Mapping the Amherst Food System

By Parker Richardson ’22: Food Systems Fellow

When I first came to Amherst, I knew I wanted to work on the farm. The spring of my first year, I would wake up early on Tuesday mornings and walk past the tennis courts, through the woods to the core site of Book & Plow. There, I met Maida and Kaylee, the farm managers, who taught me how to sow seeds and clean up the fields for the next growing season.

Through the farm, I heard about the Food Justice Alliance (FJA), a student group dedicated to advancing food justice in the Pioneer Valley. I started attending the meetings in the McCaffrey room of Keefe and learning about what exactly food justice is. To me, food justice is about creating equity and access at every step of the food system. This includes workers’ rights in the fields, factories, and dining halls, as well as universal access to nutritious and fresh food.

At the time (and to this day), the group was talking about workers’ rights in Val (where there’s a past and present of exploitation), as well as the lack of meaningful connections between the student body and staff. Curious about bridging this gap, I started working in the kitchen of Val, where I met Kaden, Keith, Indy, Sue, Fatima, John, Susan, Robin, among others.

In the fall of 2021, students and workers came together to form the Amherst Labor Alliance (ALA) to support Val workers’ rights on campus. During the pandemic, Val staff have been pushed to their limits by understaffing, inadequate pay, and, for many, lack of healthcare. The ALA has planned several demonstrations and seeks to create a space where students and staff can unite and discuss the best avenues to advocate for workers’ rights.

Just when I was about to advocate for paid student positions to hold our college’s food system to socially and environmentally sustainable standards, the Office of Sustainability came back to life. So I applied to be the Food Systems Fellow during my last semester here at Amherst.

A map of how food is obtained, used and discarded at Amherst College

With the help of many minds—the other sustainability fellows, Margot, the Green Dean with the Sustainability Office, Wes the Director of the Office, Maida and Kaylee at the farm, Steve, the dining sourcing manager, my friends at Val, Joe, the Head of Dining—I’ve been slowly piecing together a map of the food systems here, which is simultaneously very simple and very complicated.

I want anyone and everyone in the community to be able to access this map to better understand how food, waste, and labor flow both within the Amherst College bubble and beyond. My hope is that this map adapts to reflect a more sustainable Amherst as we work as a community to challenge and change the system we have in place.

It’s also my (achievable) dream to form a Food Systems Committee that designs a set of goals, standards, and metrics for a sustainable food system. This group will consist of staff representatives from Val, the farm, and, and students, such as representatives from FJA.

If there’s anything I’ve learned and relearned during my time as the Food Systems fellow (and my time at Amherst in general), it’s that this community has the power to shape itself. It feels like it’s a matter of coming together, dreaming about just how sustainable we could be, and choosing a place to jump in.

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Think Sustainability

By Shreya Mathew ’25: Zero Waste Fellow

A woman with her arm flexing and the title Zero Waste Period
One of the best realizations that I’ve had being a sustainability fellow is understanding the cultural dimensions of Sustainability. Born and brought up in India, my first time stepping foot in the US was to attend college. I experienced luxury and amenities that I could never dream of if I was back home. For example, at Val, for the first time, I saw canned water and the normalization of plastic cutlery. Uncontrolled waste generation was striking, unlike back home where minimalism was a lifestyle due to scarcity. This contrast in ways of life prompted me to apply as a Zero Waste fellow for I believed that I could impact our community through my diversity in perspective.

My position as the Zero Waste fellow helped me to draw ideas from different cultural experiences and act on them to formulate meaningful solutions for sustainability on campus. One such example is our #SustainableMenstruation. After a brief utility, tampons and sanitary pads usually end up in trash cans and could take 500 to 800 years to decompose. Drawing inspiration from the ‘For Her’ project implemented in Kumbalangi, a village in India, where over 5000 menstrual cups were distributed to women of age 18 and above, sustainable menstruation was made a reality. At Amherst College, we collaborated with WGC and SHEs to distribute menstrual cups and educate our mammoths on Zero Waste Period.

