UR has been making a recent effort to support local foods and businesses. The effort has paid off, as the University has become the first college in New York State to join the Pride of New York Program. According to their Web site, Pride of New York is an organization that promotes the sale of agricultural and food products grown and processed in New York. The designation means that the University is recognized as a valuable distributor of locally grown foods.
Dining Services has made major changes over the past four years to help the community and contribute to a more sustainable world. In addition to their increasing support of Fair Trade coffee and environmentally-friendly products, they have used their position as a major food distributor to provide the campus with foods grown and produced in Rochester and the immediate areas. The result has been fresher, more socially-conscious food.
“The University of Rochester is serving as a role model for its students to buy and eat locally grown foods and support local agriculture,” State Agricultural Commissioner Patrick Hooker said.
Three years ago, only one percent of total purchases made by Dining Services came from local sources. That number is now up to 11 percent; they spent $500,000 on local foods last year alone. Director of Dining Services and Auxiliary Operations Cam Schauf hopes that the trend toward purchasing local foods will continue.
“I think our percentage of locally purchased foods will increase in the future,” Schauf said.
Though the University has a contract with the food distribution company ARAMARK, that has not affected their local buying.
“As our partner in the dining program, ARAMARK has been working hard to increase our local buying,” Schauf said. “Mary Locke, our Executive Chef, is an ARAMARK employee, and she has been the driving force behind this program.”
The term “locally” refers to a larger area than just the city of Rochester.
“We purchase food from a variety of companies and farms from Rochester and across New York State,” Schauf said.
The University buys produce, such as potatoes, peppers and squash, from farms and co-ops like Freshlink Farms in Penfield, N.Y. and Upstate Farms Co-op in Rochester. However, it also purchases ready-to-serve and prepackaged items, such as milk from upstate dairy farms and bread and pastries from local bakeries. A Club Rochester event on Friday featured many of these products.
One major advantage of buying food locally is freshness – the short drive from supplier to distributor results in fresher food.
“Before we started buying locally, some items, such as apples, would come from Washington State,” Schauf said. “Local food does not have to be trucked or shipped as far, so it gets to us fresher.”
However, there are also disadvantages. Fewer sellers results in a smaller variety of food. Schauf noted that buying locally means that menus are built on what you can get, not on what you would like to have.
Although the menu may be more limited, Schauf thinks that buying food locally is important because it raises many issues of social importance such as reducing the use of fuel and helping the local economy. Most importantly, it educates the public about what it eats.
“An interesting part of the ‘local foods’ movement is that people pay more attention to the foods they eat, where the food comes from and what path it takes to get from the farm to the plate,” Schauf said.
Wrobel is a member of the class of 2010.