Sarah Archibald, BSc (AgEngSc)’12, is one of the lucky few who find their path early in life and then tread forward on it with fierce determination.
A childhood spent in reverence of nature led Archibald to pursue a degree in the International Agriculture and Food Systems program in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at McGill’s Macdonald Campus. Inspired by her professors, she has become a mover and shaker on campus, helping to revolutionize campus food and dining through the McGill Food Systems Project (MFSP).
Archibald’s efforts to promote more sustainable food purchasing and healthier food options have not gone unnoticed. In 2011, she received McGill’s Catalyst Award for Student Collaboration with Administration in recognition of her efforts with the MFSP. Most recently, she earned the prestigious McGill Alumni Association Gretta Chambers Student Leadership Award.
We caught up with the recent graduate as she discussed her time at McGill and how it has shaped her and inspired her to embark on a career advocating for sustainability and for making changes that have a real impact.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself, and how you came to study at McGill
A. I am from Toronto and, after graduating from high school, I was lucky enough to attend United World College at Pearson College in Victoria, BC. I studied peacekeeping with students from over 100 other countries, and it was there that I really cultivated a lot of my environmental beliefs. When I learned about the programs [in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences] at McGill, I was happy to discover I could keep learning more about the things I was so passionate about, it was a natural choice.
Q. What led you to be interested in issues of environmentalism and sustainability?
A. Studying at Macdonald Campus confirmed a lot of values I already held, and helped me figure out how I could pursue those values. I’ve been so inspired by my time there, and by the city of Montreal. I’ve been interested in peace ever since I was a kid, from spending time in the forest, and spending my summers in nature. I grew to have a great respect for nature, people’s interaction with it, and how simple life can be. Sustainability is about humans and nature and where they intersect, and that’s where my interests lie.
Q. What is the McGill Food Systems Project, and how have you been involved in it?
A. The McGill Food Systems Project (MFSP) is a student-led, multi-stakeholder initiative that facilitates ideas and practices to create a food system we can all be proud to be a part of. I’ve been an active member since 2009, and have been a coordinator from 2010 until present. As coordinator, I facilitate discussions between chefs [from McGill Food and Dining Services], senior administrators, and students. Through our discussions we are able to find solutions to promote more sustainable food purchasing, healthier food options, and increased consumer awareness.
We also leverage student research from classes in the Department of Geography, The Desautels Faculty of Management and the School of Environment. In fact, in Environment 401 (Environmental Research), for the final class project, students do research that we can use directly in our project. For example, they recently researched sustainable seafood, and that helped us make changes so that our campus is in the process of becoming Marine Stewardship certified.
Q. What other changes have been put into place by this project?
A. The changes are mainly seen in residence dining halls. Five days per month are Local Food Days. Vendors from the surrounding area bring in their products, from cheese to maple syrup. Everything is local, direct-sourced from farms, and we ensure everything is labeled clearly to indicate the source.
There is also a very strong relationship now between Macdonald Campus Food and Dining Services and Mac’s own Horticultural program. I would say the main impact has been that $40,000-$60,000 per year is now spent on food directly produced on Macdonald campus, only 40 kilometres away from our downtown campus.
It’s been through relationships and having meals and discussions together—actually sitting down with farmers and chefs and senior administrators—that this has happened. It’s been a huge collective effort, and there have been over 30 students involved as volunteers. I would estimate that between 5,000 and 10,000 students have been impacted by this project, particularly by participating in the Local Food Days.
Q. How have your experiences at McGill shaped your approach to sustainability?
A. My time here has had a huge effect on me. First and foremost, it’s been the inspiring teachers at Macdonald Campus. The small classes, applied research, and practical issues we tackle have been wonderful. We’ve been able to actually make changes through our research, which is great. There have also been amazing speakers and conferences, such as the Global Food Security Conference, which I was fortunate enough to participate in. Also, the office of Sustainability includes students in its efforts to help shape the future of McGill.
Q. What projects/initiatives are you most proud of?
In addition to the MFSP, I’m proud of the work I’ve done through an internship with Local Food Plus, linking sustainable producers with institutional purchasers. My role has been helping to create more transparency and building relationships within the food system at McGill.
Q. What are some tips you’d like to share for other people looking to promote sustainability?
A. The number one thing is to make it a collective effort. Get ideas out there to make sure you’re creating meaningful change. Meaningful change is not only in its effect, but also in the experience you have while creating it. When participating in it, something changes you, affects who you become, and inspires you to do more, that’s meaningful change on a personal level. Experience gained along the way is just as important as the end goal. Also, your actions should meet your values. If you want a better world, show people what you think that is.
Q. Now that, you’ve graduated, what’s next for you?
A. I’ll be spending the summer in Rome, at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, which is so exciting. I’ll also be starting a biodiversity blog, and writing about my thoughts and research on all things related to the environment and sustainability there. While I’m in Italy, I plan to conduct interviews with non-governmental organizations, to learn from their practices as well.