At Augustana, it isn’t far from field to fork
Augustana chooses a topical, interdisciplinary academic theme each year. For 2008–09, the selection committee made food—From Field to Fork—its theme. For Epp, this was too good an opportunity to miss: academic and operational sides of the campus working together. It also matched his own research interests in rural communities and food security.
Unlike most institutions, Augustana runs its own cafeteria, where most meals are still made from scratch. In order to source what Bielopotocky needed locally, it meant a lot more effort from everyone. She would have to find producers that could supply enough food for upwards of 400 people. Her staff would face more preparation and cooking time.
“While Augustana might be located in an agricultural region, that doesn’t necessarily mean that our students are more knowledgeable about their food,” said Epp. “But a university cafeteria should understand the responsibility to students and the local farm economy that comes with feeding more than 400 residence students three times a day.”
As expected, year one was a learning year, especially in building a network of suppliers. “What made it possible was our very skilled staff,” said Epp.
“For that first supper, I needed 180 pounds of potatoes,” said Bielopotocky. “I needed 180 pounds of roast beef and 150 pounds of carrots.” It took them some time and a lot of chaos in the kitchen, but they ended up delivering a roast beef dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy and salad. In return, Bielopotocky’s team received a standing ovation from the students, faculty, staff and producers in attendance. Since then, Augustana Food Services has moved to sourcing more than half of its food—including most of its meat, eggs, root vegetables and flour—from local suppliers.
“It is very difficult to find a single producer who can provide enough quantity for Augustana Campus,” said Bielopotocky. “The food has to be of high enough quality and any processing facility has to be government-inspected.” Bielopotocky makes a lot of phone calls to place orders or follow up, and meets producers all day long in the receiving area to ensure products are put away promptly. Surprisingly, however, her costs have not changed much. “I save money on the eggs and the cost of produce is about the same as I used to pay. The beef is a little more expensive. It all works out, though, which is why we are able to keep doing it.”
As a sustainability initiative last year, the Augustana cafeteria went trayless. Not only has the cafeteria seen a reduction in the amount of food waste, but the elimination of a half-gallon of wash water for 350 trays, three times a day, has resulted in significantly less water use. The cafeteria has eliminated disposable dishes and focuses on recyclable packaging in their purchasing decisions.
“Augustana’s commitment to locally produced food is not a fad,” Epp said. “This is about doing our part to shape a more balanced, less vulnerable food system as well as a more demanding food culture, one year’s students at a time. We want the changes we make today to have a real impact on the future, on the future of agriculture, and on our communities.”