The push on campuses for local and sustainable foods has been gaining ground over the last few years, and is just as often driven by the institutions as it is by the students and faculty. The University of Maine (UMaine) is working with a coalition of students, food suppliers, farmers, and advocacy groups to bring more sustainable food to their campuses as their ten-year contract with food supplier Aramark ends.
While issues of sustainability and health are often deciding factors in a campus' decision to source its food locally, UMaine is also focusing on area farmers and the local economy. The coalition hopes that a move towards local food will also be good for farmers’ bottom lines. Additionally, UMaine hopes to boost the prestige of local farms in a state where farming is a way of life, and the number of farmers under the age of 35 is growing steadily.
The growing trend of putting local food into campus dining halls is a positive one. Locally raised and harvested food reduces carbon imprints and provides healthier options for students. Moreover, as UMaine has highlighted, locally sourced food benefits the university’s larger community as well, by supporting smaller farms and a more sustainable way of life. Locally sourced cafeteria food is proving to be healthy for students, the environment, and the surrounding communities.
A coalition of food, farming, and advocacy groups, along with students and faculty in the UMaine system, are pushing for more Maine-sourced products, from meat to grains. The various groups are working together under the banner of Maine Food for the UMaine System.
The proposal comes as a $12.5 million, 10-year food service contract with the massive food provider Aramark is nearing its end (it expires June 30, 2016) for six of the seven UMaine campuses; the university system is in the midst of the process of selecting a new vendor. The group’s lobbying efforts for more Maine-sourced food began back in 2013, after Farm to Institution New England (FINE)—a six-state coalition of organizations working to increase local food in various institutions—learned the contract was nearing its end.
“It was an important opportunity to try and act on,” says Riley Neugebauer, FINE’s Farm to College project manager. “That led to our engagement with various organizations and individuals who were already doing great work in agriculture, student organizing for ‘Real Food,’ local food procurement for institutions, policy, and more, to begin developing recommendations for local and sustainable foods for the University of Maine System and to consider the implications for farmers in Maine.”
The hope is that the university would include language in the new contract that would force the winning company to source a certain amount of products from Maine. A university spokesman told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network that university officials had been meeting with members of the group and are making sourcing local food “a priority,” but that there are other important factors, such as cost, that need to be considered.