From Farm to Campus: Eating Local Benefits Health and Economy

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SUNY Oswego Dining Services sources nearly one-third of all its purchases—or approximately $1.76 million worth of goods—locally and in New York State. And that number is rising.

“We very consciously look at what we purchase and where it is coming from,” said Ruth Stevens, director of residential dining at Auxiliary Services. “While quality is our No. 1 goal, we also focus on purchasing food locally whenever possible.”

Often those two criteria go hand-in-hand, said Stevens, who holds a degree in nutrition. For example, this year, the college is partnering with a local family farm to purchase real maple syrup. The result is a tastier, more nutrient-packed option for students and their pancakes. Last year, the college also began purchasing 21,600 eggs a month from a farm in Onondaga County.

In addition to providing an influx of business in the local economy, purchasing food locally means that food is fresher and fresher food maintains nutrients better, Stevens said.

Dining services tries to educate students Farm2SUNY_Mapabout their food choices by providing all nutritional information online as well as sharing informational posters in the dining halls about the farmers who provide their milk or the local farm who collected the syrup, Stevens said.

In fact, Oswego was one of four SUNY campuses that recently worked to promote locally grown vegetables as part of a federal grant, Farm to Campus initiative.

Jamie Hutt Adams ’01, sustainability program coordinator, helped run the awareness campaign on campus. She created table tents, posters, digital signage and T-shirt giveaways to highlight the Harvest of the Month, and organized such events as the Campus Crunch Challenge, which brought together hundreds of campus members to bite an apple at the same time to try to break a record.

“Our goal was to make students aware that their food choices have an impact on the economy, their health and the health of their community,” Adams said. “We hope that we can help them develop lifelong patterns of sustainable living.”

The college is also working to reduce its waste, develop a food recovery program to fight waste and feed people, expand the bike share program and become climate neutral by 2050.

While sustainable and “local” initiatives are gaining more momentum nationally, SUNY Oswego has been a leader for years. For more than a decade, the college has purchased produce from an Oswego distributor, C’s Farm Market, including thousands of gallons of cider and hundreds of bushels of apples from Ontario Orchards, owned by Dennis and June Ouellette ’79.

Through the years, the college has added locally sourced dairy, meat, baked goods, cooking oil, condiments and coffee products, as well.

“Our goal every day is to provide the last customer coming in the door with the same quality service and food as the first person in,” Stevens said. “We also know our students are here to learn, and we encourage them to try new things in the dining centers, too.”

And, often, they do.

“Like kale,” Stevens said. “We’ve found a local purveyor who sells kale, and our students love it!”

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