Several universities have been successful in providing organic, locally grown foods on campus for students. Unfortunately, the University is neither the leader nor the best at this. We have been considering our school’s sustainability for decades, yet only East Quad’s dining hall provides local produce when the season permits. Sustainable food purchasing could expand with increased demand from students, so why aren’t you asking where your food comes from?

The University’s Integrated Assessment and the East Quad dining hall team have worked hard to have more than 50 percent of East Quad’s produce locally sourced. But this movement toward sustainable food could spread more rapidly to the seven remaining dining halls, retail cafes and convenience stores that Residential Dining Services operates if students were more vocal about consuming consciously.

East Quad’s sustainable dining success came after handling many challenges. These challenges included connecting with local farmers, confirming their sanitary practices, transporting food, adhering to University and food distribution services requirements, meeting student dietary needs, diversifying the menu, coping with the timeliness of growing seasons and addressing the corresponding additional costs. Such challenges deter the efforts of many universities across the nation that strive for more sustainable food procurement, especially larger schools like the University.

According to a 2005 New York Times article, the Berkeley College dining hall at Yale University serves organic, locally-grown meals because of Yale’s Sustainable Food Project. This program was so popular that students who didn’t live in Berkeley College were coming up with ways to gain access to the cafeteria. The project strives to support area farmers, provide organic, seasonal ingredients and promote environmentally friendly production methods. The Sustainable Food Project is staffed, sponsored and has published reference literature like sample menus and purchasing guidelines. Though the program has seen great success, it’s still challenged by the need to stock food out of its growing season and overcome additional costs.

Granted, Yale University enrolls far fewer students than the University of Michigan. But it bears similar challenges as a result of its location in the Northeast region. The rise in interest in providing sustainable foods has people searching for solutions to year-round production.

For example, “hoop houses” are covered growing houses that trap heat and water to extend growing seasons. On a recent field trip to Goetz Farm, a family farm in Riga, Michigan, I saw its newly constructed hoop houses that will provide beets, carrots and other produce to the University during the winter months.

Though the farm spans about 25 acres, the University only purchases about 2 percent of its production. By demanding that the University invest in bringing more local foods to campus, we can increase its availability and support local businesses like Goetz Farm. By supporting the local economy and reducing long-distance transportation, buying local could help schools to save money. Once these programs gain speed and improve their approaches, the additional costs faced by schools like Yale University could potentially be eliminated.

To mediate the challenge of providing a diverse menu year-round while satisfying students’ appetites, schools must spread awareness about local food production and growing seasons for fruits and vegetables. Such concepts are exemplified in local farmers’ markets, but at Cornell University, tasting events are organized to bring local farmers and Cornell University chefs together. This way, farmers and chefs can directly conduct business while establishing personal relationships.

And Emory University has even hired a “farmer liaison” to establish lines of communication between area farmers and the school. Besides informing the community about Emory University’s local food program, the liaison encourages farms to get organic certification. Making efforts known to the public and bringing local food venues to campus informs the public not only of local food availability and access but also of the people who are already making moves toward conscious consumption.

At times, students underestimate the weight of their opinions on campus. The University of Michigan constantly requests feedback from students, whether in teacher evaluation forms or e-mail surveys. Though the University has revamped its sustainability efforts with the newly-instituted Office of Sustainability and is working extensively to conduct an Integrated Assessment, there’s still a disconnect between student involvement and administrative efforts. With more student participation, student groups like Michigan Sustainable Food Initiative could have the same clout as Yale’s Sustainable Food Project. After all, you are what you eat, so start asking questions.

Emily Basham is an LSA junior.

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