The Berkeley Student Food Collective builds community while upholding sustainable food practices.
by Nikita Bhasin
It’s two in the afternoon on a Wednesday and the Berkeley Student Food Collective is brimming with excitement. Students are lining up at the register, amidst a backdrop of colorful, fresh produce. Volunteers, clad in green aprons, are organizing a multitude of nut butters. A lively sense of community fills the air.
The small, chic, nonprofit food warehouse, located at a prime spot on Bancroft Way, is at its peak time now. Amidst the afternoon bustle, it’s clear that the Berkeley Student Food Collective, also known as BSFC or just The Collective, is cultivating an experience that goes beyond stocked shelves of healthy eats.
“We’re more than just a grocery store,” student volunteer Alex Penano says with an infectious smile, as she points to the quote displayed on the Food Collective’s front window.
Penano, a second-year undergraduate nutrition major, has been volunteering as a BSFC cashier for the past year.
“The collective is working towards upholding sustainable food practices – providing food that is not only affordable, but also healthy,” she explains.
She nods in excitement when prompted to elaborate on “sustainable food practices.”
“It’s so important to know where your food is coming from – that could include where it’s grown, how it’s grown, and who’s growing it. We educate people on what impact food practices can have on the environment.”
Sustainable agriculture has become increasingly important in the last two decades. The Farm Bill of 1990 lay the groundwork for the sustainable food practices of today by outlining the protocol for such practices. These guidelines range from setting fiber levels for foods, to enhancing the natural resource base, to promoting efficient use of nonrenewable resources. They are enhancing the quality of life for not only farmers, but also society as a whole.
Consumers are powerful. They can choose to support foods that are grown and made with sustainable processes, thereby contributing to a better climate for farm workers and the environment.
By educating customers on environmentally friendly practices and making nutritious foods accessible, the Food Collective is a major tool for UC Berkeley students to support sustainable food practices. Penano explains that one such practice the Food Collective adheres to is using locally sourced foods.
“Most of our food sold here is local, from Sun Ridge for bulk food, or United National Foods, Inc (UNFI) for packaged goods, which is based in Rocklin. By providing local produce, we’re reducing transportation carbon dioxide emissions and supporting farms and companies we know have humane conditions and safe practices.”
Some of the Food Collective’s other distributors, like Veritable Vegetables and Full Belly Farms, pride themselves in certified organic farming techniques. Penano mentions that other farms, like UNFI, invest in programs to combat pesticide drift, which may cause loss of organic certification, and focus on protecting the biodiversity of seed supply.
The Collective also prides itself in making food more accessible for students of all incomes, accepting EBT cards and Cal1Card.
“A lot of people think that eating healthy is expensive, but you have to know where to buy your stuff, and what kind of stuff to buy. We want to make this food affordable for everyone.”
To increase access to fresh produce the Collective partnered with the UC Berkeley Food Pantry located in Eshleman Hall, as well, donating produce bags so students have access to free fruits and vegetables twice a month. And the store prices specialty food items prepped by student volunteers on a sliding scale, so that customers can pay whatever they’re comfortable paying.
“I love being a part of the UC Berkeley Food Collective community and working to uphold and promote both sustainable food practices and affordability. Together, we really can change the way people think about food.”