Farm to Institution New York State: Connecting Colleges to Local Food
With more than one million students attending approximately 350 colleges and universities across New York, campus dining halls are fertile ground for accelerating local procurement in institutions. Developing partnerships between college food services and campus organizations with farmers, processors and distributors can keep dollars invested in the region while reducing the distance food travels from field to plate. Sustainable institutional sourcing of locally grown food helps build a strong and resilient farm and food economy, with healthy farms, families, and communities
These are a few of the reasons that Farm to College was selected as a priority focus area for Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS), a partnership of agricultural, health and economic development interests. Launched by American Farmland Trust with financial support from the Local Economies Project, FINYS is working to expand market opportunities for local farmers while serving healthy food to people where they eat every day – in schools, colleges, hospitals, daycare, and senior centers.
With additional funding from the United States Department of Agriculture, FINYS is working with the State University of New York (SUNY) to increase purchasing of New York-grown fruits and vegetables on four campuses – Albany, New Paltz, Oneonta and Oswego.
In its first semester, the Farm to SUNY program has already demonstrated exciting potential for local food procurement at all four campuses. The University at Albany purchased 38 percent more local produce from 2013 to 2014, investing $156,129 back into the local economy. At SUNY Oneonta, apple cider purchasing alone increased from 24 gallons in 2013 to 588 gallons in 2014!
A strong interest in fresh, healthy food among college students drives demand for local purchasing, and Farm to SUNY marketing efforts encourage students to play a key role in engaging with their campus dining services. On Food Day 2014 (October 24th), nearly 4,000 students were joined by professors, politicians, and farmers on 18 college campuses to participate in the “Campus Crunch”, taking a synchronized bite into New York apples to demonstrate their support for providing locally grown food on college campuses.
Across all four campuses, students also conducted Harvest of the Month campaigns to promote a local fruit or vegetable with a variety of menu items, signage, samplings and events. National Kale Day was a particularly big success last October with creative tastings and fun educational displays, resulting in more kale now being served on the regular menu.
Jacqueline Phaneuf, SUNY Oswego Farm to SUNY intern said, “I love the work that I’m doing with Farm to SUNY program and American Farmland Trust/FINYS… My passion for environmental sustainability is deepening as a result of learning more about local food, and I’m so grateful for it because it has served to strengthen my conviction to spend my life making the world a greener place.”
Upon learning of Farm to SUNY, other campuses have expressed interest in working together to source more local ingredients and participate in the development of new products for their cafeterias – from frozen corn on the cob to roasted root vegetables.
At the Hudson Valley Farm to Institution Summit convened by FINYS on October 16, 2014, 140 professionals in education, food service, food processing and distribution, as well as farmers and policy-makers, including 20 participants from area colleges, shared methods for sourcing, tracking and marketing local food.
The importance of engaging campuses is perhaps best recognized when considering the potential impact it can have throughout students’ lives. Not only do they learn that food from local farmers is delicious and healthy, but they can be inspired to carry these behaviors beyond their college years, purchasing local food for their families and supporting the local food movement in their communities and in the workplace. As parents, they may pass on the values of local food to their children, supporting Farm to School programs and bringing the buy-local movement full circle.
Contributed by Glenda Neff, Co-coordinator, Farm to Institution New York State