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Sustaining, Serving and Educating a Community

January 7, 2016

Luther College in Decorah is home to great minds developing innovative solutions to make communities better, and in the case of the Cafeteria (CAF) to Community project, more sustainable.

"We recognize how much food in this country goes to waste, and we are trying to find ways to get the food produced in excess here at Luther to people who can use it," said Maren Beard, sustainable foods educator at Luther.

To make that happen, Luther dining services prepares the excess food and students working the CAF to Community program package and deliver it to their community partner, First Lutheran Church food pantry.

"We thought we could do more. Rather than having this food go to the compost pile, or worse, we wanted to find a way to make it usable for other people," Maren said. "It's good food, we buy a lot of local food here at Luther. It's scratch cooked with very minimal ingredients and we try to limit preservatives and additives that are going into the food."

The program has been a success, delivering 16,000 pounds of nutritious food since its inception in November 2013, but the CAF to Community team wanted to make it financially sustainable as well. Thanks to a grant from the Winneshiek County Community Foundation, a CFNEIA affiliate, they were able to purchase 1,140 reusable containers to do just that.

While CAF to Community is about sustainability at its heart, it is also about the connection between students and community. Students work side-by-side with community volunteers, creating relationships and developing an awareness of local food insecurity.

"Working with CAF to Community has inspired me to care about what happens to food and has made me aware of the local community's needs," said Kristina Johnson, a freshman at Luther.

CAF to Community is an inspiring example of pushing future leaders to think beyond themselves and nurturing innovative minds to solve social issues.

"I think the students find pretty deep meaning in the work," said Maren. "Whenever we are part of a program that's helping feed people it makes us more aware that a lot of people in this world don't have enough."