The formor Hilltop Marketplace and future home of the food sovereignty lab on September 7 2020. Photo by Dakota Cox.

Students advocate for award-winning food sovereignty lab.

Awaiting approval from President Jackson, the food sovereignty lab is the first of its kind
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Awaiting approval from President Jackson, the food sovereignty lab is the first of its kind

After facing rejection multiple times from administration, the request to use the former Hilltop Marketplace as the location for an entirely student-lead food sovereignty lab is finally getting attention from the higher-ups.

Last semester, on the first day of class, professor of Indigenous Natural Resource Management Practices Cutcha Risling Baldy, posed students with two questions they would have the entire term to answer: first, what do you think HSU needs? Second, what do you think we can accomplish as a class in the semester?

The idea students came up with is a food sovereignty lab that could be used for academics, events and gatherings and it would be connected directly to food security. The food-lab would be the first of its kind available in all California Universities, possibly all colleges in the country.

Amanda McDonald is a leader of the Waste Reduction Resource Awareness Program at HSU and one of the student participants in the food-lab project. According to McDonald, food security is the number one student need across all CSU campuses. She feels our current food security program, OhSNAP! is a huge help, but students need more.

“The OhSNAP! student food pantry has done an outstanding job at helping meet basic student needs in the past two years, however, it is simply not enough,” McDonald said. “The Food Sovereignty Lab will work in tandem with organizations like OhSNAP! to address innovative solutions to food security, food sovereignty and sustainability. Through conducting research, writing grants and collaborating with community gardens in our region, the potential of this Lab has yet to even scratch the surface.”

The student-led project is backed by award-winning research. Carrie Tully is a graduate student in the environmental and community program at HSU and also one of the students that participated in the food sovereignty project.

“My classmate presented this research to the CSU research competition and our classes’ research was selected by the University to participate in the competition,” Tully said. “They won second place in the graduate level behavioral and social sciences field.”

The University’s initial decision to deny the space was especially frustrating after their achievement, considering they were selected by the University to participate in the competition.

“Our request was denied by the committee in a very casual email,” McDonald said.”

The University’s Space and Advisory committee’s response stated they believe the former Hilltop Marketplace would better serve as a general student space, accessible to all.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for local sustainability, food security and food sovereignty.”

Ted Hernandez

McDonald couldn’t make sense of the committee’s decision. The last use of the location was a marketplace, designed specifically for the purpose of putting food in the hands of students. McDonald and the others also envisioned the food-lab as a place that would be available to everyone – the diverse student-population, surrounding communities, tribal nations and national and international scholars. It would be a kitchen space that could be used for academics, events and gatherings.

“If they’re thinking it is better suited as a lounge, there is a lounge on every floor of the BSS,” McDonald said. “Or they can build a lounge on any part on campus.”

In response to the committee’s decision to deny the space request, there was a significant outcry of community support for the food sovereignty project, including over 80 letters received from students, staff, faculty, local organizations and members of tribal nations in a single week.

Wiyot Tribe Chairman, Ted Hernandez, is one of the many to have sent a letter supporting the project. In his letter, Hernandez explains how the food-lab would be especially beneficial to us now, given the pandemic.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for local sustainability, food security and food sovereignty,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez supports the food lab because it will benefit HSU, the local community and local tribes.

“The end result would be an interdisciplinary learning lab worthy of HSU that would both attract Indigenous people and students from out of the area,” Hernandez said. “While also serving the local Indigenous peoples by helping to preserve their food sovereignty and native food security.”

Students from NAS 331 presented their proposal to the Associated Students board of directors and the University Senate this summer. The former Hilltop Marketplace was approved to be used for the food sovereignty lab, May 28, by the University Space and Facilities Advisory Committee. Then again on July 19, by AS President Jeremiah Finley – suggesting it be adopted into the next HSU academic master plan.

The project is still currently awaiting approval from the President’s office, the Academic Master Plan group and Facilities Management. For now, it seems the COVID-19 pandemic has caused another roadblock in the project and the grand-opening of the food-lab is yet to be determined.

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