Central to the human experience, food can literally bring people to the table or create deep divides. Cooking and meals also play roles in religious ceremonies, celebrations, courtship and, of course, daily life. And now sustenance — from food biology to cultural practices and sustainability — will be the focus of a new Bucknell Food Residential College.
The college, open this fall to about 30 first-year students, will provide an interdisciplinary, immersive experience centered on many aspects of food and food production. Foundation seminars will be supplemented with field trips to sites including an industrial farm, a heritage-breed sheep farm and a local butcher. Students, who will live in a residence hall-based community, will also plant and harvest organic crops at nearby DreamCatcher Farm, which uses a community-supported agriculture (CSA) model. A portion of the harvest will be donated to local charities.
"The Food Residential College will explore why so much of our food is of questionable quality, while also examining alternatives for healthier, safer food," said Professor Geoff Schneider, economics, who helped to develop the college, which is the first new Bucknell residential college since the Discovery College was added in 2013. "We also want students to learn to grow food in their own gardens."
Schneider added that the Food Residential College was created, in part, based upon positive student response to a Cultivating Change summer course, in which students work at DreamCatcher Farm and explore issues related to sustainability and industrial agriculture. The new residential college's foundation also complements Bucknell's recent establishment of a food systems minor and the development of a planned campus farm.
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According to Schneider, the Food Residential College is also timely on a broader scale, as individuals grapple with a desire to eat healthier and more sustainably, while living in an economy driven by large-scale, industrial food production.
"People are focusing much more on healthy, local food," Schneider said. "We see this in the farm-to-table movement, the increasing prevalence of community-supported agriculture and the attention people are paying to diet and a healthy lifestyle. At the same time, the modern, industrial food system often produces low-quality food that is subject to health risks, such as bacterial infections and the excessive use of antibiotics in meat."
Steve Jordan, professor of biology and academic co-coordinator of the Residential Colleges, noted that the Food Residential College's partnership with a CSA and plans to donate food dovetail with a renewed University commitment to "turn outward to the community." That effort was formalized last fall by President John Bravman's signing of the Campus Compact 30th Anniversary Action Statement and embodied in the recent appointment of Professor Coralynn Davis, women's & gender studies, as faculty director for academic civic engagement.
"Being at an institution where this kind of experiential learning and educational risk-taking is occurring is exciting," Jordan said, adding that students in the Food Residential College will benefit from hands-on experience and the chance to contribute to the local community. "It's like educational alchemy, the way students respond to a legitimate chance to do something meaningful. It can be transformational."
Jordan also expects the new residential college to increase its interdisciplinary connections as it becomes more established on campus.
"Food is a wonderful theme, because it unites diverse faculty from across disciplines," he said, explaining that food is tied to issues such as social justice and economics, which could pave the way for collaborations among nearly all departments in the College of Arts & Sciences, the Kenneth W. Freeman College of Management and the College of Engineering.
"We like to create residential colleges that have a lot of depth," Jordan added. "We look for overarching topics that can be examined from different angles. It's liberal arts education at its best."