Friday, September 7, 2012

Meet Alyssa Neill: President of Slow Foods URI

Ladies and Gentleman of the Freshmen Class of 2016, please stop all that you are doing to close your eyes and imagine the last time you ate something orgasmic? Can you? If you answered, “yeah dude, my Oreo cookie,” please know that you are in for a treat!

I'm a third year nutrition and dietetics student on track to get my RD. I cook too much. I enjoy running, doing heated power yoga, and riding my bike as much as possible. Oh, and I love to eat. Here's the thing: I only eat food with integrity—food that tastes good, is grown near my home in a sustainable environment, and benefits those who grew it. I've been part of Slow Food URI for four semesters, serving as the president for half of them.

So, back to the treat I promised you all! Every Tuesday, from September 11th (yes, that’s right—starting THIS Tuesday!) until October 30th, 11:00am to 3:00pm, Slow Food URI is hosting a Local Food Market on the Quad (You know, that big field at the center of the campus. Yes, that one!). At the market, Rhode Island's best vendors will be selling tacos, wood fired pizza, sustainably harvested cold brewed coffee, fresh baked breads and pastries, apples, tomatoes and corn, plus lots of other LOCAL specialties. SO, bring some cash, a friend, and your appetite and let Slow Food URI serve you some mind-blowing treats.

If you're interested in Slow Food URI there are a whole lot of ways you can get in touch with us: Follow us on Twitter @SlowFoodURI, email us at, come introduce yourself on Tuesday at the market or email me at

Hope to see you all on the quad!

Oh, and here’s Slow Food USA's news story about URI’s Farmers Market:

“One Secret to Community Building: Really Good Street Food”
By Deirdra Stockmann, formerly of Slow Food Huron Valley (MI)

Slow Food URI Farmers Market

What does it take to grow a small Slow Food on Campus chapter into the go-to organization for all things local food-related at the university? In the case of Slow Food University of Rhode Island, it takes dedicated, energetic student leaders who make the most of partnership opportunities, and who know the way to college students’ hearts: really good street food.

Alyssa Neill is passionate about food. As a teenager, she kept a garden and chickens in her backyard and worked at a health food store in her hometown. A rising college junior and nutrition and dietetics major, Neill hopes to put food at the center of her career. “I believe that food is medicine,” she said in a recent interview squeezed in between final exams and term papers. Through her work, she wants to help others celebrate the pleasure and healing powers of good food.

When Neill enrolled at the University of Rhode Island in 2010, she was thrilled to learn that the campus had a Slow Food chapter. She was familiar with Slow Food’s mission and eager to join the movement. But upon arriving at a Slow Food URI meeting, she was disappointed to find it a small organization with low visibility on campus. The few events they planned each semester were sparsely attended.

Neill continued to attend the meetings. Soon, she was planning them. Today, she is the president of the chapter. Over the last two years, Neill and a growing group of Slow Food URI leaders have worked to raise awareness and enthusiasm for local and sustainable food across campus. “This year has been really exciting as people start to recognize who Slow Food is, we've gotten a good response from the whole campus community. People email and ask about how they can get involved.” This spring, the faculty coordinators of a high profile honors colloquium on campus approached Slow Food URI about partnering on a weekly series of events in the coming fall.

How did this transformation come about in a couple of years? The student group started a garden on campus where they host occasional grilled pizza parties and they organize a food and sustainability film series. These events attract a few dozen participants each. But one event in the fall of 2011 catapulted Slow Food URI to a new level of campus visibility.

The big break came with the opportunity, and the responsibility, to organize a one-day local food fair as part of a “sustainability module” based on the book No Impact Man. The book, written by Colin Beavan, was selected as the “common reading” assignment for first year students. In conjunction with the book, an interdisciplinary committee of students, faculty and staff planned seven weeks of films, lectures, tours and fairs for students to further explore many dimensions of environmentally sustainable living.

Slow Food URI

Slow Food URI organized the local food fair during Local Food and Agriculture Awareness week. Neill sent out dozens of emails and visited area farmers markets to recruit vendors to the local food fair. It took a lot of time and a lot of patience. Only a handful of vendors were willing to take the risk and time to do a one-day, first time event. Tallulah’s “farm to taco” mobile cart and Bravo Wood Fired Pizza anchored the food fair. Both vendors feature vegetables, meat and dairy from Rhode Island farmers and artisans. Their enthusiasm, willingness to work with students, and delicious food made the event a hit.

