By Simca Horwitz, Massachusetts Farm to School Project

Posted April 5, 2015

Events

Takeaways from NACUFS Northeast

Colleges in New England are Driving Local Food Procurement  

Photo Caption: Boston University Sustainability Coordinator Sabrina Pashtan highlights the major products they shifted to local and sustainable sources last year.

On a snowy day in mid-March in Rhode Island, FINE’s Farm to College team participated in the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) 2015 Northeast Regional Conference. NACUFS is the primary professional association for self-operated college dining services and offers a wonderful opportunity to connect with some true leaders in the field. 

FINE organized two presentations as a part of this gathering. The first was a Local Procurement Roundtable, which was developed in partnership with Tufts University and the Western Mass. Food Processing Center.  Nutrition/Marketing Specialist at Tufts, Julie Lampie, joined Food Business Development Specialist, Nico Lustig, of the Western Mass Processing Center and Simca Horwitz from FINE and Mass. Farm to School to offer the workshop.  It focused on the topic of collaboration as a tool for taking local procurement “to the next level.”   

The second presentation was a panel moderated by FINE Leadership Team member Kimberly Clark of Farm Fresh RI, and focused on the stories of two Maine campuses: the University of Maine and St. Joseph’s College. Glenn Taylor, Dining Director from UMaine and Stuart Leckie, General Manager of Pearson’s Café at St. Joseph’s College, highlighted the strategies they have used to increase local sourcing and menuing in their operations. 

Takeaways from the Local Procurement Roundtable

Many colleges in New England are at the forefront of the farm to college movement. Universities such as UMASS and Harvard have been purchasing local produce for years. But they aren’t ready to stop there. Many colleges, including Tufts, are struggling with how to move beyond this plateau and make considerable improvements in the volume of local foods they purchase.

The Local Food Roundtable workshop participants explored the role of collaboration across campuses to achieve this kind of significant increase in local procurement. Key questions we explored included:

  • How can institutions aggregate the demand for local product to shift the available supply?
  • How can institutions work together to pressure suppliers for better traceability of the products they purchase?
  • What forums are there for institutions to share their successes and learn from each other’s best practices?
  • How can FINE serve as a resource to make significant change in the local procurement landscape?

While the brief workshop didn’t answer all these questions, we began some great conversation about general strategies and very specific practices. We hope that many of the workshop participants will attend our upcoming Farm to Institution Summit where we expect to dig much deeper into several of these questions. In addition, the Farm to College day of the Summit will bring to the forefront the value of collaborative networks to make positive changes in the college dining.

Takeaways from the “Local Foods on the Menu in Maine” Session

Both the University of Maine and St. Joseph’s College have made significant progress in sourcing local foods and making it a part of the culture in their dining services operations. St. Joseph’s, as a small private school, has been able to place priority on local, fresh, and healthy foods under Stuart’s leadership, and this has allowed them to reach a percentage of over 40% local foods. Stuart serves just over 1,000 meals per day. The University of Maine is the flagship campus for the University System, and is the only campus with self-operated dining of the 7 campuses.  Glenn oversees this operation, serving over 8,000 meals each day. Glenn Taylor has developed a significant partnership with Lakeside Family Farm, which has increased their local foods purchasing in recent years, and he continues to make progress every year. 

Additional Key Highlights:

University of Maine

  • UMaine buys over $600,000 per year from Maine businesses, including beef, pork, milk, cheese, Maine seafood, apples, beets, blueberries, carrots, kale, tomatoes, and squash.
  • Fun Fact - 11,000 Maine beef hamburger patties were purchased in one month for all dining facilities. 
  • Through the Lakeside Farms partnership, Glenn now has a consistent supply of a few crops. This allowed him to build these crops into his inventory system, allowing individual dining hall managers to see these local items listed in their recipes and lists for ordering – allowing it to be more institutionalized from week to week.
  • Contracts and RFPs are providing an opportunity for UMaine to include language about local foods in order to have stronger partnerships with their vendors. 

St. Joseph’s College

  • The college was previously an account with Bon Appetit, but Stuart helped the College make the move towards becoming a self-operated dining facility.
  • They have a campus-based farm with a farm manager, which allows them to source many items when in-season.  
  • Pearson’s Café partners with a variety of local farmers both directly, and indirectly via their distributors. 
  • Stuart and his team work with local community agencies to package foods that are not used in dining for use in local food pantries. 

Closing

Session participants also were able to learn more about Farm Fresh Rhode Island and their programs, including Market Mobile, a cooperative delivery system that includes online ordering; Harvest Kitchen which provides culinary and allows for value-added production for farmers; Veggie Box, a subscription service for businesses who want access to local foods; and RI Farm to School efforts. 

Both of the sessions offered at NACUFS allowed for important information sharing and discussion about creating a more successful local foods program, the promotion of local foods leaders on campuses in our region, and encouragement for ongoing dialogue. FINE looks forward to ongoing opportunities to connect with NACUFS and other existing networks in our region to support farm to college efforts.