Posted December 15, 2014
Affordable, Farm-Direct Local Foods Sourcing
UMASS-Amherst offers an example of high volume, affordable sourcing of locally grown foods purchased direct from a farmer who aggregates product from neighboring farms. Through this streamlined supply chain as well as purchases from traditional distributors and on-campus production, the University has increased local procurement within their produce budget to over 30%, and has signed onto the Real Food Challenge Commitment to reach 20% Real Food in their overall food spending by 2020. Success with the local foods program has fostered more opportunities – securing private foundation funds to expand the program and document the structure as a model for other campuses, solidifying student support for and participation in campus dining, and expanding key partnerships across campus and the surrounding community to institutionalize local foods procurement through administrative policy.
Institution Name: UMASS-Amherst
Institution Type: public
Foodservice Type: self-operating (the largest campus foodservice provider in the nation, serving more than 17,000 students on the meal plan)
Meals Served per Day: 45,000
Meals Served per Year: 5,000,000
Location: Amherst, MA
Proximity to Farmland: in the heart of Massachusetts’ prime agriculture land, whithin close proximity to large farms
UMass Amherst’s local food movement really began in 2004, when the Residential Dining Director at the time, Ken Toong, made it a priority to source fresh, nutritious, local produce for the Dining Commons. He identified Joe Czajkowski Farms, located two miles from campus, as a consistent and reliable partner to provide produce for the campus each year. Joe Czajakowski has been able to meet the increasing demand from UMASS over the years, scaling up his operations as demand from the institution grew. In 2004, UMass Dining sourced 13% local produce. By 2013, this figure has more than doubled to 30% of their $2.6 million produce budget.
Over time Joe Czajakowski expanded his network by partnering with a contingency of farmers in the Pioneer Valley, supplementing the yield from his 300-acre farm whenever his supply alone could not meet UMass Dining’s demand. In this way, Czajakowski’s farm operates as a local aggregation and distribution center for UMass. His team handles the supply chain logistics in-house and ships UMass’s produce orders together. Among other benefits, this measure cuts down on fuel emissions from transportation and decreased traffic in the campus loading docks, making it more feasible to source this volume of local food.
By 2010, Toong began his new position as Executive Director of UMass Auxiliary Enterprises – the parent organization of UMass Dining. Under his leadership, Toong applied his dedication to healthful, local food to UMass Auxiliary, identifying sustainability and wellness as major priorities. In addition to sourcing local produce, UMass Dining also sourced 100% cage-free, heirloom eggs from Pete and Gerry’s farm in New Hampshire, maple syrup from the North Hadley Sugar Shack in a neighboring town, free range turkey from Diemand Ranch 20 miles from campus, and honey from Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield, MA. Ken also fortified a strong working relationship with the Student Farming Enterprise at UMASS and Cold Springs Orchard.
UMass Dining’s reputation for a forward-thinking local food program also led to a partnership with the Henry P. Kendall Foundation and a subsequent grant award of $485,000 to implement the “UMass Healthy and Sustainable Food System Initiative.” This initiative will build on their existing work by renovating their dining facility to reflect more of their focus on sustainability, health, and wellness; enhance and expand their annual permaculture conference; and increase the focus on using local, whole and environmentally sustainable foods in campus meal planning at the nation’s largest gathering of college chefs, the Chef’s Culinary Conference, organized by Toong; and do all of this while aiming to provide a defensible and cost effective example for other campuses to follow.
The passionate and knowledgeable Dining Services sustainability team works with culinary and dining staff to new creative meals that promote a balanced diet using local, healthy, and sustainably-grown foods. The revised seasonable menu includes recipes that leverage world cuisines to entice students to try new foods and to help them permanently adopt a healthier diet.
Redesigned meals consist of more local and sustainable seafood, animal protein from farms where humane treatment is a priority, plant-based proteins, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fresh beverages. The campus is reducing consumption of red meat, processed and fatty foods, corn syrup, and sodium. This makes the food not only more sustainable but also much healthier for the students. Dining Services uses various strategies to eliminate waste and find cost efficiencies (e.g. use vegetable trimmings for stock) to offset any additional costs for sourcing local food.
Since January 2014, as a part of the UMass Healthy and Sustainable Food System Initiative, the campus has identified sources for regional, free-range chicken and local underutilized fish species that serve as edible, tasty and nutritious substitutes for overfished species. Each month Dining Services plans to highlight a local food item in order to ensure that their work is visible and understood by the students.
Student engagement is one of the defining characteristics of the UMass local food movement. In recent years, efforts have attracted top student candidates and cutting-edge thinkers which has led to growing student activism around local, healthy, sustainable food systems. In 2010, a passionate group of students proposed a unique project for UMass Dining: to design and build edible, ecological landscapes right on campus in the form of replicable and affordable permaculture gardens. The project has resulted in the production of over one thousand pounds of organic produce on campus, and additional beds being added. As a result of further student-staff collaborations, UMass chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy signed on to the Real Food Campus Commitment in May 2013. This commits UMass to sourcing at least 20% Real Food by 2020. Real food is defined as ecologically sound, community based, fair trade, and/or humanely raised. Students ran the baseline purchasing audit demonstrating that UMass spent $1.8 million on Real Food in FY13 alone, which puts the campus at an estimated 8% Real Food currently.
1) Local food can be affordable food.
In fact, some local food items are priced at or below the distributor prices for similar items that are not local. For example, Joe Czajakowski Farm’s produce is priced comparably with produce from FreshPoint, the main produce distributor for the campus. UMass also purchases medium-sized, cage-free eggs from Pete and Gerry’s (rather than large-sized, a more popular item) in order to obtain a more affordable price. UMASS will also begin purchasing whole birds or quarter cuts when sourcing local, free-range chicken and process in-house to keep the costs competitive with larger, national chicken vendors.
2) Relationships are key.
Through the campus local food initiatives, UMass Amherst learned the importance of building personal relationships with knowledgeable community members and stakeholders. Campus departments such as the UMass Agriculture Extension and organizations like Community Involved in Supporting Agriculture, Farm to Institution New England, and Massachusetts Farm to School are invaluable resources. Further, the campus relies on the enthusiasm and expertise of students performing research into local food systems. By inviting students to the discussion, local food programs are more effective and representative of students’ interests.