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From Farm to Fork– Eating Local on Campus

February 05, 2009

Bon Appétit feeds Lewis & Clark students well. To improve on a good thing, the Palo Alto–based company, which provides food service to 150 companies, restaurants, and campuses at 400 locations across the United States, is going local.

Through a program called “Farm to Fork,” Bon Appétit buys food directly from local farmers, bringing students the freshest local produce, and other foods that are sustainably grown and shipped the shortest possible distance. Lewis & Clark adopted Farm to Fork in April 2007. “The food on most of our plates travels an average of 1,500 miles to get there,” says Robert “Mac” Lary, Bon Appétit’s manager at Lewis & Clark. The company aims to reduce the distance to 150 miles.

Farmers, including Millennium Farms of Ridgefield, Washington, and Delta Farms of Sauvie Island in Portland, deliver a “huge variety of produce” to the back doors of Lewis & Clark’s dining halls. “The farmers are unloading at the back while students are coming in the front,” Lary says.

Bon Appétit also employs a local, family-owned business, Duck Delivery, to bring the farmers’ bounty to campus.

Local products served at Lewis & Clark include Country Natural Beef, grown in Oregon, and wheat, beans, and legumes from Shepherd’s Grain, grown by farmers on the Columbia Plateau. Lary says Bon Appétit’s purchasing power allows the company to support farmers by preordering food ahead of the growing season. “We may say, ‘If you plant 10 acres of potatoes, we’ll buy them,’” Lary says. Farmers are paid a price that covers their costs.

Farm to Fork emphasizes what Bon Appétit calls the “low-carbon diet.” For example, coffee beans are shipped–not flown–directly from the grower and are sorted and roasted locally. The conventional high-carbon alternative? Coffee beans routed from the tropics to European sorting facilities, then flown to the United States. Other changes include less beef and cheese on the menu, no air-shipped seafood, and less packaging.

Lary says implementing Farm to Fork sometimes means educating Lewis & Clark students. “We buy tropical fruits only from North America,” excluding Hawaii, Lary says. “This means we don’t have bananas all the time. We have Hood River apples in the winter, but we may not have bananas in the cafeteria.” Last year, Bon Appétit held an open forum for Lewis & Clark students to explain the Farm to Fork philosophy (and occasional absence of bananas).

“One student said, ‘It sounds like you care more about our health and the environment than giving us what we want,’” Lary recalls. “I said, ‘Damn right!’” He continues, “It’s about putting pressure on the food chain. Someone has to make changes, and we’re not planning to back down.” For current and future Lewis & Clark students, that sounds like a good thing.

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