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Push for local food in your school cafeteria

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Getting your school cafeteria to serve local food at least some of the time takes perseverance and patience. There are many schools to look to for examples, providing a variety of models, and several organizations that can help you through the actual process.

How to push for (and succeed in getting!) local food served in your school cafeteria

According to surveys completed before December 2005, the most effective way to succeed in bringing local food to your college cafeteria is to build a relationship amongst key players.[1] These key players include:

  • Your school's food services or dining services personnel.
  • The food services' management company.
  • Administrators at your college or university who can get the change underway.
  • The farmers themselves who can provide your cafeteria with the food you're looking for.

Other successful and effective ways of starting a farm-to-college program at an institution include:

  • Promoting your goal extensively.
  • Engaging students in workshops, information sessions, and fun activities involving a local food theme.
  • Starting small and then persevering, being patient with the process. Understand that a thick bureaucracy isn't going to change its ways overnight.
  • Forming a supportive planning committee, made up of other interested and committed students along with relevant staff and faculty.
  • Institutionalizing the purchase of locally produced food by integrating a requirement into dining contracts.

Some of the most common obstacles to sourcing food locally in college cafeterias have been cited as being:[2]

  • Coordinating the purchase/delivery of products.
  • Finding growers and/or a local product supply.
  • The increased price of local food.
  • The availability of enough products.

Give extra thought and energy to these challenges, as a little foresight will take you a long way.

Find it! Resources to help you bring local food to your cafeteria

Schools that eat locally

The following institutions are just a small sampling of the many schools where students nosh on locally produced foods.

Kalamazoo College: Kalamazoo, MI

Student Holly Anderson was awarded the Howard R. Swearer Student Humanitarian Award from Campus Compact for her commitment to bringing the local food movement to her college campus. Spurred by a class project, she went on to establish Farms to Kalamazoo College (Farms2K) to raise awareness about local food issues in her own community. The group provided a foundation to eventually offer local food at the college cafeteria as well as in Kalamazoo's public schools. The group was pleasantly surprised at the positive response and interest they gleaned from the greater student body, faculty, and staff.

Iowa State University: Ames, IA

The menu at Iowa State University's collegiate mess halls feature different locally produced foods on a monthly basis. Serving local food (we ain't just talking corn) helps ISU Dining contribute to the university's mission to "create, share, and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place."[3] The program strives to educate the university community about organics and local food issues, as well as build strong ties with the surrounding community in an effort to establish a healthy regional environment. They aim to eventually purchase 35 percent of their food supply from organic, local, and sustainable growers.

Columbia University: New York, NY

The Columbia University Food Sustainability Project is a student-led initiative that's committed to working with Columbia Dining to support a more sustainable environment, economy, and way of living. The group began by bringing local food to the school's dining rooms and continues discussing food issues on their blog. Columbia's dining services department started small with New York-produced apples and milk in Spring 2005. They soon expanded to serve tofu, potatoes, eggs, and carrots from local sources. The group launched the initiative with a local food panel including farmers who were involved in growing the food that was served.

Pushing for local food in your school cafeteria helps you go green because...

  • You are making your eco-friendly preferences known to the powers that be.
  • Choosing local food decreases the average distance from field to fork, thereby keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere.
  • It supports local, small-scale farmers whose businesses are at risk due to competition from industrialized farms.

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the number of farmers in the US has been steadily declining since the 1930s, while the average acreage of farms has increased.[4] Smaller, family-owned farms are going out of business faster than you can say "More peas, please", contributing to the deterioration of rural communities.[5] In the US, two acres of farmland are lost to expanding cities' and suburbs' development projects every minute.[6] By sourcing food locally, you help support these smaller businesses, diversifying our food production and increasing overall food security. You also help to preserve open space and American farmland at the same time.

On average, produce in the United States travels about 1,000 miles before it hits the supermarket. Ninety percent of that produce is transported by truck.[7] In fact, shipping produce accounted for about 1 percent of total American freight trucking in 2002.[8] Transporting produce by truck produces more emissions than other methods, such as by ship or train.[9]

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