North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is Boston’s first higher edu­ca­tion insti­tu­tion to join the Real Food Chal­lenge, a national cam­paign through which col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties pledge to pur­chase at least 20 per­cent of their food from local, fair, and sus­tain­able sources by 2020. Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun recently broke the news via Twitter.

The Real Food Challenge—which began as an inde­pen­dent, self-​​funded pro­gram of The Food Project, a Boston-​​based non­profit organization—strives to har­ness the power of youth and uni­ver­si­ties to build a healthy, fair, and green food economy.

Northeastern’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Real Food Chal­lenge con­tinues its long­standing com­mit­ment to sus­tain­ability and Dining Ser­vices’ green ini­tia­tives. Two of the seven 3-​​Star Cer­ti­fied Green Restau­rants in Mass­a­chu­setts are located on campus: the Inter­na­tional Vil­lage Dining Hall and Peet’s Coffee and Jamba Juice. North­eastern is also the first col­lege or uni­ver­sity in the nation to earn both the 3-​​Star Cer­ti­fied Green Restau­rant dis­tinc­tion and LEED Gold Status. The university’s “Com­post Here” pro­gram annu­ally turns food waste into nearly 700 tons of com­post and dining Ser­vices offered more than 165,000 pounds of locally grown pro­duce during the 2011-​​12 aca­d­emic year.

North­eastern will launch its Real Food effort this fall, begin­ning with a pilot pro­gram at the Inter­na­tional Vil­lage dining hall. A small group of stu­dents will work along­side Dining Ser­vices staff to ana­lyze food pur­chase invoices over a one-​​month period using a tool called the Real Food Cal­cu­lator. The cal­cu­lator breaks down “real food” into four cat­e­gories: local– and com­mu­nity based, fair, eco­log­i­cally sound, and humane.

Dining Ser­vices and stu­dents will examine the results, pro­vide the uni­ver­sity with rec­om­men­da­tions for adopting a com­pre­hen­sive “real food” policy, and for­mu­late a multi-​​year action plan for working toward its adoption.

We’re thrilled about this com­mit­ment. It takes all the work we’ve been doing on sus­tain­ability to a whole new level,” said Mau­reen Tim­mons, director of dining ser­vices at North­eastern. “We give the stu­dents a lot of credit for their com­mit­ment to the issue and for working so closely with us.”

Uni­ver­sity offi­cials have been dis­cussing the move­ment with stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions for sev­eral months, including Slow Food NU and the Pro­gres­sive Stu­dent Alliance. Tim­mons said the stu­dents’ ded­i­ca­tion to the issue led to the university’s deci­sion to inte­grate the project into the cur­riculum this fall. Chris Bosso, a food policy expert and a pro­fessor in Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, will lead a credit-​​bearing course next semester geared toward Northeastern’s involve­ment in the movement.

Tricia Kiefer is one of a handful of stu­dents who has been closely involved in the cam­paign. Prior to grad­u­ating in May with a bach­elor of sci­ence in cul­tural anthro­pology, she worked on co-​​op at the Real Food Chal­lenge, stoking nation­wide stu­dent involve­ment in the project. When Kiefer returned to campus, she joined other North­eastern stu­dents in for­mu­lating their pro­posal to join the campaign.

Our cam­paign on campus has been really dynamic,” said Kiefer, who now works for the Real Food Chal­lenge. “The core group of stu­dents has worked hard this semester to unify stu­dents, staff, and the admin­is­tra­tion around this impor­tant common goal.”

Another stu­dent, Brooke Sheehan, a rising second-​​year envi­ron­mental studies major, got involved in the cam­paign after attending a Slow Food meeting. She said the initiative’s wide­spread stu­dent involve­ment piqued her interest.

People don’t always think about where their food is coming from and who is making it,” Sheehan said. “This has been an enlight­ening experience.”