Calling all artists!

Posted: April 11, 2011 by Eleanor Darling in Uncategorized

Calling all creative writers and artists!
The Midwest Blog is starting something completely new!  Starting in May, we’ll be starting weekly blog updates focusing on issues most important to the food movement.  In addition, we’ll be keeping tabs on all things Midwest and updating y’all what all you fabulous activists are doing in your communities.  To do this, we need your help!

Each week, we’ll address a different issue and investigate it from at least two perspectives.  The inclusion of multiple perspectives is an integral aspect to understanding the issues facing our food system and we hope you’ll help us by commenting on this entry with ideas for issues and topics to address, in addition to the contact information for people you think would be good collaborators for this weekly project.

In addition to these weekly blog posts, we’d like to put a spotlight on the art of the youth that’s really making an impact on the success of the movement.  Email your poems, stories, editorials, drawings, paintings or anything else to and we’ll post it on our brand new Art page, in addition to featuring you on the blog’s main page with a brief bio of you and what you’re doing on campus.

Other ideas for the website? Leave them in the comments!  We’re looking forward to utilizing our blog to its fullest potential and continue interacting and working with the youth activists of the Midwest.



Get involved with the movement, post-summit!

Posted: April 11, 2011 by Eleanor Darling in Uncategorized

After an amazing year with the Real Food Challenge and some fabulous summits across the US, it’s time to gear up and get out there!  We’d first like to take a moment to thank everyone for making February’s summit in Evanston such a huge success!  Without the students, staff and incredibly supportive community members, we couldn’t bring these opportunities to you guys!

Each summit leaves us with such a great feeling of community and solidarity, energizing all those involved and that air of excitement doesn’t have to stop once the summit is over.  From summer leadership training to calculator pilots, there’s lots of ways to keep up the momentum! Stay involved with the RFC and the real food movement by:

Starting a Calculator Pilot on Your Campus!
Email and let us know you’re ready to engage with your campus dining services and get more local food in your dining halls.  To get started, fill out our new, online, Baseline Assessment to get all the basic information on your school that you’ll need to get started on the calculator.  Check it out here:

Become the NEW Midwest Regional Field Organizer!
Liked this year’s summit, but came away with a ton of ideas about how it could be better?  Want to stay connected with hundreds of students across the Midwest? Does the idea of becoming a leader in the real food movement sound like a great idea?  How about the opportunity to attend national conferences on food justice?  If any of these sound as cool to you as they do to me, then you  should apply to be next year’s RFO!  Email if you have questions about what an RFO does, then fill out the application at and email

Represent Your Local Community as a Grassroots Leader!
Serious about making real change on your campus?  Apply to be a Grassroots leader and receive recognition in local and national media!  Receive support to lead an ambitious campaign on your campus and collaborate with student leaders across the company on ideas and events around the US.  Check it out here:

Join the Real Food Challenge Alumni Network!
If you’re graduating this year, but still want to be part of the Real Food Challenge, stay active in the movement at both the regional and national levels and be a part of a powerful and exciting network of professionals, then joining the alumni network is for you!  Learn more by emailing Katie at


Look forward to talking with you all soon!



Make your voice heard!

Posted: January 13, 2011 by Eleanor Darling in Uncategorized

Have an idea for a workshop or a field trip and want to host it yourself? Let us know at!

Vote here to let us know what you’d like to see:

Registration is up!

Posted: January 6, 2011 by Eleanor Darling in Uncategorized

Check it out:

Sign up now, registration is only $25 until Februrary 1st!

Midwest Real Food Summit 2011 Chicago, Feb. 18 – 20.

Posted: December 7, 2010 by Eleanor Darling in Uncategorized

Food is culture, food is community. It is what unites us, sharing a meal together. However, the system that produces and distributes and controls food in this country is flawed. The Midwest is the epicenter of our commodity food system and as students learning in midwest institutions we have the responsibility and the power to educate ourselves and those around us about the issues in the modern U.S. food system. That’s where this summit comes in!

What to expect
This year we’re trying something new. Instead of gathering students and putting them in classrooms to learn about the issues facing us today, we’re going out on the town and learning about the issues first hand. We are seeking to find out what a modern, urban, and sustainable food system can look like in the third largest city in the U.S. – Chicago.

Hands-on Learning
To get the whole story, we will observe, participate, and engage with specific aspects of the system that are working to make a change.  Here are some example focus areas:

Food Service Meet with food service employees and see how food gets onto students’ plates. Hear their stories and learn how you can help them create a better environment in institutional food service operations.

Nutrition Can we feed the world and what can we feed them? We hope to further the discussion on the health impacts of GMOs and on helping developing nations create their own just and sustainable food systems.

