‘Sustainable’ screening highlights environmental issues important to VCU

Illustration by Kayleigh Conroy

Katherine Noble, Contributing Writer

For Marty Travis, a seventh-generation farmer in central Illinois, selling local, sustainable produce isn’t just about the food. It’s about the relationships he fosters with members of the community.

As part of the Environmental Film Festival, VCU hosted a screening of the documentary “Sustainable.” The documentary follows the journey of Travis’ small farm and details how he engages his local community, bringing farmers and neighbors together with fresh food, land and profit margins. Travis transformed his family’s farm and partnered with local chefs to pioneer the sustainable food movement in Chicago. 

John Jones, a visiting scholar and assistant professor at VCU in the Center for Environmental Studies hosted the event. Jones also serves as part of the Sustainable Food Access Core at the Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry, and Innovation, or iCubed. 

Jones said they selected the film in part because iCubed has a team dedicated to sustainable food access. 

The iCubed team aims to promote sustainable, healthy food access within Richmond.

“Sustainable” follows Chicago’s journey striving for these same goals and emphasizes that action can start on small levels and work toward affecting greater change.

“VCU has a long way to go still. But we hope that the university and its students will be a part of this key moment for climate action and opportunities for advances in statewide policy on the environment.” — Moira Neve

“Here in the Midwest, you don’t see every little farming community, you know, bustling and being vibrant and surviving,” Travis said. “So many of the conventional folks, even in our community, they’re having a hard time telling their kids to stay on the farm.”

Travis saw an issue in his community and took steps to address it. He didn’t just focus on his own family’s farm but established a coalition of farmers called Stewards of the Land in 2005.

The Stewards get lists from local restaurants of what produce the restaurants would like to have. Then they allot those lists based on what each farmer would like to grow. The farmers work within the seasons and constraints of what their farms can grow, and the restaurants get fresh local produce.

The screening was followed by a panel of Richmond scholars who tackled the larger issues the film presented and focused on how VCU can work on sustainability.

“We [iCubed] are trying to increase discussions about sustainable food systems, healthy food systems and sustainable food access here at VCU, here within Richmond, across the state, and ultimately across the nation,” Jones said.

At VCU, some students are taking action to affect environmental change in their own lives, by becoming involved with student organizations or through personal choices. 

Elise Ketch, a communication arts senior, works at RamBikes, a bicycle rental service for VCU students, faculty and staff. 

“I started working there because a technician position was open and they were looking for someone with social media skills,” Ketch said. “Last year I opened a bike shop with my dad and ran the social media, so I had specific experience.”

In addition to rentals, RamBikes offers maintenance and assembly for bikes, workshops and clinics — free of charge for all VCU students, faculty and staff. The services involve students in practical, small-scale environmental action.

Ketch hopes VCU allocates more funding for sustainability initiatives in the future.

Moira Neve, the president of the Student Environmental Coalition at VCU, started the club because she felt there should be an inclusive and accessible space where students can practice social and political engagement, particularly in regards to environmental action.

One of the group’s goals is to connect students to other local environmental groups to create community. 

“VCU has a long way to go still,” Neve said. “But we hope that the university and its students will be a part of this key moment for climate action and opportunities for advances in statewide policy on the environment.”

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