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Universities as a Living Laboratory Closing the Food System Loop

Advance a sustainable and equitable food system at UMD with zero hunger and food waste, and empowering generations of food-literate leaders.

Photo of Lydia Newell Cross Nicholson
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

University of Maryland (UMD)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Our UMD team includes students, faculty, staff, and alumni from across the campus and collegiate collaborators nationwide. Local and international non-profit partners include: • Accokeek Foundation: serves Prince George’s County through environmental and cultural stewardship, agriculture, and education • Capital Area Food Bank: 3rd largest in the U.S. and in partnership with the UMD Campus Pantry to provide emergency food • Farming 4 Hunger: addresses food insecurity through community building in Maryland • Food Recovery Network: founded by UMD students, now a national nonprofit organizing food recovery • Maryland Hunger Solutions: advocating to end hunger and improve the health for Marylanders • Prince George’s County Food Equity Council: local food policy council committed to the health and wellbeing of residents • World Resources Institute (WRI): leading the way for a sustainable food system, outlined in Creating a Sustainable Food Future...[1] and the Cool Food Pledge[2]

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

College Park

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

University of Maryland, College Park Campus, covers a total of 6km^2 Located in the city of College Park, MD, covers a total of 14.72km^2

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Students are at the heart of our ongoing, systemic change. They are involved in shaping the food system through extracurricular activities (ex. campus community garden and student organizations), class-based academic experiences (ex. research projects), and internships and student employment (ex. Terp Farm, Campus Pantry, and Farmers Market). Each semester, student leaders present their efforts, research, and findings to fellow students, faculty, and campus administrators through the Sustainable Food Symposium. Students are not just consumers, but producers taking a lead role to advance the food system vision for our community, now and for decades to come. 

Our campus team and many of our local partners eat, live, work, study, and play in College Park located within PG county. Students, faculty, and staff also participate in this work through campus workgroups and committees like the Hunger-FreeUMD Workgroup, Student Affairs Sustainability Committee, and Sustainable Food Champions. In a dynamic campus ecosystem, new groups continue to emerge regularly. These efforts empower students, faculty, and staff to make meaningful changes on campus and enable administrators to prioritize sustainability, ensuring a promising future for generations. 

Leading the charge for a sustainable campus food system is our Assistant Director of New Initiatives at the University of Maryland Department of Dining Services (UMD-DS), Allison Tjaden. She has worked in and around the county since 2007 and earned her Master of Public Health in 2012 from UMD. She has served as a council member and a workgroup chair for the PG County Food Equity Council and is currently serving on the Advisory Council for the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative. She has convened a diverse, enthusiastic team determined to radically change the campus food system and prioritize sustainability for all UMD stakeholders. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Our place, founded in 1856 as the Maryland Agricultural College, now the University of Maryland College Park is the state's flagship university and a land-grant institution. The University has 41,000 students, 14,000 faculty and staff, and impacts the lives of thousands of city residents, and the campus is bustling no matter when you arrive. The network of buildings, roads, and trails can seem overwhelming, but before you know it, you are navigating campus by way of shuttles, bikes, scooters, cars, and walking. As you explore campus, you also enjoy the expansive green space from 1250+ acre arboretum and botanical garden, memorial garden, and interior bio-walls located in several buildings. 

Surrounding UMD is the city of College Park, founded in 1889, home to 30,000 residents, and is a bustling suburb of Washington, DC. The University is accessible to the political and cultural hub of the United States of America by way of public transportation and just an hour away from Baltimore and the state capital, Annapolis. Easy access to these metropolitan areas provides a diverse range of educational, research, and cultural opportunities. Despite being an urban campus, rural communities are only 15 minutes away, which allows for environmental and agricultural research opportunities. 

Nourishing our students is UMD-DS, one of the largest self-operated collegiate food service providers in the nation. UMD-DS serves over 30,000 meals a day with a 9,100 student residential dining program, varied retail dining experiences (convenience stores, cafés, restaurants, and a food court), athletic concessions, and delivery & full-service catering. UMD-DS provides culturally appropriate and diverse foods for the campus, which represents all 50 states and 128 countries around the world. UMD-DS prioritizes environmental stewardship and is a campus, state, and national leader for nutrition, wellness, and sustainability, recognized by the National Association for College and University Food Services. As part of our sustainability and wellness program, UMD-DS operates the "Terp Farm" in partnership with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources— a 5-acre sustainable farming operation located just 15 miles from campus at the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station, providing fresh, healthy vegetables to campus dining halls, catering, and food-insecure members of the community. UMD-DS further encourages access to local, healthy, and affordable foods to campus at the Farmer's Market at Maryland, and emergency food services such as the Campus Pantry. UMD-DS continuously strives for excellence for the students, faculty, and staff through these initiatives, as well as through its participation in research, health, diversity, sustainability, and wellness programs such as the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative[3] and Cool Food Pledge.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Global and local food systems impact every aspect of our lives, from the environment to individual physical and mental health. Key indicators from across the food system in 2020 expose numerous daunting, complicated, and interconnected challenges. If current trends persist, these challenges will only continue to intensify into the future in 2050. Despite growing awareness of 2020’s current challenges, as a campus and society, we are struggling to ensure the free flow of information alongside a candid dialogue about trade-offs that exist in our current food system.    

