September Live Local
Fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables were the focus of many meals this September.
Gourmet Dining’s Live Local & Lessons on Local Food
September is a colorful month in the northeast, abundant with late blooms of bright summer vegetables and the beginning harvest of hardy leafy greens and dense root vegetables. Recipes are as endless as the myriad vegetables, and in Gourmet Dining’s campus dining locations, this essence is captured by the community to bring local to the forefront.
This past September, “Live Local” was the chosen theme for Gourmet, intentionally highlighting the local produce availability in the garden state, and the company’s commitment to building their programs on the inherent freshness and practical reasons to source local, but also on the values of the local connection. Gourmet Dining, the foodservice provider for 10 college campuses in northern New Jersey and in New York, has placed a premium on sourcing locally since it’s inception, and in the last few years has lead the trend on campuses to connect students with real local food and to elevate the consciousness of their consumer, the college student. This is not just a vision for Gourmet, their customers are share their values too.
Greening missions, based on improving sustainability efforts are a hot topic on nearly every campus, and students in stride with Gourmet, are the driving force demanding sustainable dining. What is sustainable dining? Many think of composting, biodegradable packaging, and energy conservation. Yet, local food sourcing is an essential element of sustainable dining, in any environment, and connects us to our land, people and community beyond other initiatives.
The premium on local is about more than fresh food.
Local food affords us many advantages, four of which we find particularly relevant:
– Fresh, healthy, delicious food! One of the biggest drivers for sourcing locally among chefs, is of course, flavor. Produced picked within a day or two of being on the vine of a small or mid-size farm with rich soil is incomparable with food picked over a week ago on a large-scale farm. Every farm plays their roll, and we’re grateful for the large farms that fill our winter season with fresh food, but we’d rather eat locally!
– Connection to our geographic place, our land, and our season. With students traveling from across the country and the world, sourcing locally provides a tangible connection to the agriculture of our place, and provides us context and proper seasonal foods to complement our diet.
– Connection to people, community and farmers. There’s something about knowing your customer, and the supply chain from start to finish. Rather than organic as the defining characteristic of our foods, local, especially in our case, means we know the farms and farmers that supplied our food. As our society advances in technological ways, we can make up for loss of interpersonal connection by establishing that with the people with whom we work and live. Visiting beautiful, preserved farmland, establishing relationships with farmers and expressing our appreciation for their work, builds a stronger community to support our farms. Each year we travel to new farms and and existing supplier farms, to expand and strengthen our network.
– Local food on campus raises our collective consciousness about the influence we have as the consumer and the demand we can create for things we value. Additionally, it provides a context for college students to realize that businesses can and do succeed best by adopting sustainable decisions that are good for the customer and the community, and can also benefit the business. It’s a win for students, win for farmers, and win for business.
To engage fellow students and the community, Gourmet held local lunches and promoted local retail specials in their dining halls. Meals highlighted seasonal vegetables like butternut squash, kale, apples and more, and the farms they came from. Students also had the opportunity to express thanks to local farmers by signing the “thank you farmers” board. A handful of students are even taking a trip to farms to document the farm sources and bring photos and video back to campus to share with the community.
Together, Gourmet and students, professors and administration have built sustainable partnerships on many on their campuses. From implementing the Gourmet Campus Gardens program, to connect students to real food on campus and bridge the gap of what local food looks like, to composting programs, Rainforest Alliance certified coffee and other reusable and biodegradable measures.
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