Monday’s Cavalier Daily lead editorial focused on the growing importance of sourcing sustainable, particularly local, food in a large institutional setting – namely our Health System and our University overall. This lead editorial reflects a burgeoning interest in the sustainable food movement, which in and of itself is heartening to see: these issues are coming off the sidelines and into the mainstream student consciousness.
The article highlighted the recent partnership with area nonprofit the Local Food Hub and the University Health System, noting a new video launched on youtube and the Food Hub’s blog that describes that relationship in greater detail. The video is worth a watch, as it demonstrates the mutual benefits that come from the hospital sourcing local food and serving it to patients and visitors. These benefits include human health – customers eating fresher food tend to get more nutritional bang for the buck; environmental health – the small family farms with which the Food Hub partners grow their product in a sustainable fashion, shying away from pesticides and unnecessary antibiotics; and economic health – the farmers running these farms have an opportunity for increased market outlets by working under the umbrella of the Local Food Hub, thus making their operation more economically viable and ultimately maintaining rural land in agricultural use. The hospital is on the right track towards shaking the negative image of hospital food by buying local and supporting local farms in the process.
UVa Dining has also fully acknowledged these same benefits of purchasing sustainably produced food. In fact, sustainable purchasing has been on its agenda since the Green Dining group was initially formed in 2005, and took more concrete shape in 2007 after the group participated in a formative webinar on sustainable purchasing for higher education. This webinar, attended by students, Dining administrators, and community members, recommended that a University aiming to make sustainable purchasing part of its program first needed to create a set of sustainable purchasing priorities. Thus, the Green Dining Bull’s Eye was formed. U.Va. Dining’s highest sustainable purchasing priority is – and has been from the beginning – locally and seasonally grown, which Dining defines as grown within the Commonwealth. The remaining priorities are organically grown, humanely raised, and fairly traded.
Since those priorities were solidified three years ago UVa Dining and Green Dining have worked collaboratively to ensure that such purchasing is taking place and even increasing annually. Dining has forged partnerships with individual local operations like the Farm at Red Hill and Twin Oaks Tofu, and also, due to its size and the enormous number of students passing through its locations each day, larger distribution organizations like Cavalier Produce and the Local Food Hub. UVa Dining began conversations with the Food Hub just weeks after it first opened its doors last summer, and is currently purchasing approximately $3,000 worth of produce from them each week. Using the multiplier effect, it quickly becomes evident that Dining is having a significant effect on the Food Hub’s (and its partner producers’) operations. Executive Chef Bryan Kelly has confirmed that Dining is spending more with the Food Hub per week than any other vendor.
Aside from the day to day purchasing that is really just becoming the new standard for UVa Dining, we also host special events and special meals that specially showcase the bounty of ‘Virginia Grown’; examples include a Farm to Fork dinner last April on Earth day, featuring food sourced entirely from Relay Foods and the Local Food Hub, as well as a ‘Make it a Local Lunch’ theme station at Newcomb just last week, which again highlighted produce from the Food Hub.
There are certainly constraints on our sustainable purchasing program: seasonality not matching up to the academic schedule; distribution and logistical costs; demand far outpacing supply; and more, but UVa Dining is pleased with the progress it has made in just a few short years. With students expressing enthusiasm for more progress, we'll only improve from here.