Like every college freshman, Felicia Ramallo was looking to make friends.

At the same time, though, she wanted to make a mark on campus.

That’s when Ramallo, a Food Studies and Nutrition Science major at Syracuse University, found BrainFeeders.

BrainFeeders logoBrainFeeders is a student organization designed to change the quality of food on campus by establishing long-lasting food access and justice programs that actively promote a more sustainable food system.

The group achieves this by engaging local farmers, increasing transparency of issues within the food system and empowering peers to be more involved in food choices on campus.

“I felt that this club had the potential to tackle global problems, starting right here in New York,” said Ramallo, who will be a sophomore at the University this fall.

A year in and BrainFeeders is already showing the kind of potential it has.

Through a partnership with Common Thread Farms, the organization brought a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to campus. The program gives students and faculty the opportunity to order a weekly box of vegetables that can be picked up on campus at Huntington Beard Crouse Hall during the fall semester.

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Last spring BrainFeeders brought its first speaker to SU’s campus, art activist Favianna Rodriguez (top middle). (Photo courtesy of BrainFeeders).

BrainFeeders is also working on providing free transportation to the CNY Regional Market on Saturdays.

“I believe that the initiatives implemented by BrainFeeders have actually had a positive impact on campus even in such a short time,” said William Cecio, a Food Studies major and president of BrainFeeders. “BrainFeeders is only going into its second year as an organization and many students and faculty know a lot about us and what we do. I think the awareness of food and food issues on campus has raised a little due to our CSA.”

The organization was created in 2015 by co-founders Lindsay De May and Imelda Rodriguez. The two were taking a class on “The Human Right to Adequate Food and Nutrition” and learned to view food as a human right, while simultaneously discovering how the quality of food served on university campuses isn’t enforced.

BrainFeeders is open to any members of SU or SUNY ESF. It acts as an educational resource to students with any questions regarding the University’s food system, all while striving to empower and facilitate students to get more involved with local food systems withing the city of Syracuse.

Since last fall, BrainFeeders has been working on getting a cafe in Schine Dining, one the main food courts on campus, that sources food regionally and creates delicious meals.

“I would say this cafe in Schine Dining – as well as a future Student Farmworker Alliance (SFA) – is most important because not only would we be bringing in good food to SU students and economically supporting the region, but we will be completing the job that the original creators of BrainFeeders helped start,” Cecio said.

Much like Ramallo, Cecio wanted to make his mark on campus.

He wanted to do more than just learn in a classroom, he wanted to take the knowledge he gained and try to apply it to issues on SU’s campus and in the Syracuse neighborhood as a whole. He also wanted to meet some like-minded people.

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(From left to right) William Cecio, Lindsay De May, Imelda Rodriguez and Evelyn Burgess. (Photo courtesy of BrainFeeders).

That’s why Cecio joined BrainFeeders. He wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem.

In fact, the SFA has been his idea for quite some time.

Because BrainFeeders will be focusing on its CSA and a cafe in Schine Dining this fall, Cecio is hoping to get a SFA to campus by next spring.

“I’m still figuring out the details of what our SFA would work on,” Cecio said, “but it would fall along the lines of raising awareness of farm labor issues, bringing speakers who specialize in farm labor or have worked in the fields and working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (mainly tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida) as well as the Workers’ Center of Central New York to try and make a local impact.”

But, as BrainFeeders has seen, its initiatives on campus have already had a huge impact.

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Photos courtesy of BrainFeeders.

“Through our initiatives and projects, so many people have been exposed to what we are learning and it makes me so happy to see hundreds of people replying to surveys or signing up for our emails,” Ramallo said. “To me, that’s a large step for a club that has only been on campus for a year.

“I have seen a growing interest in local and ethical food. Everyone I talk to about our CSA or our cafe is immediately intrigued. They want to sign up.”

The organization not only has had an impact on SU’s campus, but on those who are involved firsthand with the group’s initiatives.

“Since being a part of BrainFeeders I’ve been able to see how food really brings people together and builds relationships,” Cecio said. “I’ve gained some great friends in the club and have met many other people interested in food through our CSA program and other initiatives. Food has become much more important to me, not just as an academic field or a source of energy, but also as a way to change people’s lives, including my own.”

Budget Dumpster is your community-focused source for a dumpster rental in SyracuseThis is part of a series of articles shining a spotlight on organizations making a difference in the communities we service. If you know of another great organization, let us know in the comments!

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