Exploring a diet-related indicator: in PG County, one in seven residents are grappling with food insecurity. At UMD alone, an estimated 20% of students (~8,000) are food insecure, with an additional 21% at risk. Students experiencing food insecurity face critical barriers to collegiate academic success, personal health, and overall well-being. Food insecurity disproportionately impacts minority groups and stands in the way of empowering students to realize their full potential. Economic indicators further emphasize this challenge: the US Census Bureau estimates 52% of students not living on campus or with relatives are in poverty.  The relentless rising costs of higher education and associated debt has led to debilitating financial and economic difficulties and struggles for many and does not reflect the values of our university.

A sampling of environmental indicators is similarly bleak. The climate is in crisis due to human activity, and despite increased awareness, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) continue to rise. Consumption patterns have outpaced our planet’s systems and ecological boundaries. We live in a “throwaway” culture, which has resulted in local and global systems that disregard valuable resources including people, energy, water, and soil. The waste of 30-40% of the food produced in the US, its associated resources and nutritional potential, is indicative of this devastating imbalance. 

Policies at the local, state, and federal level are not aligned to meet the challenges we face. Further complicating the situation, our culture continues to become increasingly siloed and divided, limiting the flow of information, dialogue, and sharing of diverse ideas. While there continue to be rapid technological advancements, however  the historical, societal, and ethical context and impacts of this technology are often left unexplored.  

Lack of collaboration, diversity, and empathy further exacerbate existing trade-offs and tensions across possible solutions. While it is essential to be working together on these critical and common causes, there are pressures to find differences and discord. We will need all available solutions, stakeholders, participation, research, and vision (with some luck) to reverse the trends.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

UMD began the journey to transform the campus food system in 2012 with the support of students, faculty, and staff through the Sustainable Food Commitment. The University has since surpassed its initial goal of 20% sustainable sourcing (local, fair, ecologically sound, and humanely-raised),launched and seen an increase in participation in its related sustainable food programs. Programs include the Terp Farm, Farmers Market, and Campus Pantry as well as robust climate action, waste management, and resource conservation initiatives. At the same time, students are leading the fight against food waste through the development and expansion nationally of the Food Recovery Network. UMD joined more than 50 other universities in the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative in 2018 to advance healthy, sustainable, and delicious menus to drive positive change for human health and the environment. In 2019, UMD became the first university signatory of the WRI Cool Food Pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions associated with food purchasing by 25% by 2030, aligning with the Paris Climate Accords. 

All the ingredients are in place at UMD to “close the loop” of our campus food system. UMD is uniquely situated to lead a collaborative transformation to a visionary food system as a land-grant university and premier research institution in close proximity to federal agencies in the nation’s capital. We aim to act as a microcosm for environmental innovation while holding the distinctive ability to share best practices through existing networks that can inform the University, local, state, and national policy. Our vision sees collaboration and the fostering of connections across the University, integrating the siloed nature of new initiatives, programming, technology, economic development, and research to tackle current and future challenges within the food system. Our vision unlocks the potential of our campus to serve as an incubator for food system renewal; as UMD-DS provides nourishment to the changing and diverse community it serves, it will, in turn, be fed with innovative ideas. Students gain insight into system-wide problems and solutions on campus, which mirror food system challenges throughout the United States and around the world. 

Breaking down communication barriers, institutional culture, and stereotypes surrounding the issue of food insecurity will allow our community to thrive. Our institution is poised to create an educational experience that is not defined by food waste and food insecurity and their detrimental effects on student health and well-being. Instead, empowered students will access food as a vehicle for cultural diversity, economic opportunity, and the ability to change the world.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The UMD campus will serve as a model of an abundant, sustainable, equitable, and healthful food system that achieves the UN Sustainable Development Goals. All students, faculty, and staff working at the University will have access to delicious, nutritious, fresh, culturally-appropriate food to fuel their lives on and off-campus. Food will not go to waste but used on campus and to feed the broader College Park community or composted and used for growing food. The campus food system will function seamlessly as a living laboratory where students and faculty can rapidly innovate, test, and iterate to solve the most pressing challenges of our time. Our vision will achieve:    

• Zero hunger: eliminate food insecurity on the UMD College Park campus.