Urban Farming Our cities are only going to get bigger. How can we bring fresh, healthy, and local food to people who are miles away from the nearest farm? Bring the farm to the people. Learn how Chicago is becoming one of the biggest urban farm centers in the U.S. and see the difference urban farming makes in the lives of city-dwellers.

The only way we can learn from each other is to share our experiences. Throughout the summit we will facilitate storytelling as a way to share ideas. As we learn in small groups, we will share with the large group in an attempt to create a Master Midwest Story. In addition, we’re working to bring in professionals, already involved in the food movement, to add to the story and to share experiences they have with working in the food system.

Activism & Education
After the summit, we want you to head back to your campuses and apply what you learn at the summit in order to create a better food system in your community.

Nuts & Bolts
Where: Chicago
When: February 18, 19, & 20, 2011 (Times to be announced)
More information on logistics coming SOON!

Registration and Payment Info
Coming SOON!

EMAIL Ashley –


October Updates!

Posted: October 18, 2010 by Eleanor Darling in Uncategorized
Hey fellow Midwest foodies!

As everyone has started to get in to the swing of a new school year and new classes, I hope you’re also ready for some new Real Food Adventures! This year is going to be even better than before and we’ve got lots of great news to share with y’all!

What’s new with the RFC?

The Midwest has gotten a little savvier and we’re proud to introduce The Midwest Real Food Forums

Now you can:
  • · Interact with other students from the Midwest (and even across the country!)
  • · post your own ideas
  • · share your stories
  • · ask questions
  • · keep up to date on the latest Midwest happenings
  • · Start your own blog
  • · Network
  • · Make great new friends
  • · Post events
  • · All while expanding and strengthen the food movement!

Check it out today! It’s still a baby and we need you to help it grow, so sign up and start making it the pulse of the Midwest Real Food Movement!

We’re making tons of progress on local campuses! Check it out!

· Our friends over in Utah have started a new no carbon footprint goal! Check it out here:

Want to get something like this started on your campus, but can’t figure out how? Start with food of course! Email us or check out the forums for ideas on how to start projects.

· Pressure from students at Truman State has caused Sodexo to go local! Check it out here:

If our friends at TS can do it, so can you! Let’s work together to pressure all the Food Service Groups to go local!

· A third shout-out to our friends at KSU for getting the administration to fight the ‘freshman 15’ and put a focus on healthier foods! Check it out here:

Excited about a farm to campus idea and wanting to get it started on your campus? We’re here to help!

We’re breaking out with a new e-zine for the Midwest called the Midwest Minuteand we want students like you to help us out! Each month we’ll have updates about:

  • · New calculator pilots
  • · New policy wins
  • · Midwest school of the month (who we think is doing a great job, and you can totally nominate yourself!)
  • · Food news
  • · New real food inspired recipes
  • · Food joke of the month
  • · Important food justice issue of the month

Want to get involved? Email Ashley at abswank@iastate and include “Midwest Minute” in the subject header. We’re super excited about it!

We’ve got a Midwest-Wide Conference Call coming up! Want to talk with people you met at the summit and see what’s going on in the Midwest? Register at the forums by saying who you are and where you’re from under the event and we’ll be sure to expect you!

Dates are:

October 26th at 7pm and October 27th at 5pm

Once you sign up, we’ll send an email out to everyone who’s going with the conference call number
Hope to hear you all there!

What now?

It’s been a while since the last summit, but we know you’re as excited as ever about real food justice. The big question is: what now? Where do we go from here? Great Question!

Get involved on campus!

Not sure how? Email Pete Peter Kerns or Ashley and they can help you get the ball rolling?

Remember the Real Food Calculator?

Most of you probably remember the awesome presentation about the Real Food Calculator by Kelsey. (I know I do! It looked like such a cool idea!) If you’re still super interested but a bit confused about how to get started or ready to start, but just don’t know where to begin, reply to this email and Pete or Ashley will be sure to help you out!



Way to go!

Posted: September 30, 2010 by Eleanor Darling in Uncategorized

Operators follow suits against colleges, contractors over meal plans

Firehouse Subs franchisee Reed Compton said sales at his location next to Auburn University fell when the school required students to buy into an on-campus dining plan.

Reed Compton is a Firehouse Subs franchisee with five locations around Auburn, Ala., and Columbus, Ga. One of the units is directly across Magnolia Avenue from the Lowder Business School at Auburn University.

In 2008, Auburn, a state school with some 20,000 students, began a mandatory dining program called Dining Dollars that requires students to eat at campus-sanctioned venues. The idea is to generate revenue that could be used to upgrade campus foodservice.

But such programs can siphon revenues from independent operators located near campuses. Compton said sales at his store near campus fell 40 percent.

“It’s even worse this fall,” Compton said. “Sales at that unit were down $1,000 the first week of school, and it’s only going to get worse.”

