The Campus Kitchen at Johns Hopkins University
By: Jessica Zha, Maryland Campus Compact VISTA placed at John Hopkins University.
It is a startling experience for many people to learn that the United States will throw away as much as a third of the food it produces each year. Yet, at the same time this statistic seldom seems to surprise anyone. This is probably because we have all borne witness to the ubiquity of food waste. And we all understand why it happens: when dealing with large scale food distributors such as catering businesses, restaurants, cafeterias, and even grocery stores, it's impossible to always prepare just enough food to match consumer demand. Therefore it doesn't take a genius to realize that surplus food is a hugely available resource in this country—a resource that would otherwise be trash, and so it costs nothing! This is the realization that helped spark the creation of the Campus Kitchen at Johns Hopkins University.
The Campus Kitchens Project (CKP) itself began in 2001 as an offshoot of the DC Central Kitchen (DCCK), which was founded over 20 years ago by Robert Egger. He and all of the great people who helped him run DCCK—and later create CKP—were all determined to do something about the rampant wastefulness that unfortunately accompanies our consumerist society. Therefore, the main tenets that drive both DCCK and CKP is to help communities more equitably distribute its valuable food resources, not only to curb waste and to feed the hungry, but more fundamentally to use an available resource as a tool to empower communities and fight poverty at its roots.
At Johns Hopkins University, we experience first hand the sharp contrasts that characterize the unequal distribution of wealth. While the university and its inhabitants generally benefit from food security and often excess, some communities in Baltimore, including our very own neighbors, are too poor to guarantee potable water in its elementary schools. And the rest of the city experiences very similar dynamics. Baltimore is riddled with communities, some separated from each other by physical barriers such as highways, but many separated by socioeconomic barriers. These disparities mean that Baltimore’s resources end up very unequally distributed between these communities. Therefore, when my peers and I decided to build the Campus Kitchen at JHU in the fall of 2008, we realized just how powerful a tool food could be in our community to help break down the barriers and build solidarity in Baltimore.
Johns Hopkins was the 20th campus in the nation to create its Campus Kitchen (CKJHU) as an affiliate of CKP. We officially opened in March of 2009, less than half a year after we began to bring the kitchen into fruition (giving CKJHU the fastest start-up time of any Campus Kitchen so far!). With a crew of only 8 student leaders, a dozen volunteers, and a kitchen space borrowed from the University Baptist Church of Baltimore, we kicked off our very first cooking shift with words of encouragement from both the CEO of CKP and our very own university president, Ron Daniels.
Now, in the fall semester of 2009, our kitchen has grown immensely. We still operate from within the kitchen of our gracious partner, the University Baptist Church, but our operations far exceed that first kick off date. We receive several hundred pounds of food each month, be it recovered, donated, or gleaned from farms; and we redistribute as much of that food as we can to our partners within the community who work to combat poverty in hunger at a grassroots level. We’ve also engaged over 50 volunteers, many of whom come back each week to help out in our kitchen, and our leadership team has grown to thirteen members!
Our goal is to eventually build relationships with community partners from each of our surrounding communities, which will provide a network of communication and resource sharing all throughout Baltimore. It is an ambitious goal. So far, we have found partners in five communities: Charles Village, Homewood, Barclay, Remington, and Park Heights.
Some partners are recipients of the food that we collect. For instance, we bring nutritious meals to B-Spirit, an after school tutoring and mentorship program in Park Heights, every single week. We also help a community church in Remington called the Church of the Guardian Angel prepare dinner for the people of their community every week. In addition, we’ve worked with schools such as Barclay Elementary/Middle School to organize events that promote healthy eating—and for these events we brought fresh produce from a local Maryland farm.
Some of our other partners help us acquire food, either by connecting us to available food donations, or by being careful to reserve their leftovers for us to collect. Most notably, we work very closely with JHU Dining Services and Aramark and receive as much of their surplus food and equipment as possible for the use of the Campus Kitchen and of the community by proxy.
The Campus Kitchen at JHU is still just a fledgling, but we have already made some great accomplishments. Our organization alone has already provided over 500 meals, and saved hundreds of pounds of food from going to waste. Therefore, regardless of how much more we will come to accomplish in the future, we are glad to have started this Campus Kitchen and are incredibly proud of our efforts.
If you are a member institution and have a program or event that you would like highlighted as a Campus Spotlight, please e-mail Lindsey Shroyer.