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JMU Hosts Nationwide Student Food Summit

James Madison University hosted a large student summit over the weekend.  Young people from across the country explored solutions to food insecurity and other global issues related to food.  WMRA’s Bridget Manley visited with some of those students, pondering food issues.. while shoveling a little compost.

[Students shoveling compost into wheelbarrows]

The 2019 Emerging Creatives Student Summitbrought more than 80 students from 26 research universities across the U.S. to the campus in Harrisonburg this weekend.  Their goal?  Share new ideas on food and the natural world.

The students explored solving big issues such as food insecurity, the impact of food production on the environment, and the relationship between food and place.

Alexandria Shafer is a senior and biology major at JMU. Friday afternoon she found herself shoveling compost at Vine and Fig in Harrisonburg, a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable food and living, as well as housing for the homeless and refugees.

Between shovels the students talked about different sources of renewable energy, from the fanciful to the practical.

STUDENTS: We could put these giant mirrors in space so they could reflect back the radiation, and then thinning clouds, they spread salt on top of clouds to thin it…We could all just be better citizens and stop messing up our only home…but you know, no, space mirrors…

Shafer says that unlike other summits and conferences she has been to in the past, the work she and her team were able to do over the weekend could have a lasting real world impact as the students go out into the world after graduation.

ALEXANDRIA SHAFER: I think the best way that this is sort of contributing to that real world impact is doing things like this - like, we are actually out here shoveling compost, moving logs around, like doing river clean-ups.

Trevor Bashaw is a student poet who traveled from the University of Kansas. He says the conference would help him be more mindful of food and of the natural world.

BASHAW: I mostly do poetry stuff, but I’m really interested in sort of ecological poetry, and having sort of my lifestyle or artistic practice reflect my writing. So I wanted to get some opportunities to sort of like, connect with the natural world, and food is a great way to do that, I think.

University of Virginia student Caroline Alberti was on the bank of Blacks Run picking foam out of the piles of waste that washed up on the shore.

She says that her group decided to work on the idea of food waste and where is it generated, and she’s most excited to take what she’s learned back to Charlottesville.

CAROLINE ALBERTI: Well I’m pretty active in the food space in Charlottesville so I’m really excited to take these experiences and I feel like I’ve already learned so much from talking to other people and listening to speakers.  So I’m eager to take that back to the food scape in Charlottesville because it’s pretty vibrant there.

The students worked over the weekend in small groups to come up with projects to present on Sunday, all while taking part in musical performances, panel discussions, guest artists and field experiences designed to give them an interdisciplinary approach to solving problems.

[Documentary music and laughter…]

The theme of this years summit, “Food and Place,” fits really well with the Shenandoah Valley, according to faculty members at JMU, because of its reliance on agriculture. The summit is held ever year at a different university.

The students, all studying various disciplines, presented their ideas to a panel of instructors on Sunday.  Now that students have returned home, summit organizers hope those ideas are already generating new food strategies for their communities.

Bridget Manley graduated with a degree in Mass Communications from Frostburg State University, and has spent most of her adult life working as a morning show producer and reporter for WCBC Radio in Cumberland, MD and WNAV in Annapolis, MD. She moved to Harrisonburg seven years ago and is also a reporter for The Harrisonburg Citizen. When she’s not reporting the news Bridget is the Manager of Operations for Rivercrest Farm and Event Center in Shenandoah, VA, and she also hosts a podcast that shares parenting stories called Birds In A Tree.