There is no standard definition of “local” when it comes to food. Some people choose to use a specific distance like 150 or 250 miles, while others have a more general notion of local using natural or political regions. All these definitions have one thing in common, however, and that is that people increasingly care where there food comes from. Despite the lack of a common definition, there is growing interest on college and university campuses in eating more locally produced food. The reasons for this interest go well beyond freshness and taste. Health, environmental stewardship, local economic development, saving family farms and food security are all concerns tied to support for the development of local food systems.
Why this is a Campus/Community Partnership
The purchasing power of institutions like colleges and universities can have a tremendous impact on local economies. Buying locally supports community economic development by increasing the “multiplier effect” – the recirculation of local dollars, capturing some of the money that otherwise would leave the community. Institutional commitment to locally produced food promotes sustainable economic development because it represents a consistent, stable market for local producers. The education (and feeding) of students is not likely to be outsourced overseas anytime soon. For an in-depth analysis of the tremendous economic development potential of local food systems see Ken Meter’s groundbreaking study, “Finding Food in Farm Country.”
Economic development is not the only reason why colleges and universities need to promote a better understanding of food systems. The concept of “food security” is also linked to public health, poverty, social justice and many other indicators of community well being. The Community Food Security Coalition’s, Farm to College currently has about 100 participating campuses nationwide. The activities these campuses are involved in transcend the mere purchase and consumption of food. Campuses are also using the study of local food systems across the curriculum as a means of understanding social, environmental and business concepts.
According to the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s, “College Sustainability Report Card“, more than two thirds of colleges devote at least a portion of their food budgets to buying from local farms or producers, and more than one third buy from a local dairy.
A Sample of Local Foods Activity on Minnesota Campuses
Local food is not just a concern on small, rural campuses. In fact, the most publicized local food initiative in the country might be Yale University’s Sustainable Food Project. Minnesota campuses with local food projects and programs at various states of development include: Macalester College, Minnesota State University Moorhead, Northwestern College, St. Cloud State University, St. John’s University, St. Olaf College, University of Minnesota Crookston, University of Minnesota Twin Cities and University of Minnesota Morris.
According to a survey by the Princeton Review, St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota has the third best food among the nation’s colleges and universities. It isn’t coincidental that St. Olaf is currently sourcing about 1/4 of its food-service offerings from within 150 miles of campus.
St. Olaf College dining services, operated by food service provider Bon Appétit Management Company, has also agreed to purchase all of the produce grown by its student-run organic garden. Farm to Fork is a Bon Appétit company-wide initiative to buy locally. The first choice is to purchase seasonal, regional and organic produce from local farmers and artisan producers within a 150-mile radius. These local products are served within 48 hours of harvest. The company also runs the food service operations at Northwestern College and Macalester College in Minnesota.
The University of Minnesota (UMM), Morris is a founding partner in the Pride of the Prairie Local Foods Initiative. The Initiative’s mission is to “promote the production and use of locally grown food and develop a regional food system in western Minnesota that provides good, nutritious food, nurtures a healthy environment, and provides economic opportunity for area entrepreneurs.” In 2001 UMM administrators re-bid the campus dining services management contract and asked the next management company to commit to serving more locally produced foods. In its request for proposals UMM stated: “The Contractor shall give first preference to products purchased from community based family farmers (to include organic produce) when the product meets menu requirements and price expectations.” Sodexho Campus Services, the nation’s largest provider of campus dining services was selected to manage UMM’s dining and catering. Sodexho has worked with the University to identify ways to support local suppliers, and especially, local family owned farms. The company is also providing leadership in bringing local foods to other campuses in Minnesota and the Midwest – in partnership with Food Alliance Midwest.
According to a University of Minnesota publication, the Twin Cities campus spent $1.7 million on locally produced and sustainably grown foods in 2006. University Dining Services is trying to buy more vegetables from the school’s student-run organic farm, and cheese and ice cream from the U’s Dairy Food Products department.
Students at Carleton College run a small organic garden, buy from and contribute to a nearby co-op and, above all else, want fellow students to understand the ramifications of their purchasing decisions. Students involved in the Carleton student group Food Truth want to make sure students are aware of the benefits of eating locally. Carleton buys from 15 to 20 local farmers and producers and its dining service buys grass-fed meat, according to the sustainability report card.
In addition to serving more than 2,000 meals per month, the Campus Kitchen project at Augsburg College has also responded to community members’ interest in growing and accessing additional healthy food by sponsoring an organic community garden on campus, as well as a community supported agriculture farm membership program. The project and its partner organizations also offer gardening and cooking classes with neighborhood youth, and host a West Bank Farmers Market.
St. Cloud State University‘s Community Garden was the outgrowth of a “Politics of Food” course. SCSU has set aside land and has dedicated some funds to cover the costs of tools and other start-up needs. Although the garden is connected to the SCSU, the vision is to use the garden to foster and build bridges between the university and larger community and to create a space where people can participate in planting, growing, and harvesting our own food.
For more information on campuses and local foods check out the following resources:
- Community Food Security Coalition’s Farm to College Program
- The Center for Food & Justice
- FoodRoutes’ Farm to College
- Pride of the Prairie
- Finding Food in Farm Country
- College Food Project (WI)
- University of Northern Iowa Local Food Project
- Yale Sustainable Food Project