• Zero food waste: eliminate food waste on the UMD College Park campus. 

• Food literacy: commit to educating generations of food-literate future leaders who can apply the lived and learned lessons from their University experience to solve the most pressing challenges of today and tomorrow.

• Systematic integration and collaboration among food system actors: serve as a hub for system actors from diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, production systems, geography, public and private institutions to foster integration across economic, diet-related, technological, policy-related, cultural, and environmental spheres and advance food system innovation. 

The results of our decades of work have aligned collaborative efforts across our community in order to address the greatest challenges of our time. We remain committed and focused on our efforts to build a more sustainable, resilient, and just food system. We realize that this work is paramount and will never be complete. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Welcome to the Spring 2050 semester at UMD in College Park! We invite you to explore our delicious, nourishing, engaging, and dynamic campus food system. It is accessible to all, honors human health, both individually and globally, and our planetary boundaries. Food on campus embraces technological innovation while respecting cultural and historic foodways. While on campus for the first day of classes on January 24, 2050, your senses offer you a sample of how far we’ve come in advancing our food system vision.      

Smells: The sweet aroma of cookies in the oven is timelessly irresistible. The bakeshop on campus has gradually increased whole grains in its recipes. Thanks to continuous efforts from campus bakers and chefs working collaboratively with scientists and plant breeders (from UMD and around the world), farmers, millers, and other businesses, 100% whole grain is now the norm, “ancient” and highly nutritious grains are common in all baked goods on campus. Even dessert treats are nutrient-loaded, while still cravable. The rich smells of baked goods waft through the doors of dining locations as they open to welcome you in.    

• Tastes: Color, flavor, and texture are key to the mouthwatering tastes you’ll enjoy while eating in all campus locations. Transformed by the Menus of Change initiative and Cool Food Pledge, food served on campus is inspired by flavors of global cuisine to match our global campus. Dishes are plant-forward and start first with whole grains, beans, legumes and then include local fruits and vegetables, either fresh or preserved. Local, sustainably raised animal proteins are cherished and offered in moderation. Ingredients are selected not only for their ability to enrich human diets, the soil, environment, but also carefully chosen for taste, climate resilience, nutrition, and resource-efficient production. All of these selections respect historical and cultural food traditions.

• Sights: Nearly 30 years since its expansion to its new location, the UMD Campus Pantry continues to be a vibrant hub for student activities and services. You see upperclassmen working together in the demonstration kitchen to teach other students how to cook “the basics” to prepare them for life off-campus. Student leaders are organizing food recovery and gleaning activities for volunteers ensuring that food is not wasted. Food continues to be harvested directly from campus grounds and agricultural facilities. All are relaxed, at ease, while using the UMD Campus Pantry and helping themselves to grocery items from the shelves and prepared, frozen meals made with recovered foods. Student research projects of hydroponic production fill the space with fresh herbs year-round. This campus hub connects students with nonprofit partners to ensure needed resources are available on campus, but also that students are able to support the needs of the greater community. 

Sounds: Foodservice locations are important centers for study sessions and small seminars. UMD welcomes all food system actors to join for dialogue, promotions, events, and discussions. The Maryland Farmers Market has both an indoor and outdoor location, allowing for a year-round schedule. At the Farmers Market, student food-entrepreneurs trial their products, getting feedback directly from their target customers. Local farmers and producers build relationships directly with students and offer opportunities for hands-on learning at local, regional, and global locations. As common spaces for the campus, dining halls, cafes, and the Farmers Market are essential places for ongoing dialogue about challenges and trade-offs in the food system. Because of the inclusive and welcoming environment, all viewpoints are shared and discussed at the table. 

The impacts of climate change are felt, in 2050, through unpredictable weather patterns, changes in land-use and availability due to sea-level rise and erosion, disruptions in global supply chains, and dislocation and migration of people. Resiliency and regeneration of environmental, agricultural, social, and political resources are shared values for all. Great progress has been achieved, but the work continues and spans all agricultural production systems and includes local, regional, global, public, and private partners. Diversity of thought and practice have enabled us to build a more robust food system and continue to be core values. There are promising results from decades of work as trends in key indicators have shifted. 

• Surpassing our commitment to the Cool Food Pledge, we continue to slash greenhouse gas emissions from the food served on campus. This effort continues to include more food system actors, including farmers, producers, eaters, and researchers. We are constantly shifting and adapting to the challenges of the environment, supply, and planetary boundaries. Our successes and the sharing of best practices have inspired all other institutions across the globe to take part in the Pledge and amplify its impact to fight climate change. 

