The subject of taking an animal’s life can certainly stir a lot of emotion in people, especially some supporters of the present day environmental movement. Infringing upon an animal’s right to life goes against an ethic to leave nature as it is. So, it seems that in order to be a “good” conservationist, a human being must leave nature unscathed, right? Well I’m here to keep those emotions stirred, by saying that this idea is very much WRONG.

Now, by saying some supporters of the conservation movement frown upon hunting certainly does not mean this is the feeling for all. The focus here is more on animal rights activists and those with similar beliefs. The reasons for why animal rights activists have developed their opinions are understandable, mostly a result of extremely evident mistreatment of animals. However, the fact is that people have known for a long time that hunting is a vital relationship between man and nature. For example, having grown up in an area of the world where hunting meant whether or not food would be on the table during the winter months, I learned to respect what nature has provided. For thousands of years, our ancestors relied upon a diet derived from hunting and gathering and for the most part those ancestors understood the importance of our relationship with the wilderness. Utmost respect and homage was paid to the earth and the gifts it provided us with, even when the taking of an animal’s life was involved. Unfortunately, that ethic was largely lost during the shift from gathering our own food to being able to buy it from somebody else.

Nowadays, it is easy to simply drive down to City Market and buy a pound of beef for $3.75 so it is hard to believe there was once a time when humans actually had to work for their food. Being part of the local foods team at the Fort Lewis Environmental Center has given me the opportunity to pursue a goal to reverse human being’s thinking back to what it once was. Hunting as a sustainable practice may sound like an oxymoron to the uneducated mind but to those who understand the importance of having a full freezer, this claim could be attested. Think of the amount of resources conserved by taking one less pound of grass fed, water consuming, packaged and fossil fuel burning (as a result of shipment) beef off of the average U.S. family’s dinner table. Not only can the practice of sustainable hunting benefit the environment but also the wallets of U.S. families.

There are many arguments and variables opposing an opinion like mine, yet the fact still remains that hunting could eventually lead to a stronger local food system in communities all over the world. It is my goal to bring a better understanding of how hunting can be a means of having stable, sustainable and secure means of putting food on the table to the Durango community and similar communities. Is it possible to polarize the two clashing mindsets regarding the ethics of hunting? Like every other progressive idea, it will take time and energy to reach a consensus.

– Hunter Mallinger

A Lesson on Snow at the EC Winter Retreat 2013

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

-Robert Frost

Snow muffles the sounds in the La Plata Canyon. Last weekend for the winter retreat, a group of us from the Environmental Center hiked to “The Naked Lady Hut” for activities and some delicious food. Though the food was delectable and the leadership workshops enlightening, it is not the stay in the cabin that struck me most about this Saturday. A simple comment Rachel made offhand in one of her “snow spiels” grabbed my attention and got me thinking.

Imagine the spring, when three days of nonstop snowing will mean snowmelt high in the mountains and a full river of runoff. Imagine the month of May when the river will feed into the fields of crops and the farmers will be happy. Imagine late summer when the lack of early snow will create less water for the rivers, making farmers not so happy. I cannot speak for all farmers but I know for certain that some people are not aware of the sources of their water beyond their faucets. If we do not have the knowledge that our own water comes from runoff from the mountains, we may not care about fighting for the conservation of the mountains.

This lack of knowledge of the connectedness of aspects of the environment leads to something else of which I have become acutely aware. I always assumed that everyone knew how plants grow from seed to sprout to fruit to table but my eyes were opened this year through the Campus Sustainability Team’s project: The Real Food Challenge. The Real Food Challenge strives to collaborate with college cafeterias to use 20% “real” food by 2020. Through a survey, our team saw that most students wanted more local, healthy food involved on campus and decided to embrace this challenge. In the case of the Real Food Challenge, real food is classified as local, environmentally sound, humane and fairly traded; or any combination of the four. Along with attempting to bring this to the FLC campus, we will also work to educate the campus about what “real” food is and where our current food comes from versus real food. Education will be a large piece of this project in addition to promoting local food. This project is long term, and will not be easy but by tackling this issue, hopefully we can reconnect the circle of understanding food and its source.

Just as farmers need the mountains and snowfall for their crops and we need the runoff for our watersheds, the understanding of the connections between our resources and us is necessary. If we can teach others about where food comes from or at least encourage them to conscious of it, it may lead to the awareness of other resources. Starting with the food our school consumes is one step towards reconnecting our species with its life source.

-Hallie Wright

cooking vegetables for burritos

EC zero waste team member Jessica Smyke cooks vegetables for burritos. All EC students that attended the retreat enjoyed cooking and eating the delicious food. Photo courtesy of Rachel of Fort Lewis College Environmental Center students       EC staff members learn about leadership while looking out at the beautiful snowy mountains in the Naked Lady Hut in the La Plata Canyon. Photo Courtesy of Rachel Landis.









My “Cooking Matters” Class Experience

A healthy homemade quesadilla.

Quesadillas are easy to make and, when filled with vegetables, a healthy dinner.

Recently, I enrolled in a six week cooking class, Cooking Matters, a national organization that strives to help families “to plan, purchase and prepare healthy, tasty and affordable foods at home.” Their idea follows the Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Cooking Matters is sponsored by Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to fighting poverty and hunger and coordinated by the lovely Erin Jolly whose motto is MODERATION, BALANCE and VARIETY! As the first class of its kind being offered at Fort Lewis, Erin’s primary focus was not to change our diets but to improve our knowledge of nutrition and equip us with basic cooking skills.

The evening started off with introductions, revealing an amazing variety of seasoned cooks and beginners in addition those bored with their own cooking (me).  We then moved on into the “Shared Cultural Kitchen”(Native American Center/El Centro) where cooking equipment awaited us. Each station was set up with a knife and cutting board surrounded by bowls of vegetables. Our chef, Ryan announced that we would be making quesadillas, salsa and guacamole—a fairly simple meal.

We were guided through every step in creating the ultimate and heartiest quesadillas, including rinsing fresh vegetables; chopping fresh zucchini, onions, garlic, cilantro and peppers; and fine-tuning the special technique of seasoning. Spices can be intimidating but here’s bit of chef Ryan’s wisdom: “A good chef is a chef who constantly tastes.” Next, we made salsa and guacamole dips. For this step, we all worked together to come to a consensus of creating both salsa and guacamole dips with the perfect amount of spice and flavor—and we did!  If you haven’t guessed, here is where a hint lies, jalapenos are super-hot and yours truly had the extreme pleasure of dicing these little green monsters!

Once we finished our dips and placed our quesadillas in the oven to bake, we all moved into the dining room of El Centro where we began our lesson on the basics of nutrition. Erin moved us along in a discussion about the healthy food plate, a food-serving diagram that replaced the dated food pyramid most of us saw at some point or other. We learned that the largest portions of our meals should be solely dedicated to vegetables because colorful varieties indicate vital nutrients. If we intend to nourish ourselves, we need to incorporate Erin’s motto of MODERATION, BALANCE and VARIETY into our daily diets. However, that being said, Erin quickly clarified that it takes time to understand what our bodies need and we must all be diligent in exploring our options. So, no worries! Treat yourself to the occasional dessert or pizza but in moderation of course!

With the first class over, I look forward to learning more about nutrition, reading labels and, of course, cooking. In addition, I did learn a valuable lesson: wash your hands thoroughly after handling jalapeno chilies because it’s quite challenging for anyone other than yourself to remove contacts once they start a burning! Ouch!


By Trish Yazzie