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Campus Dining supports community by sourcing local food

Robyn Newcomb
Features Editor

When you’re putting together a meal at Lowry, there are probably lots of considerations going through your head. Would this be good in stir fry? Soup or chili? Is it wrong to get a whole plate of chicken fingers? Everyone has a different go-to. But do you ever stop to ask yourself, Where did this come from?

Thanks to student requests and the efforts of Campus Dining, there’s a good chance you can say, “It’s local.” Over 20 years ago, The College of Wooster began sourcing from local producers, starting with milk and ice cream from Smith Dairy in Orrville, Ohio. The College’s relationship with local food has only grown since then.

“Since that time, we’ve added many other local producers,” said Marjorie Shamp, director of Wooster’s campus dining department, explaining that the products sourced locally in campus dining include milk, yogurt, cheese, apples, berries, greens, tofu, beef, sausage, bagels, ice cream, coffee and much more. Currently, roughly 36 percent of the food served in Campus Dining is defined as local, which means it’s grown within 250 miles of The College of Wooster campus.

“Local food can be more difficult to procure, store and handle,” said Shamp. She explained that campus dining has to take strides such as eliminating or negotiating better prices on non-local items, working with distributors for delivery help and storing bulk items bought fresh from local providers to offset the strain of local food’s higher price and less automated delivery.

“Still, while it is a great deal more expensive to offer, the taste, texture and nutrition are worth it,” Shamp explained. “It was student requests and the desire to support the local economy that drove the decision.”

Matt Mariola, a professor in Wooster’s environmental studies department, elaborated on this sort of local support when asked about the impact of Wooster’s choice to source local food.

“When we talk about sustainability, we always talk about the three legs of the stool: economic, environmental and social,” said Mariola. “And I think you can talk about local food along all three of those lines.”

Mariola explained how partnering with nearby producers benefits the local economy by keeping money local, strengthens the social fabric of the community by building personal connections between producers and the College, and it often has environmentally-conscious effects as well, by supporting smaller-scale growers.

While noting that the College could hypothetically do more with local food, Mariola maintained that Wooster’s campus dining does a remarkable job considering the resources they have.

“It’s a huge job to feed 2,000 people sustainably every day, and I feel like they do a really, really good job … A figure I’ve heard thrown around for other schools is about 20 percent [of food budget spent locally] as an industry average, so we’re definitely doing better than that,” said Mariola.

“I never like to put forth the idea that our greatest power is as consumers, but it is still the case that we do have a lot of power as consumers,” said Mariola. “Every time you choose to buy something online or at Walmart instead of spending your money locally, you’re making that choice: you’re saying, ‘I’m going to support this giant corporation instead of local products, local farmers, local people.’ That does have an impact.”

If you’d like to get involved with supporting local food in Wooster, email Dr. Mariola at MMariola@wooster.edu for information on The College of Wooster’s organic farming club, or Jessica at jessica@localrootswooster.com for volunteer opportunities at Local Roots, Wooster’s local food co-op.

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