Word traveled fast around campus about the delicious tacos and baked-on-site pizza available on the Quad. In a few hours, the vendors sold out. “We saw food do exactly what it is supposed to do, create community and awareness,” Neill said, noting that the enthusiastic response of the students was her favorite part of the event. Bringing local food to campus in well-prepared, ready-to-eat form was just the way to lure students, many of whom don’t have cooking facilities or refrigerators in their dorm rooms.

The fair was such a success that the Slow Food URI leaders were encouraged to establish a more regular local food market on campus. This past spring, they organized several events featuring the popular taco, pizza and coffee vendors, as well as a few farmers selling fresh microgreens and mushrooms. The produce offerings attracted more staff and faculty to the market. One professor requested that the event become weekly so he could do most of his produce shopping there. Through the market, Neill said, “we're introducing students to the local food movement, whereas with the staff, we're encouraging a behavior that they already do or would like to do.” The market has begun to attract the off-campus community as well. One day, a local elementary school made a field trip out of it; 100 kids enjoyed their picnic lunches on the URI Quad while college students lined up for tacos and pizza.

Many more farmers will sell a wider variety of fresh produce at Slow Food URI markets this fall. The group will coordinate the markets with the honors colloquium, a weekly public lecture series. This year’s colloquium theme is Health Care Change? Health, Politics and Money. “We wanted the Farmer's Markets to be held on the same day as the Colloquium to extend the themes into the entire day. We are hoping that some of the vendors from the Market will supply us with healthy refreshments for the evening instead of the usual cookies,” nursing professor Mary Cloud said.

The partnership with the colloquium will help address one of the main challenges Slow Food URI faced this year: publicity. Organizing farmers markets is a lot of work, especially on top of full-time student responsibilities, and the small organization found it difficult to get the word out about the markets on campus let alone in the surrounding residential community. In exchange for the Slow Food chapter organizing markets on lecture nights, the honors colloquium will include the markets in their broad public promotion.

Working with the Slow Food URI farmers market has helped Alyssa Neill think about life after college: “I have always been interested in nutrition, but I guess my idea of what nutrition is has definitely morphed as far as the time I have put into the markets and watching people eat and watching people react to different kinds of foods. … Watching people come together around local food has inspired me to want to study a holistic diet and food cultures.”

As a Slow Food USA chapter, Slow Food University of Rhode Island provides opportunities for neighbors and citizens to build community through enjoyment of and dialogue about our food system and culture. As a Slow Food on Campus chapter, the URI group goes beyond, it creates transformative opportunities for young leaders to shape their future, and ours.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Meet Norly Germain, URI Visiting Research Scholar

Haiti: 31 months after the quake, 400,000 people still live in makeshift camps.

Whenever world news organizations mention Haiti in news reports, it seems as if it is only to focus on the newest catastrophe whether a natural disaster or political turmoil. After the earthquake of January 12, 2010 struck Port au Prince and killed more than 230,000 people and left 1.5 million people homeless, Haiti became the number one topic in national and international news. This attention lasted for about two months and then Haiti disappeared off the news pages. Lots of attention and support were pledged on behalf of Haiti, but the population still struggles to survive and to have roofs above their heads. Billions of dollars have been raised in the name of Haiti while the population cannot satisfy even their basic needs. Who could believe that 31 months after the quake, 400,000 people still live under tents in makeshift camps despite all the international aid that has been brought or sent to Haiti as well as the presence of more than 12,000 non-governmental organizations (better known as NGOs) on the ground?

During my recent trip to Haiti, I was surprised to see how slowly the effort to re-build the country has gone. Millions of dollars are spent in building temporary housing, which are not secure enough to protect the population against seasonal hurricanes and storms. Anarchic houses are built over and over again despite the authorities’ prohibition. In addition, the Haitian people still need to deal with basic life difficulties since food and water continue to be a luxury and there continues to be electricity and transportation problems. While education is provided sparingly, I noticed an increase of health care facilities in the country and road constructions. There also seems to be a better communication and understanding between the government and the population. To encourage the Haitian authorities and the international community to effectively rebuild the country and to help the earthquake victims to finally live a decent life, Haiti needs to be part of the international news on a daily basis. The Haitian people’s voices need to be heard. The same problems still exist and the people's needs and their expectations should be satisfied.

Norly Germain is a Haitian citizen who received a B.A. and M.A. in Industrial Engineering in Haiti and in France. Norly is now working on his PhD at the University of Metz in France and is a visiting research scholar at URI. The goal of his work is to propose a system of healthcare infrastructure for Haiti to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates, which are the highest in the western hemisphere. Along with Professor Roger LeBrun, Norly will take part in the URI Diversity Week panel on Thursday, October 4 from 12:30 to 1:45pm to talk about Haiti beyond the scope of Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains.

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