MADISON -- Students at Edgewood College in Madison no longer have to worry that being on a meal plan will restrict their ability to eat more sustainable food.
All students living in the dorms at Edgewood are required to be on a meal plan. Even though a student may have the intention of eating eco-friendly food, resident students’ choices are limited by what they can purchase with their meal plan.
Certified Green Restaurant
Phil’s, the cafeteria at Edgewood, now offers food options to please those who want to eat food that’s better for the environment. These changes in food options helped Phil’s become a Certified Green Restaurant in June of 2009. Receiving this certification from the Green Restaurant Association calls for certain requirements in the operation of the restaurant, or in this case, the cafeteria.
However, many would agree that the most important “green” aspect of a restaurant is not how it’s run, but where the food comes from. We have plenty of food in Wisconsin, but most of the food we eat isn’t from Wisconsin: The average food item travels 1500 miles to get from the farm to the person eating it. Jaime Franke, dining services manager at Edgewood, is working on changing that.
Serving more local food
In the summer of 2010, Franke and the dining services crew worked on finding ways to serve students more local food. Local doesn’t get any closer than peppers, green beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes grown in your backyard, which dining services grew this past summer when they took over the community garden on the Edgewood campus.
If you ate at Phil’s, the peppers in the salad bar or the tomatoes in that casserole could have been grown at Edgewood. Still, the produce grown in the garden only accounts for a very small portion of the food served. Dining services had to find most produce somewhere else.
Franke’s definition of local focuses on food from Wisconsin, but includes food from surrounding states. While there’s a great variety of local produce available during the summer, students aren’t around to eat until the fall.
So, Franke took food preservation at Phil’s to a whole new level. First, she had to make an educated guess at how much food would be needed for the upcoming year. After making this estimate, dining services purchased: 800 pounds of broccoli, 500 pounds of tomatoes, 250 pounds of raspberries, 250 pounds of blueberries, and 250 pounds of asparagus. After buying all of this food, the dining services staff froze it and tagged each with the date and the farm where it was purchased.
Meeting the demand
Buying such large amounts of food wasn’t as simple as going to one farm and requesting a certain product. According to Franke, one or two farms can’t provide enough of a certain item to meet the demand at Edgewood. “It would be great if Edgewood would buy a farm,” she joked.
So, instead of working with multiple farmers to buy enough broccoli, Franke prefers the convenience of Sysco. Sysco is the main supplier providing Phil’s with food. Sysco claims to work with more than 100 Wisconsin-based companies. The supplier’s “Hometown Harvest” program aims to link buyers with local farmers.
In an informative flyer, Sysco is supposedly able to “trace the origins of every piece of produce from fork to field.” However, by working with Sysco, Phil’s is still working with a big company and not directly with local farmers. Franke cited the issue of getting food from a farm to Edgewood as the main reason for not working more with local farmers.
Phil’s does feature some food that was purchased directly from the farm. Students who have put cucumbers on their salad this school year have likely eaten produce from former Edgewood residence hall director Megan Taft’s organic farm, Seed by Seed. This farm is a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, meaning that consumers can purchase a share of the farm’s harvest and receive a monthly box of fresh produce.
Franke hopes to partner with this CSA in the future to produce more of the food served at Edgewood. She also said that some local produce comes from her family’s large gardens, which she said have provided apples used for baking.
Supporting local farmers is important
“Supporting local farmers is very important to us,” said Franke. She estimated that 65 percent of food currently served at Phil’s is local. However, her definition of local includes food grown and processed in Wisconsin.
Environmentally, there is a difference between food grown locally and food processed locally. Food grown locally is harvested from a farm not too far away, meaning it has a lower shipping impact and should be relatively easy to trace.
Food processed locally could have been grown a thousand miles away and shipped to Wisconsin to be turned into a product, making it potentially difficult to trace.
Franke focused more on the social aspect of local, though. She considered Frito Lay chips to be local because they are packaged in Beloit, Wis. While this may not fit the environmentally intended definition of local, Franke emphasized the fact that buying from a local company means keeping money in Wisconsin and supporting Wisconsin workers.
For Franke, going local is all about knowing that your food is coming from a better place. “My goal is to know exactly what farmer raised the cow that hamburger came from and be able to tell you about it.”
Franke’s goal is something worth working towards if we want healthier, tastier food that’s better for the environment, too.
Laura Green is a senior at Edgewood College in Madison majoring in Environmental and Communications Studies (an individualized major) and Spanish. She is from Monroe, Wis.