This is my classmate Audrey Buck’s paper on local food sourcing. We will be posting information about the documentary as soon as we have official permission after the meeting tomorrow!
Professor Jan Babcock
17 April 2016
Instituting Local Food Programs in Colleges
Throughout America, little towns, suburban neighborhoods, and urban cities are opening their communities to local farmers. Tents and tables go up, trucks of produce unload, and the people pour in. Local farmers markets have become a craze as individuals and restaurateurs have begun to appreciate the taste and transparency of sustainably, local food. Farmers markets supply the freshest produce, and every customer knows precisely where their food has come from. It’s surprising to think that forty years ago, it was only hippies and environmentalists that touted the benefits of locally, sustainably grown food. Now, a food revolution has begun. People all over the world are talking about this environmentally friendly, human friendly type of agriculture, and it’s being heralded as a real-life solution to climate change. Buying sustainable means buying locally to reduce carbon emissions. It means buying food that uses less chemical fertilizers and pesticides that damage ecosystems. Buying sustainably means buying from farms that treat their workers well and pay them a living wage.
Humans have begun to realize that people need to change their lifestyles to ease the stain on a hard-hit earth. And yet, single individuals taking action can’t affect the type of change needed within America’s powerful, industrial agriculture industry. To instill the desired, larger effect within this system, it is institutions who need to source their food locally. What better institutions to promote the protection of the Earth than universities full of bright minded, forward thinking faculty and students? College food services should have the responsibility of teaching their students about the importance and benefits of protecting the earth and should proudly serve sustainably sourced food in their cafeterias and convenience stores. This change in their food sourcing system will nourish and protect the future of their students and the future of the earth.
The local food revolution needs to take root within the American higher education system. Universities can, and should, source at least 30% of their food locally and sustainably. The agricultural distribution of the United States makes it possible for colleges across the country to source important products from local farms. By negotiating with current distributors, local farmers, and students, colleges have the power to affect an enormous change with America’s food system.
Most colleges have yearly, negotiable contracts with wholesale food distributors2. These distributors act as valuable middlemen who source produce, meat, dairy, and processed foods for their clients. The large institutions who have bought into these contracts are then supplied with all of the food they need, conveniently and often cheaper than if they approached the farms directly. Unfortunately, these distributors tend to search for the best prices within the industrial agriculture system4. It is their primary job to provide their customers with cheap, diverse products that make such contracts viable for the consumer. It is therefore the college’s responsibility to approach their wholesale food retailers with the request for local, sustainable food. Communication is key on the part of the customer because if the retailer knows that a college is interested in local food and is willing to pay a higher price for it, they will most likely comply with that demand.
It is fairly unavoidable that buying locally and sustainably will raise the price of food for universities. This increase in cost is due to the fact that small farms rarely receive large government subsidies of commodity crops and often pay their workers a living wage, which is different than large scale industrial agriculture practices3. Occasionally, during certain times of the year, local produce is in season and there is a reduction in price (see graph 1). However, for universities sourcing their local, sustainable produce from large distributors, the reported average increase in price is only 13%2. Colleges spend an average of only 18% of a university’s food budget, the universities that have gone local report that they were able to absorb most of the extra costs of this fresh, delicious, sustainable food into their existing budgets, with a small amount of costs being covered by adjustment of food prices2.
Students are often willing to pay slightly higher prices for fresh, local, environmentally-friendly food. Studies completed at Ohio State University show that the majority of students (at least 58%) are willing to pay a 7% increase in price for food that is organic, local, small farm, living wage, and sustainably raised (see graph 2). Across the country, anywhere from 48% to 59% of students say it is important for their college to buy sustainably produced food2. It should be Food Service’s priority to meet this demand. However, if a university believes that if would be financially burdening for their student population to raise the price of food served in cafeterias, there are other options. Instead of making local food the only option in the dining halls and therefore forcing students to pay a higher price for a meal, colleges can give their students choices by sourcing food locally for their convenience stores. Labeling products as local before putting them on the shelves justifies their higher price. This way students can choose between a higher priced, locally sourced item and a cheaper, conventionally sourced item. This system is also a viable way for colleges to test the waters and track the amount of students willing to buy a more expensive local item and how much they’re willing to pay for it.
