September 9, 2009 — Kendall Ann Singleton has returned to the University of Virginia to continue the work she started as a student.
Singleton, who graduated in 2007 with a degree in environmental science and environmental thought and practice, is the new sustainability coordinator for U.Va. Dining Services. She will be supporting initiatives that include using more local food, purchasing organic and fair trade products, reducing food waste and using reusable take-away containers.
"I will be furthering the sustainability initiatives already in place," she said. "I want to continue the momentum that has been built up and further our relationships with local farmers."
Singleton, 23, has been one of those farmers, spending a year working on an organic farm near Sperryville. Her education and range of experience will be an asset as she develops innovative ways to make Dining Services more environmentally responsible, according to executive chef Bryan Kelly.
"It is great to have someone who is wholly involved in sustainability," Kelly said. "She can take some of the ideas the students have come up with and drive them."
A founder of Green Dining, a student advisory group for Dining Services, Singleton was the driving force behind a 2006 food waste audit that became the basis for removing trays from the dining halls last year. Trayless dining has reduced wash water by a third and food waste by 25 percent. While it wasn't popular in a trial run in 2006, Singleton said students have now embraced and support trayless dining.
"The students saw the need of reducing our environmental footprint," she said. "They saw that everyone needs to do a little bit."
Singleton was also involved in other environmental efforts. In her fourth year, she conducted a lighting audit of select buildings on Grounds to determine their electric consumption. She wrote a thesis on composting food waste from the dining halls. Last year, a student-run demonstration project began composting 2.5 tons of food waste a week from Observatory Hill Dining Hall.
After graduating, Singleton stayed in the Charlottesville area, working some internships, and then moved on to the Sperryville farm, which sells its produce directly to consumers.
"It gave me a greater appreciation of what it takes to produce food," she said. "It's more than just a green thumb. You have to be able to read weather and operate equipment and you need to be savvy in business."
It gave her insights into the economic, environmental and social aspects of farming and buying food directly from the grower.
"The more I worked with it, the more I realized that growing food is community-building," she said. "It fosters relationships and creates a trust."
Her experience with food from field to table – and composting bin – will help her in her new job, Kelly said.
"It requires someone who is familiar with the food system, someone who can talk to the farmers, the distributors, who understands the liability issues," he said. "She can help write policies that will help the University, such as increasing local purchasing, and doing more with reusable and biodegradables."
Singleton's personal long-term goal is to have a homestead, be as self-sufficient as possible and maybe run a farm. She already has chickens in her backyard.
Singleton knew early in her days at U.Va. that she wanted to work on environmental issues. She had an epiphany on the first day of an urban planning class.
"I realized we were at the crossroads of the environment and how humans impact it," she said. "It becomes a matter of knowing how we fit in, with sustainability, the economy and the environment."