Friday, October 2, 2009

Weekly Food Roundup - Chilly Days and Growing Food for College Dining Halls

*Weekly Food Roundup is a weekly recap of local, national and global food issues as they play out online, in print and in our everyday lives. Check back every Friday for new installments.*

The weather in Clinton County seems to have forgotten that it's only just the beginning of fall, and still weeks before the fall sweaters are put away in exchange for heavier winter coats. This week the thermostat dipped to as low as 35 degrees here in Wilmington, which didn't fare well for any late summer vegetables that might still be holding on in the gardens around town. The fall crops are surely loving it, but we're still pulling tomatoes off the plants and cucumbers from the vines, due mostly to the relatively mild summer and the late August heat that should have come in July.

Thankfully, a warm front has moved back into the Midwest and brought with it some rain. The forecast for next week has the mercury back in the lower 60s, so the fall sweaters will be enough warmth for at least the next few weeks. But if one thing about Ohio's weather is certain, it is that nothing is ever certain.

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The national food discussion has, in recent weeks, been focused on school lunch in our public schools, and specifically what we can do to increase fresh food access to cafeterias without breaking the bank. One aspect of food and education that hasn't been much talked about, though, is the food served on college campuses. At least not until last week, when sustainable food service provider Bon Appétit Management Co. released a comprehensive guide to campus gardens [pdf], detailing how to plan and manage a campus garden and how to best foster a relationship between student farmers and the campus food provider.

It's understandable why college food sourcing isn't as hotly contested: unlike public school lunches, college food is not government subsidized and is typically pretty good (the cost of tuition should at least guarantee a good meal). But universities and other campuses of higher-education provide several resources that K-12 schools normally don't: a lot of land, a lot of able bodied young people and a growing willingness to minimize the number of stops between the ground the food comes from and the plate on which it's served.

After reading through Bon Appétit's guide, which is broken down into digestible sections with titles like 'Plan It', 'Grow It' and 'Promote It,' we see no reason why more colleges around the country shouldn't already have programs like this in place. Our college, in fact, would be a perfect site for something like this. We have been in discussion with Janet Renshaw, the manager of food service here on campus, about how Sodexo can start sourcing it's food from local growers. Maybe instead we should be looking into how they can source their food from us. It's obviously not a novel idea, but it does provides some food for thought.

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