Colleges across the United States have already begun to see the advantages of buying local and to rethink the way they source food. Boston University, Cornell, University of California, Berkeley, and Pennsylvania State University are all leaders in the local food revolution. Boston University spends 36% of its food budget on produce sourced from 58 local farms and 81 local processors1. Cornell University sources 22% of its food from regional sources. Their food services purchases seasonal produce from surrounding farms and also buys locally produced beef that has been raised without hormones or daily antibiotics1. In 2013, a few years ahead of the local food trend, the University of California, Berkeley was purchasing 38% of their food from locally-owned businesses1. Penn State University is currently purchasing 18% of its food locally and has developed its own logistics purchasing system to help this giant university remove the middle-man distributor and go directly to all of its sources5. Penn State hopes to be buying 20% of its food locally by 2020 which will amount to about $6.4 million spent annually on local food5. All four of these well-known, grand institutions prove the feasibility of sustainable food sourcing by their own accomplishments.
An amazingly helpful resource for colleges seeking to go local is a web-based campaign called Real Food Challenge. This student initiated campaign that began in 2007 seeks to empower young adults and their universities as a whole to create a healthy, fair, and sustainable food system6. Realfoodchallenge.org provides college students, food service employees, and university faculty alike with the resources to go green. Resources include reports and research compiled by universities about the costs and benefits of going green, ways to negotiate with distributors, and information and support for students who wish to form their own student organization to advocate for sustainable food. Representatives from Real Food Challenge will even go to universities to get students and faculty excited about the possibilities of buying locally. Within a single decade, Real Food Challenge has helped 190 colleges shift their campus food purchases to local and environmentally friendly food6. This amounts to a shift of over $50 million going from conventionally farmed food to local, human, ecological and fair farms.
The advantages of this practical, feasible change to the nation’s food system are extensive. The average food item in America travels 1,500 miles before reaching the U.S. plate. By buying locally, colleges will reduce that mileage by 1,250 each bite2. This severe reduction in distance not only reduces the carbon footprint of food products immensely but also cuts the cost of transportation for the producer and consumer alike. Another advantage to local food is the support it gives to the local economy. Out of every dollar spent in the conventional retail food system, only 20% makes it back to the farmer2. By buying with 250 miles, colleges can help their neighbors fruitfully run their businesses and stimulate their local economy. A third advantage of sourcing food locally and sustainably is the better tasting food3. The better flavor is thanks to the increased freshness of the food and decreased amount of pesticides and fertilizers used in its growth. This rich, fresh flavor coupled with American youths’ growing interest in sustainability will make sourcing food locally very attractive to prospective students. It is possible for colleges to earn environmental food certifications and standards to further advertise their achievements. Labeling any local food served in cafeterias and making information about where it comes from available to current and prospective students can get students interested in the university and excited for protecting the Earth.
These benefits and the feasibility of the process make the change to 30% local food a great option for colleges across the country. By uniting the school around this effort by educating the students, faculty, and food service providers about the importance of buying local food real change can happen.
- Algozin, Clare. “12 Universities Leading the Charge in Serving Locally-Sourced Food.” EcoWatch. N.p., 28 Aug. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
- “Building Local Food Programs on College Campus.” (n.d.): n. page. Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Fall 2008. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
- Gogoi, Pallavi. “The Local Food Movement Benefits Farms, Food Production, Environment.” The Local Food Movement. Ed. Amy Francis. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. At Issue. Rpt. from “The Rise of the ‘Locavore’: How the Strengthening Local Food Movement in Towns Across the U.S. Is Reshaping Farms and Food Retailing.” Business Week Online. 2008. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
- Heffern, Rich. “Why Is Locally Grown and Organic Food so Expensive?” National Catholic Reporter. NCR, 17 Aug. 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
- Mondock, John. Personal Interview. 14 April 2016.
- “Real Food Challenge.”Real Food Challenge. RFC, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.