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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Michael Lozada
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Local foods spend a night in the JRC

This past Tuesday, Grinnell Dining Services held a Local Food Night at the Dining Hall exhibiting local foods from local farmers.

Dean Porter ’10, a former intern for the Grinnell Area Local Foods Alliance (GALFA), believes that the Local Foods Night was a step in the right direction toward bringing more local ingredients to the dining hall.
“I know that they can’t make that level of food everyday, but even [by] just integrating more local ingredients on a regular basis, I think that people would be more excited about the food,” Porter said.

For other peer institutions in the nation, incorporating local foods into their plans has been a long-term commitment.

Luther College, located in Decorah, Iowa, has implemented a plan with a goal of purchasing 35 percent of its food from local foods. Since the plan was enacted, Luther’s local food purchases has increased by eight percent and currently purchases from approximately 17 local farmers, all which are located within a 100-mile radius of the college’s campus.
An additional university who has nearly fully incorporated local foods into its menu is Iowa State University (ISU). According to the ISU Dining Service Website, the institute aims to have at least 35 percent of their food dollars spent on local food by 2012. ISU plans to serve All Iowa Meal in all of their residential dining centers by this point in time, as well as increase the awareness of the importance of purchasing local, organic and sustainable food. ISU, with 20,000 students, has a larger student body than Grinnell, yet still manages to have a higher percentage of local foods present in their food procurement.

Despite the large amount of local produce purchased by larger institutions such as ISU and Luther, Assistant Director of Dining Services Terry Waltersdorf believes that sourcing additional food from local farmers would be a nearly impossible feat.

“Most of the farmers in the area that grow what we can use are very small,” Waltersdorf said. “A ton of them are tied to CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] shares…we bought a couple of CSA [shares] to see how we use would them. The only thing we could do with it is cater. [The farmers] don’t want us buying 200 shares.”

However, Andrew and Melissa Dunham of Grinnell Heritage Farm disagree.
“I know that for us, if Grinnell wanted to purchase like $15,000 worth of greens… if they could make that commitment, we would certainly be able to fulfill that,” Mrs. Dunham said. “We would just need that commitment in advance.”

Though Grinnell Dining Services has increased their “local” purchases by 41.78 percent since the beginning of the 2005-2006 academic year, some still believe that the college can do more to incorporate a larger amount of locally grown produce into the food eaten every day by students.

“I know that Kenyon College and Ohio and Green Mountain College in Vermont are doing an awful lot of local foods in their dining halls,” Mr. Dunham said. “If someone were to…challenge Grinnell in what they are doing [in the dining hall], they wouldn’t be looking very good.”

A major reason that these peer institutions are able to have such a large percentage of their food be local is due to the employment of a sustainability coordinator. Though Grinnell lacks this paid position as a part of its Dining Services Staff, a Local Foods Intern position was created with the guidance of Porter approximately a year ago. This position was filled by Neil Wepking ’10.

Wepking believes that more attention should be given to his position when deciding who to purchase food product from.

“I feel like it would be good to have more power, but all I can do is make suggestions to [Williams] and [Waltersdorf],” Wepking said.

Mr. Dunham believes that Wepking’s position in Dining Services is a key role in increasing the amount of local foods that are brought to the campus.
“I think that’s a great first step, the problem with having that [position] be a student internship is that he doesn’t have any purchasing power,” Mr. Dunham said. “He’s not permanent. Though, that’s a much better internship than what they may have done in the past.”

Having a Local Foods Intern isn’t the only way that Dining Services can be pushed to incorporate more local ingredients. Mr. Dunham believes that the student body plays a key role in increasing the amount of local foods that are purchased by the college.

“I think it would be great for students to push for more labeling in the dining hall,” said Mr. Dunham. “Figuring out whether they brought this directly from a farmer or either through [corporate food distributor] SYSCO or another food service provider.”

Wepking also believes that students play a large role in bringing local foods to the campus.

“I think it would be great if students really pushed hard for [local foods],” Wepking said.

In addition to students playing a larger role in the local foods scene on campus, Wepking believes that some of the blame can be placed on the structure of the dining hall.

“They are very ingrained in the system they are working with,” Wepking said. “When you look at it from their perspective, they don’t quite see the ethical and social reasons we are trying to buy local food. Unless they can learn that, it’s hard to get them to change.”

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