By Sarah Maness, College of the Atlantic

Posted September 25, 2017


Maine College Students Shine a Spotlight on Food Service Staff

Art of the Dining Hall: College of the Atlantic "Foodprint" Art Installation

Photo at left: Jennifer Czifrik, College of the Atlantic dining hall manager, poses by a profile of her in the college's dining hall. 

Bees & Society; Gardens & Greenhouses; The Anthropology of Food; and The Art & Science of Fermented Foods are some of the classes offered by the College of the Atlantic (COA) devoted to the study of food systems. Kourtney Collum, the chair of COA's Food & Sustainable Agriculture Systems program, and fellow faculty member Suzanne Morse, the chair of the botany department, recently teamed up to take a deep dive into the college’s "foodprint."

What exactly is a foodprint? As a student in the COA footprint class, I learned about the nitty gritty details of where our food comes from: how every ingredient travels to Mount Desert Island and how the complex web of farmers, producers, and distributors that make up the institution’s unique food system work together to provide the campus community with quality meals. Little did we know that such a small school in a rural location would have a foodprint with such an impressive boot size.

As a class, we set out on a mission to map the College of Atlantic's food system by pulling back the curtain to reveal all the players behind the food on our plates in the dining hall. From doing the work of sourcing our food for campus dining options to becoming familiar with who was cooking for us day in and day out, our seven-student team fully immersed ourselves in the COA food system and created an art installation in the dining hall to honor the people who play a key role.   

Students who took the "foodprint" class at College of the Atlantic during the Spring 2017 semester developed a better understanding of the inner workings of their local food system.

Our goal was to illustrate how COA community members, regional farmers, producers, and other vendors impact the food that is served in the dining hall. This art installation profiles the many people who contribute to the COA food picture that aligns with our mission as an institution: creating a sustainable food system for our community.   

The COA foodprint class transformed Blair Dining Hall, better known on campus as T-A-B (Take A Break), into an educational art space. We were successful in creating a new space to acknowledge and celebrate the many people in our food system that do not always get the recognition or thanks we believe they deserve. With written profiles and photo portraits, we told the story of seventeen people who are responsible for the sustainable, healthy food that we value at COA. 

Among the many gems of T-A-B is dining hall manager Jennifer (Jen) Czifrik. Jen has been at College of the Atlantic for three years. That’s three years of getting to know every student, staff member, faculty member, and guest that came through our dining hall. Food has always been an important part of her story, so when students came to talk with her about the experience she has had within our food system, she was happy to continue to share the story and engage in conversation with other students who were involved in the project, or those simply passing through the dining hall.

Jen saw this project as a way to bring the conversation around food into the greater COA community and to create the opportunity for collaboration around food. “As a person on the outside I go to see what they were learning in the COA Foodprint class and now everybody in the community gets to enjoy it as well," said Jen.

Regarding our foodprint gallery project, Jen said, “It's about bringing that connection back, understanding that your choices are important, understanding that all the parts of the food system are integral and important. After that, you can go forward with the knowledge and hopefully make better choices, make more sustainable choices. I think it would be good if other students in other schools wanted to look at this project and make it a part of their curriculum.”

Jen is a true human ecologist, always ready to talk football, politics, or lambs, and just about anything in between. Her role in our food system is among the most important to students, as we interact with her on a daily basis, and have truly come to recognize her as a friend and a vital connection to our food experience here at College of the Atlantic.

Our food services co-directors, Ken Sebelin and Lise Desrochers, welcomed us into Blair Dining Hall (aka T-A-B) and into their world of food. Ken and Lise are artists. Day after day, they welcome the community into this space and share with us their art: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. T-A-B is more than a dining experience; it is a social experience and it is no doubt the heart of this campus and this institution.

To acknowledge and celebrate folks like Jen, Ken, and Lise, we felt a new sense of community being brought into our daily T-A-B experience. By transforming this dining space into an educational space, sharing the stories of those who have truly mastered the art of the dining hall, we shed light on those within the food system who do not always get the immediate thanks or recognition they deserve.

Farm managers and a student enjoy the harvest at Beech Hill Farm, College of the Atlantic's campus farm on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine.

The gallery project also allowed students to connect with individuals within our food system who are responsible for filling the gaps where the production capabilities of COA’s farms have not yet reached. In this role, we have Scott Lingley, a direct sales representative for Performance Food Group (PFG). Scott works closely with our dining hall staff to acquire the food that best fits our community and meets the mission of our dining hall. Scott’s job has a large impact on the COA food system because of the volume of products provided by PFG. We are fortunate to have such a close relationship with Scott and PFG; he prioritizes meeting with Ken and Lise to discuss what works best for our unique menu and what can complement what we are already sourcing from our farms.

The COA Foodprint Gallery Project gave students space and time to engage with their food in a new way, building a deeper sense of connection and understanding to the path that our food takes to get to our plate. So often we talk about people feeling disconnected from their food. With a handful of possible constraints, including location, funding, or availability, we cannot blame those who do not feel connected to the fresh spinach and rutabaga on their plate. Instead, we can work together to educate one another and become part of a collective effort in bringing back the connection to food.

From a tiny island off the coast of Maine to the cozy seat beneath a tall white pine or your rickety kitchen counter chair, I urge you to join us in this endeavor to discover the art of the dining hall. Encourage your classmates, your friends, your siblings, and folks at home, to find out where their food comes from.

By making it a daily conversation and a daily ritual to examine your piece within the food system, you can start to make the larger picture a more manageable concept and system to work within. It all starts with a simple conversation over your next meal.

Create a Foodprint Gallery on Your Campus

Want to create a foodprint gallery on your college or university campus? Here are some tips to get started: 

  1. Brainstorm the aspects of a local food system. Think distribution, processing, production, waste, consumer, and institution. Who are the key players every step of the way?
  2. Define the boundaries of your local food system art installation project. Will your focus be on your school, the local community, the region or beyond?
  3. Generate interview questions. What is their job and how does it fit into the food system? What is their motivation for the work they do? What is their vision for the local food system? What is their unique personal story?
  4. Listen with care. Take the time to listen closely. These are the important personal stories that they are choosing to share. Deepen your knowledge of their impact on the local food system by spending time with them in action, in the kitchen, in the fields, or on a distribution route.
  5. Plan the gallery space. It may be at a local school, library, or restaurant with some open wall space. We chose the College of the Atlantic dining hall to showcase the individuals who directly impact the food served on campus.  
  6. Build community around food stories. Creating an art installation dedicated to your college food system creates opportunities to build and engage your community around food values. This project encourages team building for like-minded students and brings the larger community into the conversation.

Sarah Maness graduated from College of the Atlantic in Spring 2017. Sarah lives in Pawlet, Vermont, while she launches her career in the regional food system. She's currently working at Earth Sky Time Community Farm, an organic vegetable farm and bakery in Manchester, Vermont.