Posted February 2, 2015
Local Foods in Dining Services
Special thanks to Cheryl Lacey and Christine Schwartz of Bates College for the assistance in preparing this case study.
In 2008, Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, kicked off a campus-wide initiative called “Nourishing Body and Mind: Bates Contemplates Food” to explore why a strong and healthy food culture was critical to their educational mission. This was inspired by the opening of the new dining commons and supported by a major gift supporting the use of organic, natural and farm-fresh foods.
This initiative explored the full range of issues related to food cultures and it included special lectures, research, discussions and many special meals and events. As Bates’ President Elaine Hansen said in November 2008, “Food and eating touch every aspect of living together in community. What we eat, how we grow and harvest and prepare it, whether we eat alone or we eat with people — in all these choices we’re expressing something about our identity and our culture. And we’re learning something every time we eat, whether we know it or not.”
The food theme provided a chance for the college to discuss food access and justice issues and consider the way that the Bates food story has an impact on the community and the state. Some events, such as the lecture offered by Michael Pollan, were so popular that they were offered more than once to accommodate all of the interest.
This year-long, campus-wide initiative supported by the new Dining Commons and the generous gift substantially increased procurement of Maine products. Dining Services at Bates College now purchases directly from 32 local suppliers, from another 50 providers through their prime vendors, and also uses products from their campus garden. Together, these provide about 30% of their total food purchases.
Bates College purchases food from the following local farms and producers:
Green Bee Soda
North Atlantic Seafood
Coffee By Design
E.W. Mailhot Sausage
Sam’s Italian Bakery
Lots to Gardens
White Oak Farms
Cold Spring Ranch
Gifford’s Ice Cream
Green Thumb Farms
Lowell Family Farms
Maine Seacoast Vegetables
The Apple Farm
Shain’s of Maine
Mac’s Kettle Corn
Belanger & Sons Farm
The Bates “Buy Local” push is complemented by changes in the dining culture at the new Dining Commons. The Commons is a learning center that encourages student learning and nudges them towards eating more fresh foods through diverse stations.
Other changes support sustainability and help address impacts on climate change. The building itself is highly efficient, self-ventilating (reducing electricity use) and all of the equipment is Energy Star rated. Gray water is recycled, and all food waste is collected and sent to a pig farmer. Paper products are unbleached and composted at a nearby farm which then supplies Bates ground crews with mulch. Water is served in pitchers not bottles, and other packaging is minimized. Used cooking oil is sold for biodiesel use. Overall, Bates feels that these green measures are not only the right thing to do, but that they also save money.
These changes and others earned Bates three stars from the Green Restaurant Association sustainability rating, joining only four other US colleges (and the only one in Maine). Click here to see their GRA rating. Director of Dining Services, Cheryl Lacey said, “We’re ecstatic. Dining has a huge impact on institutional sustainability. There’s so much potential for waste, and it really points out the fact that Dining Services needs to be part of the educational process.” Currently, Bates diverts 82% of its waste.
Christine Schwartz, former Dining Service director, and current Assistant Vice President for Dining, Conferences and Campus Events said, “One thing that’s near and dear to our hearts is that Bates is committed to being a self-operated dining service, which allows us to provide the services and the level of support that we have to the campus community. If decisions were made by a corporate office that knows nothing about the school, nothing about the people we’re serving, and doesn’t know who’s available for local producers, Dining Services would look totally different. Ultimately, contract feeders are there to make money. But a self-op is there to take care of the customers. So, why pay someone to do something you can do yourself while saving the money?”