Quinn Molloy '13
Finding ways to get fresh food from local farms to lunch tables at area schools was at the heart of Quinn Molloy's Senior Seminar project for the Geography Department.
"People have really started to come to terms with the idea that investing in your agricultural community in your region can really have some wide ranging impacts," says Molloy, who graduated in 2013. "Farm to school initiatives are incredibly important, and not just for community development and economic development. Having food come from a place that you can physically see from a young age is makes a huge difference in how you think about food. And it can provide an important opportunity for farmers, as well."
With that in mind, she launched into a project that would find out the viability, cost and interest in getting food from local farms onto the shelves of area schools, including Keene State.
The project – overseen by Geography Professor Dr. Christopher Cusack – was part of the senior seminar course that Geography graduates must complete in the fall semester of their final year. In this course, students work in small groups on a community-based project.
These projects are coordinated with government agencies, non-profit organizations and businesses in Keene and communities throughout Southern New Hampshire. Each project involves intensive data collection, statistical analysis, and geographic visualizations that are presented in a professional report. While students consider these 'final projects' for the course, project partners find them to be valuable tools in their work.
Molloy and her team began the project by taking an inventory of local agriculture and how that could be implemented in the school system in Cheshire County.
"It started out as a social inventory of what exists already for agricultural infrastructure in the region and who's there to bridge the gap between schools and local farmers," Molloy says. "It can be a little tricky selling food at wholesale values when they are used to selling retail and being able to bump up the prices a little. Schools don't have huge budgets to work with, so there has to be a network in place."
In the course of the project, the team looked at what it would take for Keene State to get a percentage of their food from local farms, surveyed students to see if they'd be willing to pay a bit more if the food was fresh and local, and conducted a study of the agricultural potential for the region.
More than just a project, the students' work will be a key piece of information for Keene State officials as they continue to work on a Climate Change initiative, part of which entails getting 50 percent of the school's cafeteria food from local sources by 2015.
"Really what I learned from the Geography professors is that they really prepare students for the real world, 100 percent. Each of them has a PhD and 20 years of experience in the field, so they know what's necessary for us to learn," says Molloy, who is currently an Assistant Regional Planner for the Upper Valley Regional Planning Commission.
"Literally everything I ever did in the Geography Department is applicable to my career."