Another project I’ve been working on is the Green Office program which aims to help offices gauge how sustainable their spaces currently are, educate them on ways they can keep improving, and recognize them for their efforts. This program empowered my understanding of the current sustainability standards and expectations of our college and to tailor surveys to suit our needs. Once our Green Office surveys roll out, I envision a campus where not just our student body but also our staff and faculty make informed decisions on sustainability that can trickle to the grassroots of our lifestyles.

It was an enlightening experience to work with Weston, Margot and our other sustainability fellows and learn and grow with each step of the process. The Tuesday group meetings are the best when we discuss ideas and suggestions for each of our projects over Weston’s homemade zucchini bread. Working as the Sustainability Fellow helped me to understand the needs and wants of Amherst College through a different lens as I got to meet and collaborate with faculty, staff, and students on their projects. I have learned so much being a Sustainability Fellow and I am looking forward to getting our Green Office Program and #SustainableMenstruation rolling!

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Promoting Student Action and Sustainable Lifestyles

A picture of the Amherst College quad in the spring

Sustainability fellows have a flexible work schedule which means that, for the most part, we decide where and when we work during the week. One perk of this structure is sitting on the First-Year Quad and doing my work outside on sunny days like the one pictured here!

By Emily Byers ’25: EcoReps Fellow

Though I’ve only been working in the Office of Sustainability for a few weeks now, I already feel that my experience has been rewarding. Between collaborating with the other fellows, connecting with my peers at other higher education institutions, and working individually on creative projects, I have sincerely enjoyed spending a portion of my week on sustainability work.

This semester, I’ve spent most of my time planning the relaunch of the Amherst College EcoReps program. This program used to exist at Amherst but took a hiatus at the start of the pandemic. This year, the Office of Sustainability identified revamping student opportunities as a major priority. While building off the previous EcoReps program, there is much room for creativity and innovation in designing a new vision for the Amherst EcoReps. So far, I have researched various EcoRep program configurations, met with EcoRep leaders at other higher education institutions, learned about successful student organizations on Amherst’s campus, and compiled my research into a formal proposal. It is exciting to envision a new student program that will launch on campus next year, and I appreciate the opportunity to be creative in this process.

Another project I am working on this semester is developing a Green Living Guide. Essentially, I am creating a resource that compiles green living tips specific to Amherst College. Tips include everything from navigating the dining hall waste streams to instructions for sustainable transportation options on campus and in the Pioneer Valley. It can often feel overwhelming knowing where to start with making one’s lifestyle more sustainable––especially as a new student on a new college campus. I hope that the Green Living Guide can serve as a central place for students looking to make more sustainable everyday choices at Amherst.

Signs for Amherst compost, recycling and landfill

Graphic depicting Amherst’s three-bin waste stream system that will be included in the Green Guide (created by Margot Lurie, Sustainability Green Dean).

A circular graph showing the ecological ceiling (outside) and social factors (inside) for conservation

Kate Raworth’s sustainability doughnut model. Source: Wikipedia

Working as a fellow in the Office of Sustainability has also broadened my understanding of sustainability. Recently, I had a meeting with Wes Dripps, Sustainability Director, and Margot Lurie, Sustainability Green Dean, to discuss my proposal for the EcoReps program. While our conversation initially centered on the logistics of the program implementation, our conversation soon developed into a more extensive discussion about approaching sustainability holistically. We talked about broadening the scope of the EcoReps program and the Office of Sustainability as a whole to focus not only on environmental issues and green living tips but also on the interconnectedness between protecting the environment and social justice. Economist Kate Raworth exemplifies this thinking in her “sustainability doughnut” model (pictured to the right).

With examples such as the discussion about the sustainability doughnut, my experience working in the Office of Sustainability has clearly been both a learning experience and an opportunity to work on exciting projects. Above all, regularly collaborating with other members of the Office and individuals at other higher education institutions has been a highlight for me. I am excited to finish the semester strong as a sustainability fellow and look forward to seeing the EcoReps program and Green Living Guide come to life in the coming months!

