2008 PFIG Recipient Whitney Newton

Career Administrator

Whitney Newton
School of Engineering & Applied Sciences
Civil & Environmental Engineering
2009 Graduation Year

Internship: Jefferson Area Board for Aging in Charlottesville, VA 

Notes on the first week 

On Monday I began my internship with Charlottesville and Jefferson Area Board on Aging (JABA) Community Food System. This organization is working to make a more comprehensive local food network in Charlottesville and surrounding areas. Currently, they are attempting to extend the well-established private local food movement in place at the farmer’s market, in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, and in area restaurants and grocery stores to also include institutions such as senior meal centers and food banks, possibly public schools and educational institutions. As an intern, I will be researching existing programs at institutions such as colleges and universities throughout the nation in order to gather information that will facilitate the integration of such institutions into Charlottesville’s program.

My first week began with a meeting for the Community Food System program held at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. The meeting brought together local and regional farmers, professors of the University of Virginia from the schools of Urban and Environmental Planning and Business, the regional director of surrounding food banks, the director of dining services at the University of Virginia, the director for sustainability at Darden Business School, members of dining services at other universities such and Washington and Lee and Virginia Tech, and several other community members interested and invested in a local food network serving larger institutions. The meeting served as a forefront to discuss efforts in the Shenandoah Valley with the existing produce auction, and to continue discussion about the points of a community food system project in Charlottesville with regard to tackling issues of transportation, distribution, demands, collaboration, community needs for value-added products, technology and business development. After the meeting my advisor, who also serves as the project director, and I met with two students interested in learning more and possibly helping out with the community food cause. Finally, my advisor and I were able to discus my objectives for the week – specifically contacting and gathering information about university sustainable and local food systems existing throughout the country.

Like my first day, this week has been full of meeting new people excited about the project. It has also been a week full of learning. I have contacted and researched the local and sustainable food programs of several communities, colleges and universities. Each program is unique to its own set of values and circumstances, which reinforces the fact that sustainability is deeply rooted in context and a result of a complex interaction of many parts.

As I continue to look at existing local food models at institutions of higher learning, I hope to set up connections with other students interested in this cause throughout the nation and here an the University of Virginia. Also, I would like to visit these institutions to learn more and make stronger connections. I hope to end my internship with valuable material to pass on the institutions, such as the University of Virginia, that will show the benefits of a local food system as an integral component of education that is both feasible and advantageous.

Midway 

Over the past couple of weeks, my internship with the Charlottesville Community Food System Project has become even more rewarding and enlightening. I began by compiling a document of case studies following colleges and universities that use sustainable food programs in their dining halls and food centers. This project required a lot of research through website searching and phone conversations with program directors across the nation. Each new contact gave me more information to explore. I quickly learned that there are too many organizations supporting sustainable food programs to adequately capture each model. Instead, I was able to create general categories to classify different types of programs and I then highlighted general best practices, thus creating a document that could be used as a guide while also flexible to an organization’s specific circumstances. Perhaps as my journaling portrays, I do struggle with writing, specifically technical writing. This first major task opened my eyes to the many sustainable dining endeavors across the US, but it also allowed me to practice and, hopefully, better my writing skills. 

After completing a solid working draft of case studies, I moved on to what I call my connections project. Scaling back from a national focus to a more local one, I have been working on a series of diagrams illustrating the complex networking of local and sustainable food initiatives in Albemarle County . Specifically, I created a general outline of each initiative in the county, connecting partners, projects and resulting policy. After meeting with my program director, Mr. Halvorson-Taylor, we discussed making this general diagram much more thorough by creating several sub-diagrams that explore the different partners and projects in depth. Currently, I am working to complete a diagram of every initiative related to the University of Virginia . This has lead to several meetings with other students, faculty and professors and has opened my eyes to many projects that I did not know about. 

Aside from opening my eyes to all of the projects, this new assignment has put me in touch with several new contacts. In fact, as I continue my internship, I am amazed at how many new people it leads me to meet. The enthusiasm of these people only strengthens my own excitement for the cause and public service endeavors in general. This, more than anything, helps keep me motivated. 

As I look towards the second half of my internship, I really hope to forge even more connections locally and maybe even regionally and nationally. I also hope to finish my diagram outlining the local and sustainable food action at UVA and continue to expand other diagrams illustrating connections of the many partners involved from producers to retailers and organizations and those in-between. With this, I plan to make a map of the five-county district, highlighting the location of local food sources. In general, I hope to create meaningful tools that may be used to facilitate connections and therefore the spread of a local food network. I certainly have my work cut out for me over the next month, but I look forward to giving the best that I can.

Final Reflections

Since my last entry, my project changed from investigating the connections and initiatives with local and sustainable food programs in the Charlottesville area to creating an online hub to let others learn about these connections and initiatives. Not knowing much about web design, I took a couple of courses and I have been able to create a website that acts as a bulletin board linking to publications, books, and other resources about local foods in Charlottesville and in general. Currently, the site is on my public space on the university’s server as we are still looking for a server. 

Overall, my experience with the Charlottesville Community Food System Project has been extremely rewarding. My research and input seemed to flow very naturally from larger and more general scale analysis to zooming in on the connections in Charlottesville and then taking what I learned from the larger scale and making suggestions and resources available to more people in Charlottesville through the website. The internship has taught me the power of communication and its importance in creating long lasting and meaningful projects. From the beginning, I learned that research through publications, the Internet and books, while helpful, are not nearly as enlightening as talking to knowledgeable people. As a student, I often find myself studying and doing assignments alone and getting past this idea was a challenge at first but this internship has taught me that in the work place it is always better to connect with others involved. 

As my internship comes to an end, I am happy to know that I have learned a lot this summer. The people I have met and the things they have taught me will stay with me as I try to pursue other goals. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work for and learn more about a cause that I care about deeply – connecting communities through better physical, emotional and environmental health. Above all, I hope to always invest in a career that is equally rewarding and enlightening. I now know that anyone can do what he or she wants to do – just be proactive.