• For the first time in decades, the number of young, new farmers and producers continues to increase each year and spans diverse backgrounds, reflecting the diversity of the eaters they serve. Farmers and rural communities are thriving economically, socially, and physically. These producers access opportunities at the University to learn, research, and collaborate on innovative technology and the social and historical context to do their work.  

• Food insecurity at UMD has been eliminated by both policy and programming that meet the needs of our community. Additionally, chronic disease and obesity rates regionally have reversed their trends. Research foci and programming have shifted from treatment of disease and emergency management to integrated promotion of holistic wellness.       

The UMD food system in 2050 is a replicable model providing meals and food in a sustainable, carbon neutral, zero waste environment. The students, faculty, and staff are food secure with healthy, culturally appropriate food, which empowers them to flourish in their lives holistically. UMD not only nourishes its members and surrounding community but expands a renowned living laboratory for researching, developing, and executing radical food system change across all sectors. Our students, staff, and faculty learn from action and programming, empowering them to take their knowledge and lived-experience of a sustainable food system to impact their work and their lives, globally. Our work has integrated across these key areas and engaged all food system actions:

Technology: After removing silos and barriers to collaboration, cutting edge technologies are tested on campus. Technical advances in our food system are made accessible and affordable to the campus community through partnerships with shared vision. Technologies include equipment that dramatically reduce energy consumption, food products that utilize significantly fewer resources to produce, and behavior change initiatives proven to encourage both sustainable and healthy lifestyles. As a prominent public university, our mission to advance knowledge will be fulfilled through the use of open-source information and the sharing of best practices so those around the world may be empowered food system actors. Democratizing technology is an important step to safeguard its use and understand the consequences of its implementation. Collaboration across disciplines will ensure that environmental, social, and ethical concerns are identified and considered.   

• Diets: Through enhancements to the Terp Farm and Campus Pantry, students expand their role in growing food for campus and ensure no person on campus goes hungry. Leftovers, surplus, and food donations are available, without the current stigmas and barriers to access. Food available to students through these programs, as well as through the Farmer’s Market, dining halls and retail locations are healthy, safe, affordable, diverse, culturally appropriate, environmentally friendly - and most importantly, delicious. 

• Economics: By leveraging the powers of community, technology, and policy, we ensure higher education, and a student’s basic needs while pursuing their studies, is affordable and attainable. Concurrently, the vibrant food system on campus and related innovations will spur investment to sustain the University’s vision and build financial stability for our students upon graduation. This financial success will be shared throughout local communities and wherever Terps, current or alum, live and work.  

Culture: Through our ability to integrate across the campus, we will leverage the incredible power of the multicultural community of the university on and off campus. Due to our successes, UMD is a better community resource and an even greater hub for international students, faculty, and research fostering the capacity of all to improve the food system.    

Policy: The changes at UMD are shared and replicated at other institutions through strong networks such as the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, Cool Food Pledge, and the National Association of College and University Food Services. Policies that promote taste, human health, and a healthier planet in the higher education sector lead to food system transformation, inform local, state, and national policy, and nourish future leaders and innovators. Graduates, staff, and faculty from UMD are leaders in setting informed and holistic policies for 2050 and beyond.        

There are so many shared values to celebrate and honor in the work ahead: regeneration, resilience, equity, diversity, healthfulness and interconnectedness. Paramount, as an educational and research institution, UMD is committed to educating the next generation of global leaders. Our students and their futures, whether in 2020 or 2050, are the most important outcome of our efforts.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Website
  • Prize partners
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Attachments (5)

2 - cool food pledge.pdf

Published by the World Resources Institute Technical Note About the Cool Food Pledge

Quinoa For Breakfast It's Good For The Environment, University Of Maryland Says WAMU Article.pdf

America University Radio WAMU 88.5 Article / Cool Food Pledge

Food Access and Well Being Study at UMD.pdf

UMD Food Access & Student Well-being Study More Information:


Join the conversation:

Photo of Richard Waite

This is a delicious and sustainable vision for the year 2050! It's been great being at World Resources Institute and collaborating with University of Maryland as the first university signatory of the Cool Food Pledge. It's been a pleasure coming to campus to interact with students, dining staff, and faculty as you think through strategies to achieve and surpass the -25% greenhouse gas reduction target while continuously improving food offerings. Good luck with the prize!

Photo of Lydia Newell Cross Nicholson

Thank you for being such a wonderful partner and helping us surpass our goals!

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