Summer workshop provides Miffitt with plenty of food for thought
KEENE, N.H. 7/26/12 – Did you ever wonder about the food on your plate? Set to start her junior season as a member of the Keene State College cross country and track teams, Kara Miffitt took some time out of her busy working and running schedule this summer to try to come up with some basic answers to a not-so-simple question.
Where did it all come from? Who grew it? How did they grow it?
With a shopping cart full of questions that provide a lot of food for thought, Miffitt, a nutrition major from Manchester, Conn., recently returned from a University of Vermont-sponsored Breakthrough Leaders Programs on Sustainable Food Systems. “I applied on a whim and never thought I’d be one of the 25 people accepted to the program,” said Miffitt. “Most of the attendees were from nonprofits and small businesses. I was one of the few students selected.”
Looking to complement her classroom studies with real-life experience, Miffitt set out to learn more about a sustainable food system, defined by the American Public Health Association (APHA) as one that provides healthy food to meet current food needs, while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can also provide food for generations to come with minimal negative impact to the environment. A sustainable food system also encourages local production and distribution infrastructures and makes nutritious food available, accessible, and affordable to all.
Although the program’s speaker list was long, impressive, and highly informative, Miffitt most enjoyed the local trips to farms and food hubs, where she had the opportunity to lace up her running shoes and meet some of the local farmers and workers who had firsthand knowledge about implementing and sustaining the system.
One of the trips took her to Intervale Center in Burlington, Vt. Founded in 1988, the Center has been dedicated to improving farm viability, promoting sustainable land use, and engaging the community in the food system. “It was really eye-opening to see the connection between the production, processing, and distribution of food,” said Miffitt. “We see food in the supermarket and don’t think twice about where it comes from.”
Miffitt also visited the Center’s Food Hub, which markets and distributes local vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, cheeses, and specialty products, creating a link between local farmers and the local marketplace.
Miffitt said the speakers at the conference touched on many relevant topics and concerns regarding food – tainted vegetables, genetically modified crops, increased rates of obesity, water contamination, topsoil loss, and the overuse of antibiotics in raising farms animals.
All the news isn’t negative. Miffitt was very impressed with the work of Stephen Ritz, a teacher and administrator from the South Bronx, who with the help of an extended student and community family has grown more than 25,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx while generating extraordinary academic performance. His speeches, including one entitled “From Crack to Cucumbers,” has gained him and his Green Bronx Machine a national following and an invitation to the White House garden.
A video on the Green Bronx Machine website explains his simple message. “If you plant a seed in the ground much as you do in their mind, you give it the right amount of nutrients, sun, and water and a whole lot of love, it will do just fine.”
Like many children growing up, Miffitt pestered her mother to include a tasty junk food treat in her lunchbox. “My mother would never buy that stuff because she thought it was junk,” Miffitt said. “When I started to run in high school, I realized I couldn’t eat crap and perform well.”
“Running is not so much a sport as it is a lifestyle,” said Miffitt. “It’s something that I want to do for the rest of my life. You can determine how good you are, depending on how hard you want to work.”
A highly talented runner at East Catholic High School in Manchester, Miffitt helped lead her Eagles cross country team to a third-place finish at the State Class M meet as a senior captain.
Miffitt has continued to follow a training course that includes running and good nutrition at Keene State. “I think running and nutrition go hand-and-hand,” she said. “As a college athlete, you have to be aware of what you put in your body.”
The summer program gave Miffitt an opportunity to digest several ideas and also altered the professional course she wants to pursue. “I always thought I wanted to be a registered nutritionist, but now I’m thinking about doing something that is less medical but more about wholesome and nutritious ways to promote good heath,” she said.
For Miffitt, the opportunity to attend the conference also reinforced the connection between food and performance. “Food is a celebration,” said Miffitt. “In our society so many people see food as something that makes them fat and don’t see it as something that is nourishing and important to their health.”