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Charting and Tracking Our Sustainability Progress

The Amherst mammoth inside a rainbow circle
By Sara Zhu ’24: Sustainability Assessment Fellow

Over the past few weeks, our team of six fellows - led by fearless leaders, Wes and Margot - have been working to jumpstart the Office of Sustainability after finally ending the office’s 2-year hiatus this winter. Although there have been many obstacles encountered along the way, my experience working here has been one of the all-time highlights of my Amherst experience.

General Reflections

Working at the Office of Sustainability has shown me first-hand how interconnected sustainability-related work has to be. Developing sustainable-minded policies requires working with all stakeholders in our community. As a result, we encounter countless opportunities to collaborate with peers, faculty, staff, administration, and partners beyond campus boundaries. In my short time working as the Sustainability Assessment fellow, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects with a diverse group of collaborators. For example:

  • I developed an app to help students reimagine our course catalog in terms of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals framework. Wes and I are now partnering with the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, Riley Caldwell-O’Keefe, to discuss how we can use the platform to promote interdisciplinary, sustainability-oriented learning
  • I collaborated with Parker (Office of Sustainability Food Systems Fellow) and Joe Flueckiger (Manager of Dining Services) to propose a committee that increases the breadth and depth of stakeholder engagement in our campus food system. In my other position as the social media manager for dining services, I’ve also collaborated with the Office of Sustainability to help promote sustainable dining practices on social media.
  • I’m working with the Association of Amherst Students to enhance continuity across generations of students by building a public database for AAS-funded projects. Our goal is to document all past and ongoing work in sustainability, to facilitate collaboration across campus stakeholders, and to inspire future generations of students to engage in sustainability-related projects. The project is an extension of the dashboard I built to document all sustainability-related projects for the Office of Sustainability.

A chart named Project Ideas showing ideas for saving energy on campus

STARS Report & Building My Interactive Course Catalog Tool

I initially started the year off working on an institution-wide assessment called the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). When Amherst became an institutional member of AASHE in 2019, the college committed to filing the STARS Report every three years. The STARS Report now holds 680 colleges and universities around the world accountable for reporting progress on a wide range of sustainability metrics. The report assesses performance in campus operations, community engagement, academics, and governance using concrete measurable benchmarks. These range from goals in energy and waste reduction, to pay equity, campus procurement, food system policies and more.

My first task at the Office of Sustainability involved conducting an internal analysis of the college to prepare us for Amherst’s next STARS Report. A major component of STARS uses the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a guiding framework for assessing sustainability-related opportunities in course curriculum and faculty research. This ultimately inspired me to develop a platform that reimagines our course catalog through a more interdisciplinary lens.

Some background info:

To date, a total of 193 countries have adopted the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of a global call to action for all countries to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. These goals address key systemic barriers to sustainable development, including unsustainable consumption patterns, inequality, weak institutional capacity, and environmental degradation. In doing so, the SDGs recognize that achieving equitable and sustainable outcomes must go hand-in-hand with strategies that promote high-quality education, health care, governance, and climate resilience.

I created this app to identify pathways at the college that prepare students with the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for developing a greener, stronger, and more inclusive society. In terms of the methodology, I used R to code the app and scraped the last three years' worth of courses from Amherst's course catalog. I then generated SDG-specific scores for each course description based on 3 weighted keyword lists provided by Elsevier, SDSN, and Carnegie Mellon University. Although there is no guarantee that the automated coding system will always capture every course that is relevant to a particular area, I hope this platform will encourage students to use these categories and their basic underlying principles as a framework for mapping their paths at Amherst and beyond.

A chart named End Poverty in all Its Forms Everywhere

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Developing a Culture of Sustainability on Campus

A list explaining why cold water laundry is better

Poster on “Why Is Cold Water Laundry Better?”, now posted in every laundry room across campus.

Two documents explaining the carbon action plan

Examples of the one-page educational documents I developed for CAP communications

By Selena Hong ’24: Climate Action Plan Fellow

I have been working in the reopened Office of Sustainability as the Climate Action Plan Fellow for almost a semester now, and my experience has been extremely enriching. As an Environmental Studies major, I have learned a ton about communications, campus-wide campaign development, and sustainability in general by working with Wes, Margot, and the other amazing fellows.

