April 22, 2009
College a leader in community’s locally produced foods initiative
Luther College is taking a leading role in the locally produced foods initiative, as the college’s local food purchases increased from two percent to 10 percent from the 2007-2008 to the 2008-2009 academic year.
“We purchase locally for a number of reasons, but primarily because we would like to support our local economy and offer a higher quality and healthier food option for our students,” said Diane Narum, Luther dining services production manager. “One of our goals is to use local foods as a way to educate our students on the benefits of using local goods.”
At Luther, local foods are defined as items being produced within a 100-mile radius of the college. Narum said Luther has been purchasing local food for many years.
“County fair beef, apples and honey have been purchased for at least 30 years, which has enabled Luther to support local farmers and the local economy,” said Narum. “We know much more about how the food is produced, and the food is healthier because it is produced using fewer chemicals.”
Although local purchases have been well-received on campus and have seen successful integration into the dining services system, there are still issues with using fresh, locally grown produce that are receiving attention.
“Since our growing season is shorter here in Iowa compared to other places, we need to work as a community to find ways to develop systems that will allow us to purchase more throughout the year as well as process and store items in order to enjoy them during the winter months,” said Narum.
“There is a lot of local foods activity happening in our community right now, and we would like to play a part in supporting that because we believe that our student will benefit from this on many levels,” she said.
To educate students about local foods, dining services began hosting Local Foods Nights in the cafeteria, preparing “home cooked” meals showcasing local foods. The celebrations were immediately popular with the students.
“It was something out of the ordinary, and we even had the farmers serving the food on several occasions,” said Narum. “We typically had information posted about health benefits and information about the local producers on those evenings.”
Dining services on campus are now serving local foods on a regular basis, using locally grown ingredients in salad bar items, main entrees and desserts. The cafeteria still features evening meals each semester that promote local growers and their produce.
Narum said future growth in local food purchasing at Luther is an important part of the sustainability goals articulated by the college in its recently revised strategic plan.
“As a part of Luther’s sesquicentennial strategic plan, President Torgerson has set the goal of purchasing 35 percent local,” said Narum. “There is a great deal of interest in local food systems at all levels right now, and we are working with the Northeastern Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative and the Food and Farm Coalition to develop new and creative ways to increase local purchases.”
Craig Mosher, professor of social work and chair of Luther’s sustainability council, is impressed with the amount of support the local food purchases program has received on campus. He is optimistic about the impact it will continue to have on Luther’s increasingly more sustainable operations.
“Local food is an essential element of Luther's efforts to become more environmentally sustainable,” said Mosher. “The local purchases we are currently making contribute to lowering our carbon footprint by avoiding long distance transportation of food.”
Mosher said student-led groups, such as the Environmental Concerns Organization, advocated much of the support for local food purchasing. He believes the college’s participation will have a wider range of benefit than students foresaw during the initial interest stages.
“Students have directly been an important influence on college policy through their growing interest in more nutritious, sustainable food,” said Mosher. “By making changes that respond to these concerns, we are able to provide local food that is healthier for our students and employees while helping to raise awareness about the importance of living more sustainably.”