Northland is committed to full-spectrum sustainability. Our new Food Systems Center (FSC), which combines certified kitchens, composting, and demonstration gardens is a great example of this. The Center is a place for food producers, students, and faculty to come together to learn, teach, and research issues around food, sustainability, and economic vitality in rural communities.
The Hulings Rice Food Center provides the space and equipment needed to move towards our eighty percent local food goal while providing educational space for students. The facility allows Northland to receive large shipments of local fruits and vegetables; freeze, dry, and can these products; and store them for off-season use. The Center also holds our enormous food composting equipment.
The Don R. and Carole J. Larson Food Lab represents a milestone in local food infrastructure as the region’s largest food processing facility. The food processing facilities are structured to function not just as a certified kitchen, but also as a laboratory for student education, research and discovery, and as a catalyst for local economic training, education, and development. The Larson Food Lab is:
- Commercially licensed for food processing and storage facility.
- Has the capacity to process and store up to six tons of food per year for Northland’s use.
- Available on a fee-per-use basis for other regional producers, allowing them to expand their businesses.
- Includes classroom and kitchen space for classes, workshops, workforce training, and other future academic and co-curricular programming.
Northland College has an innovative plan to expand the use of compost in our community by developing an efficient one-stop, centrally located composting facility to serve its citizens. Housed in the Hulings Rice Food Center, this large, state-of-the-art composter has the capacity to process 64,000 gallons of food waste per year. This results in 1.1 tons of organic product per day (one-third of this being food waste and two-thirds bulking agent) – or, on a more relatable scale, 5.9 pounds of quality compost per gallon of food waste. Northland College’s new composting facilities provides an opportunity to address environmental issues like climate change by:
- Reducing fossil fuels needed for transporting of local foods and local food waste, concentrating our waste systems stream and reducing the amount of fossil fuels needed for transporting food and waste.
- Decreasing the most harmful greenhouse cases: decomposition of food wastes in landfills produces methane, while carbon dioxide is the byproduct of composting. The EPA estimates methane produces 20 times more heat capturing properties than carbon dioxide.
- Returning composted food waste back to the regional farms can augment soils and reduce agricultural use of petro-chemicals. Organisms and bacteria beneficial to soils come from composted food waste. Research finds that compost also improves water retention properties and that reduces agricultural runoff and water use when used on farmlands.
Students learn and practice environmental sustainability initiatives within a community context, and develop leadership skills and knowledge that they can take into their future communities. Our focus on regional food systems lets us take an in-depth look at social entrepreneurship and the sustainability of people, planet, profits, and place.
Northland believes in the importance of local self-reliance to help create thriving rural communities and a strong, stable campus. By increasing our capacity to be self-reliant, we foster a thriving economy that grows prosperity equitably, builds deeper community connections, and enhances the health and wellbeing of our entire region.
Reducing energy consumption and increasing renewable energy use, along with meeting our food needs locally, are important components of local self-reliance. Northland uses the FSC for student leadership initiatives, classes, and outreach education workshops that pertain to these concepts of developing sustainable local food systems in our northern climate. Our hope is that the FSC serves as a model for other communities that are challenged by rural location, growing seasons, or food sovereignty.
Access to Healthy Food
The Food Systems Center uses flash freezing to preserve fresh produce without preservatives. These foods are healthy alternatives to pre-packaged frozen foods sold by large distribution companies. Access to the freshest foods preserved with health in mind will not be limited to “high end” markets. In addition to our cafeteria, our foods will be shared with food pantries and local food vendors at reasonable prices.
A challenge we face is how we grow food in a way that reduces hunger and achieves an equitable balance in our community between sustainable growing and economic vitality. Taking this into account promotes building relationships between people and the land—for better stewardship and planning for the future. It also connects consumers with farmers who grow the food.
Farming with Integrity
Farmers play a unique and important role in small communities. We believe in our community’s capacity to grow food sustainably as a source for our residents. We partner with farmers who care for the long-term health of their land. We believe that what we do today effects the future and the health of the planet.
Buying local, and assisting farmers to process and store their produce locally, reduces vehicle emissions from transportation, ensures healthy commitment to the lands of our Lake Superior Basin, and builds a relationship between our food, our families, and our farmers working together to create a sustainable community.