On October 24th Middlebury College celebrated Campus Sustainability Day with a local dinner provided by Dining Services in Ross and Proctor Dining Halls. Middlebury joined over 150 schools in celebrating Campus Sustainability Day, a tradition that began in 2003 with the intention of focusing one day on sustainability initiatives in higher education.
The Sustainability Integration Office planned a dinner event in response to the growing interest in sustainable food and dining on campus, as demonstrated by the mobilization of student groups including the Weybridge House, Organic Farm, Eat Real, and Nutrition Outreach Mentoring (NOM). Faculty and staff are also engaged; Middlebury recently joined Yourfarmstand.com, an online local farmer’s market, Middlebury Food Works internships are expanding, one of the three 2012-2013 Environmental Council subcommittees concentrates on food and dining at Middlebury, and a Food Studies minor awaits approval.
In preparation for the evening, dining services staff collaborated with local producers to create a menu built around main ingredients from Vermont. Items included butternut squash soup with squash, apples, and maple syrup from McKinley and Cook Farms in Waltham, along with whole wheat dinner roles made with ingredients from Gleason Grains in Bridport, corn pudding made with ingredients from Nitty Gritty Corn Meal in Charlotte, roasted root vegetables from Lewis Creek Farm in Starksboro and ice cream from Wilcox Dairy in Manchester. Meat items included local pulled pork with homemade BBQ sauce from Vermont Heritage Grazers in Bridport and apple smoked chicken sausage from a North County farm owned by a Class of ‘69 Middlebury alum.
Ari Lattanzi ’13 appreciated having the opportunity to eat meat from a nearby source that demonstrates sustainable practices, “I like this opportunity to try different sources of protein because I don’t eat factory farm meat, but I do eat locally sustainably raised meat. It’s really nice knowing where your food is coming from and that we’re supporting local farmers.”
The dining halls were buzzing with excitement about the fresh and diverse dinner selection. Students expressed delight in the quality of the food, enthusiasm about the opportunity to eat a meal sourced locally, and also surprise at the variety and selection provided.
The event also served as a platform for communicating student initiatives regarding sustainability. Campus Sustainability Coordinators (CSCs) lit the dining halls with candles and dimmed the lights. CSCs organize these candlelit dinners weekly intended to raise awareness about energy use. Outside Proctor, Jake Nonweiler ‘14 along with Professor Kathy Morse’s golden retriever, the mascot of Green Poodle for the evening, recruited students to join the Green Poodle, Middlebury campus’ new online environmental hub.
While sitting at the Green Poodle table, Nonweiler conveyed a sense of satisfaction with the idea that by eating locally, he could positively impact the local community. “I know its not always a possibility and I know its hard with budget constraints, but I think it makes a lot of sense and its nice knowing we’re supporting local farms,” said Nonweiler.
Despite challenges posed by budget constraints and a limited growing season, Middlebury prefers to buy from neighboring farms when possible. Bo Cleveland, executive chef at Middlebury acknowledges the college’s capacity to work with local providers, “Middlebury College can be a strong segment of a producers business plan. We have the size to drive greater volume and profitability for the grower. We are a secure partner to work with, we honor our commitments and can pay our bills.”
Middlebury students recognize the potential in the local food movement to foster a more sustainable campus and community. Between bites of roasted vegetables Will Cuneo ’15 said, “Eating locally helps us get into this mindset where we’re more cohesive as a small community and I think that’s something that is very valuable.”
Currently 32% of the college food budget is spent on food grown or processed locally, defined as 250 mile radius. Middlebury is in the heart a growing local food movement and a state whose brand is largely grounded in agriculture and food. As a result, students, faculty, and staff hope to see the college play a larger role in a community based agricultural system in the state. Nick Muller, co-chair of the Environmental Council recognizes the challenges facing dining and suggests that we either revisit our definition of local or flip the problem upside down and approach it from a totally new angle.
“This was a very fine way to finish Campus Sustainability Day by sharing and celebrating healthy food produced by farmers in our local community, helping out the local economy a little more, keeping food mileage to a minimum, conserving energy and doing it all in the romantic glow of candlelight." said Jack Byrne, Director of Sustainability Integration. "Thanks to the Dining Services staff and the CSCs for making such an evening happen."