Now Compton is watching to see what happens as three lawsuits filed by students last month against Alabama universities and their foodservice contractors work through the courts.

At Auburn, three students — among them Compton’s daughter, Chloe — have sued the university and its contractors Compass USA and Thompson Hospitality Corp., alleging the Dining Dollars program violates state law. The students want their money back, the program stopped and the lawsuit to become a class action representing all students who have paid the fee since the program started.

Nearly identical lawsuits were filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court in August against the University of Alabama and its contractor, Aramark, and against the University of Alabama at Birmingham and its contractor, Sodexo.

None of the contract companies would comment on the lawsuits, nor would representatives from the University of Alabama.

The suits allege that the agreements between the state schools and the on-site feeders constitute an illegal contract and violate a constitutional requirement prohibiting the state from being interested in any private or corporate enterprise. The suits also claim that the contracts are unlawful trusts.

“These fees are not tuition and not related to classroom instruction,” said Daniel Evans, an attorney with Evans Law Firm in Birmingham who is representing the plaintiffs in all three cases. “Instead, these food fees are mandated because these state schools have contracted to give certain food vendors control over these student dining dollars in exchange for millions of dollars being paid back to the school.”

The outcomes of the pending suits could have far-reaching implications for contractors, students and operators near college campuses, as mandatory meal plans are common nationwide.

Should the Alabama students prevail, students in other states might try their luck with similar lawsuits, forcing contractors to rethink their economic models, said Tom Mac Dermott of Kingston, N.H.-based Clarion Group, a foodservice consulting firm.

“If Dining Dollars are a violation of Alabama law, a major prop will be knocked out from under the economics of college foodservice there,” he said. “No good could come out of a lawsuit prevailing there if this becomes a more serious national movement.”

A rise in student complaints about Dining Dollars programs could compel colleges and universities to abandon them, eventually causing contractors to pull out of the market as it becomes less profitable, he said.

“It’s very hard pulling a profit out of most campus retail operations,” he said. “It pretty much takes a mandatory plan to support everything dining services are required to carry.”

Auburn officials defend Dining Dollars, which requires students living on campus to pay $995 a semester and those living off campus to pay $300. It can be used only at on-campus eateries operated by Compass USA’s school subsidiary, Chartwells, and Thompson Hospitality.

“The on-campus plan works out to $6 to $9 a day, and we found the average student actually spent $24 a day on foodservice,” said Deedie Dowdle, an Auburn spokeswoman. She noted that out of 30 regional educational peers, 25 have similar plans, and Auburn’s is among the least costly.

Colleges and universities view foodservice as both a necessity for students living on campus and a competitive advantage in attracting future students, Dowdle said. The only way to fund foodservice upgrades is through mandatory-dining programs, she said, noting that Auburn has spent about 
$20 million improving its foodservice in the past decade.

Campus dining is self-supported, with no state fees going to underwrite the services, she said. Auburn’s agreement with its contractors provides that they pay an 18-percent commission on all food sales to Auburn. In addition, Compass/Thompson pays a 1.5-percent transaction fee on each Tiger Card transaction. The Tiger Card is the only way to access Dining Dollars.

In their case against Auburn and Compass/Thompson, the students claim they did not need the program, the food was overpriced, and vendor hours were inconvenient. They say they often invited others to use their Dining Dollars so the dollars would not be wasted.

The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa started its program in 1996. All students taking more than nine credit hours pay $300 per semester and $100 for the summer term to buy Dining Dollars. Freshmen purchase an additional mandatory meal plan. Three meal plans are available, ranging from a little over $1,200 to $1,757 for an unlimited plan, according to the UA website.

The students who brought the suit against UA estimate that more than 23,000 undergraduate students paid more than $14 million in Dining Dollars to Aramark during the last academic year, according to The Tuscaloosa News.

The paper reported that Aramark pays UA 15 percent of sales after the first $8 million in the year, which helped cover nearly $6 million UA paid to renovate campus eateries.

When UA first introduced its plan, local restaurateurs were up in arms. A limited few were able to become part of the Dining Dollars program, but the cost of participation can be steep. Among them is the Crimson Café, where owner Rhett Madden views his position as between a rock and a hard place.

“Of course, I’m interested in this case, and every off-campus operator across the U.S. should be interested — not just the mom-and-pops, but the franchisees, too,” Madden said. “If I had known about Dining Dollars when I opened my business in 1993, I would never have opened.”

When all is said and done, Compton said, Compass USA is guaranteed that more than $13 million in foodservice dollars will be spent on the Auburn campus this year. Before the mandatory Dining Dollars program, fewer than a thousand students bought meal plans, he said.

“It’s strictly a profit-making scheme,” he said. “Compete with me straight up, and I don’t have a problem with it. But taking those potential sales out of our local economy is just wrong — and we think it’s illegal.”

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