I started this fellowship thinking that I would be working on the more technical side of our Climate Action Plan (CAP) by researching renewable energy and infrastructure. It turned out that our facilities team had already been working with experts from environmental consulting firms. Luckily, Wes and I soon figured out that there were more things to do about the CAP than the technicals. We decided to focus on energy conservation and efficiency, the often neglected part of every CAP. I started with a list of energy conservation measures and narrowed it down to cold-water laundry when I learned that 90% of the energy used in laundry went towards heating the water. I spent weeks walking around the campus to record the quantity and model of the washers in each dorm, developing posters and stickers, and putting them up. By working on the cold-water laundry campaign, I got to experience the entire process of campaign development, including brainstorming, planning, generation of needed material, and social media communication. I really appreciate the opportunity to lead a campaign with unlimited support from Wes.

Another part of my work involved developing educational materials about the CAP. Most students on campus know about Amherst’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2030 and the existence of CAP. However, they know little about how Amherst plans to move towards carbon neutrality. To resolve this issue, I have developed a series of one-page documents to explain what our facilities team is doing regarding carbon neutrality and provide explanations for technical terms, such as the virtual power purchase agreement (VPPA) and ground-source heat pump. In the process of working on the series of CAP explanations, I deepened my own understanding of different renewable energy sources, GHG reduction mechanisms, and government regulations.

All my work has been highly rewarding, and every member of the Office of Sustainability has been supportive. I have learned so much from Wes about everything regarding sustainability. Margot and the other fellows have helped me brainstorm and design my stickers. I am very grateful to be a part of such a fantastic group of people committed to sustainability.

Don’t forget to use cold water for laundry and mind your carbon footprint in everyday life. SUSTAIN THE HERD :)

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Walk the Talk

By Erko Sakhiyeva ‘25 - Outreach and Engagement Fellow

In my role as the Outreach and Engagement Fellow, it is incredibly gratifying to collaborate with other fellows, facilitate in-between project relations, and communicate with the community on campus and beyond. Such informational outreach ensures enlightenment and accountability. With the Office being on hiatus for the past couple of years, our team has made inspired and tangible efforts to build up our capacity and once again serve the Amherst community this semester. I supported the Office’s relaunch by reviving social media, newsletters, the blog you are reading, events, and campaigns.

A line of people in an office wearing masks

Office of Sustainability Team (left to right): the Green Dean, Margot, The Fellows, Selena, Sara, Emily, Erko, Parker, Shreya,
and the Director of Sustainability, Weston Dripps

A 3x4 grid with Instgram posts

A glimpse into the visual identity of the Office of Sustainability on Instagram

I was responsible for developing the visual identity of the Office of Sustainability, in charge of marketing. I spend a lot of my time making infographics, posters, social media posts, and videos. I got to hone my digital design skills in creating visual content, stickers, and merch. It is fulfilling to see how impactful my work has been in promoting sustainability – our Instagram Reels have reached an audience far beyond our campus, going beyond neighboring universities even. On the one hand, our online presence is a way for effective communication with the Amherst community and beyond about what we do, what is essential, and what needs to be addressed. On the other hand, it is a documentation of the progress of our work to look back upon in the future.

Director of Sustainability, Wes Dripps, has entrusted me with making a kind of manual for the next generations of Sustainability Fellows to continue a cohesive visual identity for the Office. I continuously make templates and guides for the following teams for different types of digital marketing, including the newsletter, posts, and stories of varying purposes.

My projects have been diverse and rapid, as I had to be involved with varying parts of our team’s work. This included a wide range of activities. I got to work with faculty, such as Professor Jenna Riegel, to highlight the collaboration between the Office of Sustainability and her class to create a performance on planned obsolescence in manufacturing. Joining efforts with other clubs and organizations at Amherst College, such as Student Health Educators and Religious & Spiritual Life, has also been a vital part of working as a Communications and Outreach Fellow.

I am excited for what more is to come and be done at the Office to sustain the herd.

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