A Statewide Conference Focuses on Advancing the Use of Local Foods on Campuses

January 31, 2012

By Toni Nelson, ACUPCC Program Director, Second Nature

On January 20, 2012, the University of Louisville hosted the Farm to Campus Conference: Exploring the farm-to-food service connection, along with Louisville Farm to Table and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

The University of Louisville’s efforts to bring locally sourced food to campus have been featured in both The ACUPCC Implementer newsletter and in last year’s webinar presented with their food service provider Sodexo: “Farm to Campus: The Successes and Challenges of Sourcing Local and Sustainable Food.” Mitchell Payne, Associate Vice President Business Affairs, spearheaded these activities and was instrumental in organizing the Farm to Campus Conference and obtaining a grant to fund it, so that not only was registration for the approximately 100 attendees free, but we were also treated to a locally sourced luncheon with speaker Mary Berry Smith, Executive Director of The Berry Center and daughter of Kentucky writer and activist Wendell Berry.

Vice President Payne outlined his motivations for promoting local food at the University of Louisville based on three key benefits; buying local food: 1) fosters economic development; 2) reduces an institution’s carbon footprint; and 3) tastes better and is healthy.  He emphasized the important of leadership from the top, along with creating a shared process across campus that engages all members of the campus community, including faculty, staff, students, and the local community.  It is also important to set measurable goals – in the case of U of L, those goals are contractual, legal goals established in 2008 when Sodexo became their food service provider.  This is the only Sodexo contract in the U.S. with a specific percentage (15%) of local food purchases specified.  In the last two years the school has exceeded that amount, purchasing approximately 24% locally.

The school defines local food as coming from within a 250 mile radius, and as part of their educational outreach they have posted maps in the dining facilities to show students where their food was purchased and create a personal connection for them with what they’re eating.  Students learn about the program during orientation, and the Health Promotion Program is available to teach them basic skills such as how to shop at grocery stores and cook their own food.  As the program’s director Karen Newton noted, some of the students at the U of L now represent the third generation in their families that don’t cook, and she related the story of one student who was surprised to learn in her class that chickens have bones.

An interesting voice at the conference was that of the food distributors, as an important concern is the need to ensure that local food meets all required safety standards.  U of L actively works with vendors to help them meet these requirements, and distributors are increasingly focused on procuring local food.  Jeremy Melloan, of the Louisville office of Sysco, made the announcement that – after hearing customers clamor for the last 2-3 years – Sysco is going to get on board with the local food movement in the next 60-90 days, with an announcement to be forthcoming.  By the end of 2012, he expects ten percent of the 9000 items they stock to be purchased in Kentucky.

Speakers came from as far away as the University of Montana and Yale, although the preponderance were representatives of colleges, government agencies, and food distributors in Kentucky.  Ian Fitch, the Farm to College Coordinator at the University of Montana, shared that UM defines local as within the state, and that 100 percent of the beef served on campus is grassfed and local.  UM focuses on creating fun events for students, like the annual Fall Feastival: Celebrating Montana’s Food Cycle event, where local farmers, ranchers and food producers supply 99 percent of menu items on that day.

Other recommendations that I took away from the conference included:

  • There are several strategies to address food seasonality issues, including having university kitchens preserve produce in the summer and fall (Sodexo representative Christy Cook included a video from the University of California Davis on this topic in her presentation);
  • Adapt dining menus to accommodate produce that is available locally during that season;
  • Consider a local buying policy for landscaping plants and decorations;
  • Partner with marketing classes and business schools on class projects to promote local foods; and
  • Local food is a popular topic with the media and is a good way to get your campus sustainability efforts highlighted.

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