Oyster River Sustainability Groups Host First Community Dinner Since Covid-19

     For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oyster River community was able to come together for a locally sourced community dinner.

     On Thursday, February 2, 2023, a community dinner, which was put together by the Oyster River Cooperative School District (ORCSD) Sustainability Committee and the Oyster River High School (ORHS) Sustainability Club, hosted over 250 people in the ORHS cafeteria from 5 pm to 6 :30 pm. The locally sourced spaghetti dinner also included a presentation from the Sustainability Club, and booths from local sustainability groups.

     The Sustainability Club began planning the community dinner after some of its members attended the Youth Climate Leaders Academy (YCLA) in December. Here, Chloe Hawkes (’23), a senior at ORHS and member of the Sustainability Club, felt inspired to focus more on food waste within the Oyster River community. “At YCLA, it became really apparent through workshopping and mind mapping that one element that hadn’t really been examined yet was the input side of food waste throughout our school district, and the sustainability of our food.” So, along with others, Hawkes began to look deeper into the issues of food waste within the high school, and saw the community dinner as a way to bring awareness to this issue.

     According to Jon Bromley, a science teacher at ORHS and the advisor of the Sustainability Club, the conversation surrounding restarting the community dinner came naturally between the two main groups involved. “[The Sustainability Committee] started wondering about a community dinner at the same time as the sustainability club, so some of our members began attending the district level meetings, and it really turned into this very serendipitous, organic conversation around trying to do a community dinner again.”

     Doris Demers, the Director of Child Nutrition Programs for ORCSD, coordinated the food aspects of the dinner, with the hope of showing the community how good school lunches can be at Oyster River. “We wanted to do a community dinner because a lot of people, parents included, think about school meals as what they had when they were in school. This event has definitely changed those thoughts, and I think it helps people to appreciate what we’re doing for their kids and feel more inclined to let their kids eat at school knowing that we bring in fresh, locally sourced food.” Demers believes events like the community dinner help shift the bias against school lunches, encouraging others to participate in the lunch program alongside their peers.  

     Bromley feels that the collaboration in organizing the event helped to make it as successful as it was. “[When working together], everyone had their little niche, and it all came together. It was easy. It wasn’t stressful…everything was pretty evenly distributed, and I feel like that led to the success of having over 200 people show up from the community.”

     Micheline Hagan, a community member who attended the dinner, thought the dinner was wonderful. “I was surprised by how well attended it was, but it was really nice to see so many people of all ages coming together, especially after the pandemic.”

     With such a large number of community members who attended this dinner, Hawkes and Bromley both hope that this will inspire others to be more conscious about their food waste and overall sustainable practices.

     “I think things like this are a great way to inspire individual household action,” said Hawkes. “I think one of the greatest takeaways for people is that it’s okay to be contributing on a smaller scale…one of the goals of this community dinner was to show people that they aren’t in it alone in making those smaller differences, and together, we could make a larger impact.”

     Bromley reiterated this. “It was a success in terms of just a community night, because when you build that community, you build connection, and the shared ownership of something which can makes hard things, like sustainability and climate change, easier to work through…it reminds you that you’re not alone, but part of a group, and community.” This sense of community is something that many people value, so being able to foster that within the topic of sustainability has been a huge success for Oyster River.

     On top of community building, Hagan feels these events are important for making change within our district. “I think it’s events like these that really make a difference. When you have communities and groups who are encouraging you to make these conscious changes, like sustainability, and reminding you of them, I think it helps all of us change our habits and change our culture.”

     While sustainability and food waste are huge topics to tackle, there is hope that this community dinner was a step in the right direction, and that with the success of it, they will be able to hold more community dinners in the near future.

     “I think this dinner was a starting point,” said Bromley. “I think it will help to start a theme of acknowledging, respecting, elevating, and drawing attention to people who are doing work within the food systems world and the ways in which we can be more sustainable within our food sources.”

     By bringing attention to food waste, Hawkes hopes the dinner will help to push our district in the direction of overall awareness and action in terms of sustainability within our schools.

     “I think that it’s going to be a very long journey to make Oyster River sustainable, and specifically in terms of food waste, but we are moving in the right direction. A lot more needs to be done in terms of student outreach and the overall culture that we are forming as a district surrounding sustainability, including curriculum and how we can begin involving students with sustainable practices at a young age, but this is definitely a move in the right direction.”

– Sarah Laliberte