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Dickinson College Study-abroad Students Volunteer at Leading-Edge London Nonprofits

Dickinson students studying abroad in London volunteer at Refettorio Felix, the London branch of the global nonprofit Food for Soul.

Dickinson students studying abroad in London volunteer at Refettorio Felix, the London branch of the global nonprofit Food for Soul.

Students get up-close view of innovative approaches to food insecurity, sustainable food systems

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

As the global population grows and as mainstream food systems take an environmental toll, it’s a challenge to provide healthy food to everyone, and to do it in sustainable ways. Some of the world’s brightest minds are on the case, and this fall, 17 Dickinson study-abroad students got to see some of their good work in action. The students even lent a hand.

The students had just arrived in London for their fall semester abroad through the Dickinson-in-England program and were enrolled in a three-week, dynamic introductory course, taught by Dickinson professors, that included visits to significant historical and cultural sites around London. Humanities majors explored the theme of London as a sustainable city under direction of Professor of Theatre Karen Lordi-Kirkham, while the science majors learned about the history of science in London under Professor of Psychology Marie Helweg-Larsen.

Collaborating with Associate Director of Donor Relations Nancy Beatty Edlin, a global volunteer, both tracks of students embarked on a three-day civic engagement project, working at two London nonprofits that take sustainable and cutting-edge approaches to food insecurity issues.

Food for the soul

Dickinson students studying abroad in London volunteered at Refettorio Felix, the local branch of the global nonprofit Food for Soul.

Dickinson students studying abroad in London volunteered at Refettorio Felix, the local branch of the global nonprofit Food for Soul.

Refettorio Felix, the London branch of the global nonprofit Food for Soul, uses surplus food to prepare no-waste, chef-inspired hot meals for people in need. Founded by chef/activist Massimo Bottura, the organization is committed not only to providing delicious, healthy and zero-waste meals but also to serving those meals in a pleasant atmosphere that inspires community-building. As the students served meals at Refettorio Felix, they had a chance to interact with volunteers and patrons alike.

“Just seeing people smiling, engaging and sharing their fascinating stories made [working at the Refettorio] the favorite of my experiences during my three weeks in London,” said Muhammad Burhan ’21 (mathematicscomputer science and pre-health).

“I’ve volunteered at food pantries before, but Refettorio Felix felt different. Adults of all ages and dispositions talked as they sipped their coffee,” added Jonah Skeen ’21 (philosophy). “And the food was some of the best I had my entire time in London. It had all of the flavor of cuisine from a great restaurant but also had the charm of a home cooked meal.”

Local and weatherproof

Dickinson students studying abroad in London tour Growing Underground.

Dickinson students studying abroad in London tour Growing Underground, an underground farm that uses hydroponic and LED technologies to produce fresh, locally sourced microgreens in 7,000-square-foot tunnels formerly used as bomb shelters.

The students also got a close-up view of sustainable food systems as they toured London’s first underground farm. Growing Underground uses hydroponic and LED technologies to produce fresh, locally sourced microgreens in 7,000-square-foot tunnels formerly used as bomb shelters. Because the tunnels are underground, the crops can grow year-round, and in all kinds of weather.

And after touring the tunnels, the students volunteered at a food bank, City Harvest, which redistributes surplus food, including Growing Underground’s sustainably grown, locally sourced food. 

Experiences like these can have lasting effects. As they see and experience creative solutions to pressing issues in action and as they gain context to frame their time abroad, the students also learn about what it means to give back, and how that feels. A new crop of students will have that opportunity next fall, since Dickinson was invited to return to Refettorio Felix next year.

Speaking of his time there, Skeen said he was grateful for the opportunity. “If I am ever lucky enough to live in London, I plan to go back to Refettorio Felix,” he said.

TAKE THE NEXT STEPS

Published October 22, 2019