RESEARCH COLLABORATIONS

Ohio University rallies support for the local food industry

SOURCE: Jez Timms/Unsplash
Local food procurement is more economical and environmental friendly in the long run.


By U2B Staff 

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Ohio University’s (OU) campus communities are collaborating on multiple efforts to promote the local food economy and deliver positive environmental impact through local food purchasing at the institution.

The bid to buy local is an ongoing effort at the university, which is home to one of the largest self-operated, non-franchised college dining services in the country, according to the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS).

By switching buying local, the university is advancing two critical missions: supporting local food producers and reducing its carbon footprint by minimising food transportation. 

To achieve this, the university has for the past four years relied on grants from the Sugar Bush Foundation, a supporting organisation of the Ohio University Foundation that funds collaborations between the institution and local communities.

Each year, the grants are used to address a different aspect of strengthening the local food system, OU Food Studies Theme director Theresa Moran said in The Post. Moran, who oversees these initiatives, has been instrumental in securing these grants for the university. The grant is being applied for again this year.

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Among other efforts, the grant has been used for the Farm to OHIO working group, a brainchild of Moran’s that was set up to map out steps and hurdles for regional food producers to sell to the university.

The group, which comprises community partners like Rural Action and Community Food Initiatives, and the university’s Culinary Services, Office of Sustainability and the Center for Campus and Community Engagement, convenes monthly discuss these hurdles and come up with ways to overcome them. 

Among the group’s many successes to date are the creation of the Ohio Neighbourhood, which encourages the purchase of food from producers and growers within a 100-mile radius of the campus; the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification of six area farms; and the purchasing of over US$10,000 of food from the Chesterhill Produce Auction earlier this summer. 

local food
OU students need to be educated on the significance of local food. Jordan Madrid/Unsplash.

Purchasing local foods enhances the sustainability of food procurement on campus while the university becomes a good community partner by encouraging local economic development. 

According to The Post, Moran said that the amount put back in the community went from US$0 to approximately US$15,000 in one growing season. 

OU Culinary Services has defined locally-sourced food as food that is within 100 miles of the Athens Campus with a preference for the Appalachian regional commission counties for food items that are grown, raised or processed. 

Purchasing local food is not more expensive than sourcing food from elsewhere. In fact, the university is not exceeding its previously allotted budget for non-local purchasing when opting for locally-sourced food. 

While the cost could still increase for local food, there are other factors that deliver an even greater impact on the community and environment that offset these costs, such as making sure the money is staying local. 

“We’re unique in the fact that we kind of (have) control over what’s happening with our food on campus,” said OU master’s student in sociology Joy Kostansek. 

OU Culinary Services controls various aspects in its food provision including having its own employees instead of having contracted services. 

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Educating the student body on the importance of local food procurement is also another priority for the university.

The Sugarbush Foundation grant also led to the creation of discovery kitchens in partnership with the Patton College of Education that provides students with learning opportunities on how to cook and prepare a meal. 

Along with adding signs near local produce in dining halls, the university is making an active effort to inform and educate students on the significance of locally-sourced food. 

According to the report, Kostansek also added that while student input is valued, the current lack of student education on this topic may be another barrier to turning the issue into a priority.

“We recognise that students don’t know about local food, don’t know that they should be thinking about it, don’t know why it would matter, so there’s a really big critical need to educate them because it is important,” said Kostansek. 

Kostansek spoke with the Graduate Student Senate (GSS) and as a result, the senate has created a resolution to support locally-sourced food at OU which was passed unanimously. 

Next on the agenda for Kostansek and Moran is to approach the Student Senate, Faculty Senate and Classified Senate.

“We want the stakeholders here to give a vote of confidence to this initiative in order to encourage culinary to continue its great work,” Moran said.