From farm to lunch tray: Hampshire College to double the amount of food grown on campus served in dining halls

Daily Hampshire Gazette, August 5, 2013. By Madeleine List

AMHERST — Hampshire College is introducing students to the advantages of local food while helping the school become more sustainable. The college plans to double the amount of food served in its dining hall that is grown on campus and set new, higher goals each year.

On June 1, Hampshire began a partnership with a new dining service provider, Bon Appetit, to help it become a greener campus, said Beth Hooker, the college’s sustainability initiative director.

“This past year we started thinking we could change the way we consume, produce and think about food on campus,” Hooker said.

The other key areas are sustainable operations, cultural transition and creative curriculum, but food is especially important because it is part of every student’s daily life on campus, she said.

“We start with our students, they see what healthy food is, and then they’re going to get interested in other aspects of sustainability,” Hooker said.

Now, almost all of the food served in the dining hall comes from local farms, like Enterprise Farm in Whately and Red Fire Farm in Granby, as well as Hampshire’s farm on campus.

The 800-acre campus boasts a 15-acre organic vegetable farm as well as a dairy with cows, pigs and hens, Hooker said.

The Hampshire College farm has been operating for over 30 years, said Farm Manager Leslie Cox, but was originally used for research and raising guard dogs for livestock.

In the mid 1990s, the farm began a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which continues today, allowing students, faculty and staff to purchase farm shares and grow their own produce on campus, he said.

Now, while farm shares are open to anyone in the Five College community, the majority of shares belong to Hampshire students, faculty, staff and alumni, said Nancy Hanson, CSA program manager.

Doubling down

Next year, Hampshire hopes to double the amount of food served in the dining hall that is grown on campus from the current 10 percent and continue increasing that amount in future years, Hanson said.

To achieve this goal, the college will not cut the CSA program, but expand the farm and increase production instead, Hanson said.

About six to 10 students work on the farm over the summer and 45 to 50 during the academic year, Cox said.

Sophie Lapointe, 19, a Hampshire student who has a work-study job at the campus dairy, said she thinks the dining hall has improved drastically since the switch, and that students will be pleased when they come back in the fall and experience the changes for themselves.

“I texted my friend the other day and said ‘Oh my god I just ate at the dining hall and it was awesome!’ and she said ‘Did you just get hit in the head?’” Lapointe said.

First-year students are required by the college to have a meal plan until their second year, when they can move an apartment, on or off campus, and cook for themselves, Lapointe said. Many first-year students felt stuck with their meal plans, she said, but now, she thinks many students — including herself — will choose to purchase a meal plan after their first year.

“Everything was filling, fresh and tasted good,” she said of the new food in the dining hall. “I think it’s really important that we have good, fresh, nutritional food.”

As someone who works on the farm, Lapointe said it will be fulfilling to know that so many students will benefit from her hard work. “It was always disappointing when I spent all morning collecting fresh eggs and I’d get to the dining hall and be eating powdered eggs,” she said. “It’ll be really rewarding eating what I’ve worked for.”

There will be challenges along the way, Hanson said, like unpredictable weather and bad harvests, and of course some products, like oranges, will still have to be purchased from outside the area. But “eating locally requires some flexibility,” she said.

Summer crops will need to be preserved and canned to be eaten in the winter, and students will have to get used to eating mostly produce that’s in season, even if it means giving up variety, Hanson said.

Once students experience how much better local food tastes, she believes they will be motivated to pitch in at the campus farm and become more interested in the college’s broader sustainability goals.

“My hope is that this will be a positive thing for the students and that they’ll get involved,” Hanson said. “We have a lot of big plans and hopes and dreams and we’ll need our students to help us figure out where we’ll go from here.”