Case Study: Colby-Sawyer College

Stacey Purslow, NH Farm to School Program; UNH

Student-Led Initiatives Result in Campus Partnerships for Local Food Sourcing


In spring 2012 students at Colby-Sawyer College started a petition aimed at increasing the amount of local food purchased by the institution’s dining services. Students obtained 734 signatures over two days, presented the petition to administrators and then helped launch a successful, multi-year collaborative effort to achieve the goal that 20% of the food served on campus come from within a 100 mile radius. In Fall 2013, the College reached their goal of 20%, and exceeded it in April 2014 with a high of 25.7% of their food budget that month going to local items. They plan to continue to meet and exceed the 20% goal in moving forward. Sodexo has worked closely with the campus community and with partners like Black River Producer in order to access local foods for the campus.


Name: Colby-Sawyer College
Foodservice Type: Sodexo
Primary Distributor: PFG Northcenter with substantial purchasing from Black River Produce
Location: New London, NH
Local Defined As: within 100-mile radius
Local Food Percentage Goal: 20% of overall food purchases and beyond
Daily # (Weekday) Meals Served: 1,850
Daily # (Weekend) Meals Served: 1,000
Annual Student Meals Served: 51,000
Overall Food Budget: $1,000,000
Overall Local Food Allocation as of Spring 2014: >$200,000


Garrett Dunnells ’15 emerged from an Environmental Issues course taught by Professor Laura Alexander at Colby-Sawyer College with a newfound perspective and motivation. He had learned that traditional agribusiness supplies food to the masses, but not without far-reaching, and sometimes negative, consequences. He also discovered that fresh local food tastes better, can have higher nutritional content, supports a strong local economy and comes with a lower environmental impact. Garrett was determined to get more of that for himself and his peers.

He organized a student-led petition, brought that petition forward to administrators and worked with the college’s Director of Sustainability to initiate a campus-wide conversation about regional agriculture. Sodexo’s Executive Chef Henry Doyle partnered with Black River Produce to begin to explore product options available within the 100 mile radius introduced by students. During the process the college hosted several gatherings that brought together vendors, food service companies, institutions, distributors and advocates to expand the conversation and explore solutions.

And, over time, students’ plates began to feature more and more local chicken, pork, beef, soymilk, butter, bread, milk, yogurt, cage-free eggs and produce. And, by the end of the fall semester of 2013, Garrett and his fellow students saw their goal of 20% come to fruition. The next step for Colby-Sawyer in fall 2014 is to open a “hyperlocal” café and pub featuring some food and beverages grown and brewed by students, and also originating from within an even smaller radius, with a goal to make prices competitive while featuring as many local ingredients as possible.

Local Food Purchases


Our biggest challenges came from defining what “local” really means, identifying local vendors able to provide adequate and consistent volumes, addressing liability and distribution issues with smaller producers and working within our existing budget as we “compete” with national markets and subsidies.


To determine our percentage of local food purchased, Sodexo’s Local Food Tracker spreadsheet is being utilized to record the dollar amount spent on regional (100-mile radius) versus national purchases. Organic, fair trade and other “sustainable” non-local purchases by the college are not included in this percentage. Coca-Cola is excluded from the overall metrics, however, students and the Sustainability Office are actively engaged in conversations with Coke to better understand their role in the food system and the local economy.


This project demonstrated how student-driven initiatives work best at Colby-Sawyer, and in this case it was a great example of a student-led initiative that led to a partnership with several “champions” at Colby-Sawyer, at Sodexo, and with the local distributor. The small size of Colby Sawyer also helped them to be flexible and nimble, whereas larger institutions may find it more challenging to change their purchasing as quickly. Larger institutions, however, will likely have more leverage when it comes to pricing and the difference between national products versus local products. The Dining team learned how important it is to have a reliable source and quantity of product from the local farms in order to do any direct purchasing, and that working with a distributor like Black River can help in providing the consistency needed if the partnerships with local farms do not always work out as planned.


Sustainable Dining at Colby-Sawyer >
Local Food Initiative at Colby Sawyer >
NH Farm to College/FINE Event at Colby-Sawyer >
Sustainable Food Purchasing Policy Guide > 
Bennington Sustainable Food Project >


Farm to College Project Manager: Riley Neugebauer,
Farm to College Project New Hampshire Lead: Stacey Purslow,
Case Study Contact: Jennifer White, Director of Sustainability, Colby-Sawyer College,

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