By Simca Horwitz, Massachusetts Farm to School Project

Posted December 15, 2014

Case Studies

Case Study: Boston University

Using a Harvest of the Month Campaign to Increase Local Procurement

OVERVIEW

This case study illustrates the use of a specific local foods promotional campaign to increase procurement of select locally grown foods and to stimulate production of these crops by local farmers. This also demonstrates the use of frozen local produce and how a traditional produce distributor and a food processor can play a role in this local foods campaign.

INSTITUTION PROFILE

Institution Name: Boston University
Institution Type: private university
Institutional Foodservice Type: managed by Aramark (fee account)
Note: Boston University Dining Services serves 6.2 million meals a year from 3 residential dining halls, 1 kosher dining hall, 2 catering operations, 1 faculty dining room and 15 retail locations. 15,000 students participate in the Boston University meal plan.
Location: Boston, MA
Proximity to Farmland: dense, urban location, far from large farms

THE STORY

Boston University was one of nine universities and 117 public school districts that signed up to participate in the pilot year of Mass. Farm to School’s Harvest of the Month Campaign. This program asked participating institutions to commit to purchasing and featuring several local crops in their menus in exchange for technical assistance, recipes, and other resources. There was one crop featured each month for 6 months, beginning in September 2013 and ending in February 2014. The crops that were included were: tomatoes, pears, apples, kale, butternut squash, and carrots. Each institution agreed to serve the featured produce in their menus at least twice per month.

Boston University signed on to participate under the enthusiastic leadership of BU Dining’s Director of Sustainability, Sabrina Pashtan. Simca Horwitz of Mass. Farm to School, and also a member of FINE’s Farm to College Project, worked closely with Sabrina and BU’s existing produce distributor, Costa Fruit and Produce, to identify and source the target products. Because sourcing local products in the winter months can be challenging for distributors, Horwitz introduced the Western Mass. Food Processing Center to Costa in order to create an opportunity for more frozen local carrots to supply the institutional market. The Western Mass. Processing Center had identified several crops from local growers to process and freeze for distribution throughout the winter months. Carrots were chosen as the February Harvest of the Month Crop in large part to reflect the expected availability of frozen carrots. A food service management company had committed to purchase the majority of frozen products the Food Processing Center produced, but they did not purchase the full supply of carrots.

BU eventually purchased approximately 750 lbs of the frozen local carrots, serving them in some 6,000 student meals in 4 campus locations. The volume of local carrots that they utilized represented almost 15% of their overall carrot usage for the month. BU is now in communication with the Processing Center and the distributor to identify opportunities to source additional frozen local products for the 2014-2015 school year. The estimated demand will be conveyed by the Processing Center to farmers to evaluate opportunities for processing in fall 2014.

LESSONS LEARNED

1) Harvest of the Month facilitates local procurement

The Harvest of the Month campaign provided a clear means of communicating with the existing produce distributor about expected demand. The produce buyer was able to identify local/regional sources for all of the Harvest of the Month crops, even those they would not typically be sourcing at that time of year (i.e. local kale in December).

2) Customers can drive product availability

When frozen local carrots were requested by the client, the distributor quickly responded by contacting the Western Mass. Food Processing Center to work out distribution logistics. This transaction highlights the power of the client in requesting local product. When the client makes the request it is far more effective than the local food advocate encouraging the distributor to carry a product without a guarantee of sales.

3) Price and labor influence product receptivity

The frozen local product was priced significantly higher than conventionally available product and dining staff was accustomed to avoiding frozen produce due to concerns about quality and freshness. For these reasons, there was initial resistance to the purchase of frozen local carrots. However, when dining staff experienced the labor savings of the processed product, they were much more receptive to using the carrots.

4) Advanced planning facilitates availability

The distributor did not have significant advanced notice about the target Harvest of the Month crops. Some crops were identified from existing suppliers but were of lower quality than would normally be accepted. In the coming year, the products have been identified and vetted by the distributor to help ensure more consistent, quality supply.

RESOURCES

BU Sustainability >
Mass Farm to School, Harvest of the Month Program >
Mass Farm to School Carrot Recipe BU Carrot Recipes (coming soon!)
Green Mountain Farm to School Harvest of the Month Program >
Portland Public Schools Harvest of the Month Program >


CONTACTS

Farm to College Project Manager: Riley Neugebauer, [email protected]
Farm to College Project Massachusetts Lead: Simca Horwitz, [email protected]

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