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University comes together to strive for local food purchasing

Correction Appended.

Ohio University students, senates and other groups are all collaborating to advance the university’s efforts to provide students with locally-sourced food.

In the last four years, OU has been a recipient of The Sugar Bush Foundation grant. Theresa Moran, director of food studies, has worked on securing those grants with the goal of strengthening the regional food system. The grant is being applied for again this year. 

With each grant secured, a certain component is addressed. One year, the focus was on seed saving. 

“Each year, we’re trying to do different components to build the food system,” Moran said. 

The grant has also been used for the Farm to OHIO working group, which has the goal of bringing together the university, regional NGOs and producers to examine OU’s food procurement. This is done in hopes of strengthening the food system by encouraging OU to purchase local and regional foods.

By purchasing local foods, the carbon footprint left behind by the traveling of the food is decreased, the sustainability of the food is enhanced and the university is being a good community partner by encouraging economic development in the area, Moran said. In one growing season, the amount put back in the community went from $0 to about $15,000. 

Currently, purchasing local food is not more expensive. 

The university is not exceeding the budget that was previously allotted for non-local purchasing. Down the line, the triple bottom line may come into effect when purchasing. That means the cost could increase, but other factors are taken into consideration, such as the fact that the money is staying local. 

Purchasing local food may not be the easiest route to go, but it is time to transition to supporting the food system and its sustainability, Moran said. 

“We really can’t afford a short-term perspective anymore,” Moran said.  

OU Culinary Services agreed to define what local means in terms of measurement for the sustainability metrics, which can now be defined as “within 100 miles of the Athens Campus with a preference for the Appalachian regional commission counties for food items that are grown, raised or processed,” Joy Kostansek, a master’s student studying sociology, said.

OU is one of the largest dining services in the nation, having its own employees rather than services contracted out. 

“We’re unique in the fact that we kind of (have) control over what’s happening with our food on campus,” Kostansek said. 

The grant has also led to the creation of discovery kitchens. This gives students the opportunity to learn to cook and have a meal. The discovery kitchen is in partnership with the Patton College of Education

Many steps, such as the discovery of kitchens and signs near local produce in dining halls, are meant to inform and educate students. Student input is valued, and the current lack of student education on this topic can make it hard for this issue to be seen as a priority, Kostansek said. 

“We recognize that students don’t know about local food, don’t know that they should be thinking about it, don’t know why it would matter, so there’s a really big critical need to educate them because it is important,” Kostansek said. 

Kostansek took this issue to the Graduate Student Senate in hopes of creating documented commitment on behalf of students to this work.

GSS has created a resolution to support locally-sourced food at OU, which was passed unanimously, according to a previous Post report. Sponsors of the resolution include Brett Fredericksen, department representative for environmental and plant biology; Amie Musselman, department representative for educational studies; Samantha Stewart, vice president of GSS; and Dareen Tadros, president of GSS. 

The next steps for Kostansek and Moran include approaching Student Senate, Faculty Senate and possibly Classified Senate. 

“We want the stakeholders here to give a vote of confidence to this initiative in order to encourage culinary to continue its great work,” Moran said. 


Correction: A previous version of this report misattributed a quote from Theresa Moran. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

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