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Local Foods at Bryn Mawr

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With local foods rapidly appearing infarmers’ market and supermarkets across the United States, buying local hasbecome the newest food phenomenon. As a way to eat fresher, tastier produce andpromote the local economy, not only individual consumers, but “more than 200 universities and 400 school districts are supporting a farm-cafeteria movement” (Burros).  Bryn Mawr College is among these institutions supporting the local food movement through its food sustainability program.  These goals are based on “providing the most environmentally friendly dining program possible and one that supports the BMC Community.”  Although Bryn Mawr College Dining Services has exhibited an impressive effort to include local foods in its dining program, other institutions have achieved greater progress by contracting with farmers and setting higher goals to increase thenumber of local foods available.

Over the past year and a half, Bryn MawrCollege Dining Services (BMCDS) has incorporated a number of local foods intoits meal program. According to David Chase, Associate Director of BMCDS, theprogram’s initiation “began as part of the sustainability movement in general.”  For the past six years, Four SeasonsProduce of Denver, Pennsylvania has provided Bryn Mawr with its fruits andvegetables, but only recently did it start to promote local products (thosewithin a 200 mile radius). Depending on the availability, Bryn Mawr receives tomatoes, lettuce,squash, cucumbers and peppers from Lancaster County. Several companies in Philadelphiaas well as Maryland, supply BMCDS with bread, while milk is purchased fromLehigh Dairies in Lansdale, PA.  Some apples and peaches also come from Highland Orchards located in WestChester, PA.   Wheneveroffered the choice by Sysco, BMCDS’ main food provider, Chase picks items producedlocally.  In total, he estimatesthat roughly 10% of food in the dining hall is locally grown. 

Despite Bryn Mawr’s notable efforts,purchases are driven first and foremost by cost and budget constraints.  Chase also noted that there are “standardsabout what we have and what students look for, whether they are local ornot.”  Although BMCDS attempts tobuy local foods, that doesn’t change the selection of foods available at agiven time. Out of the July to October window, the local offerings “slim up.”  Consequently, potatoes from the Midwest,apples from Washington, plums from California, and oranges from Valenciafrequent the dining halls.

BMCDS may face challenges in regards tosupplying an array of cost effective local foods year round, but other collegesand universities have developed outstanding programs in spite of these factors.  For example, Middlebury Collegestressed the importance of local food and supporting the local economy in itslast food vendor bid. As a result, Burlington Food Services now provides thecollege with items from 33 Vermont producers.  Fifteen local products are available year-round and 33% ofall food on the menu is local (Middlebury College).  This is especially remarkable given that Middlebury did notallocate additional funds to the food budget and Vermont only enjoys a 10-weekgrowing season.  Middlebury is notalone.  Thirty percent or more ofall food in the cafeterias at Kenyon, Bates, Oberlin, Ohio University, BerkeleyCollege at Yale, and Penn College of Technology is produced locally (Burros).  If other small colleges can executesuch ambitious programs, Bryn Mawr also has this capability.

Through initiatives with local farmers,Bryn Mawr can incorporate as much local food as possible into its menu.  Bucknell University’s food supplier,Parkhurst Dining, requires that vendors pay $2 million in liability-insuranceto become eligible.   Atfirst, this posed a difficult task for local farmers, but a local organizationenabled the famers of the Susquehanna Valley Grower’s Association to gathersufficient funds to meet the requirement. As a result, a number of small, localgrowers can feasibly contract with a large supplier and university.  In fact, large food service companies,such as Aramak, are discovering that buying local is necessary to stay competitive.  Niles Gebele, Aramak’s food servicedirector at Kenyon College, remarked, “It’s a little different from thetraditional industrial supply source…Now it’s a little more complicated, butthere is evidence that good operators can respond to this” (Burros).  Therefore, it is Bryn Mawr’sresponsibility to actively find suppliers who buy as much local food aspossible and encourage the suppliers themselves to buy more. 

With the precedent set by other colleges,BMCDS should establish higher goals for expanding the local foods available. Nevertheless,to continue the program’s growth and transformation, new student involvement isimperative.  When Four SeasonsProduce and Bryn Mawr initiated local food into the cafeteria, it was of theirown accord, not because of student pressure.  Despite evident student appreciation noted by Chase and acommunity largely supportive of sustainability, students have failed to furtheradvocate for the program.  This isone reason why the school has no future goal to increase the percentage oflocal foods in the dining halls.  BrynMawr could realistically accomplish an expansion from 10 to 20% if students trulystressed the importance of this issue to them.

Bryn Mawr College Dining Servicesdemonstrated great self-motivation in its inclusion of local food in the mealplan, but further action is necessary to achieve its sustainability goals.  The limited growing season and tightbudget may pose a challenge to Bryn Mawr, but other colleges have shown thatthese obstacles are feasibly overcome. By developing additional relationships with various growers, BMCDS canactively expand the current local food program while using the new contractingto set future goals in support of the environment.  Program implementation falls on the College, butresponsibility also falls on the students to advocate for the issues ofconsequence to them. Presently, students list the delicious food as a reason tomatriculate at Bryn Mawr.  With theaugmentation of local food, aggressive goals and adamant participation from thecommunity, would admitted students also list the achievements in sustainabilityand local food in their reason for choosing Bryn Mawr?

Works Cited

Burros, Martin."Fresh Gets Invited to the Cool Table." The New York Times 24 Aug.2005.

Chase,David. Telephone interview. 18 Sept. 2008.

"GreenDining at Middlebury." Middlebury College.            


Leahy, Kate."Local Interest." Restaurants and Institutions 15 Mar. 2008: 44.

Pino, Carl."Sustainability on the Menu." The Environmental Magazine Mar.-Apr.2008: 30-31.