A student-run co-op program that began last year has seen significant growth this fall, delivering 150 shares of local food, in comparison to last semester’s 50 shares. The co-op offers several types of shares, including produce, eggs, meat, non-meat protein substitutes such as tofu or seitan, dairy, and bread; a possible seafood share may be developed for future semesters. To participate in the co-op, students spend a certain amount of the points in their meal plan, depending on which type of share they want to purchase. In addition to the financial cost, co-op members must volunteer for a minimum of two hours per semester to keep the co-op running. Volunteer work can include sorting the food into shares, distributing these shares, or cleaning up the distribution site.
Bothered by the lack of local produce available on campus, a group of students last year pressured Bon Appétit until the company agreed to run a trial Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program on campus. CSA programs are a common way to distribute food from local farms to consumers in their area; consumers pay a regular fee and have local produce and other goods delivered to their homes or a convenient location, while the farm gets an up-front payment to financially secure its operations for the season.
Bon Appétit agreed to run the trial program for 30 students. Recognizing the program’s success, it then agreed to expand the program for the fall.
Several of the students participating in the co-op this year reported that they were very pleased with the program and particularly appreciated the wide range of foods available.
“I like that there is a diversity of options,” said Rebecca Sokol ’15. “And even though there are multiple kinds of shares, they’re all local and adhere to my personal food values.”
The food distributed by the co-op will come from a range of farms in the Connecticut area, and the program organizers looked for suppliers that produce food ethically and sustainably. Because of the certification needed for farms as part of Bon Appétit’s “farm-to-fork” program, all of the produce had to come from farms with which Bon Appétit already had relationships. However, the organizers were able to foster their own relationships with suppliers of the dairy, meat, and other shares of food.
Some produce will also come from the University’s own Long Lane Farm, which was renovated this past summer with the installation of a hoop house so that food can be grown year-round. Bon Appétit is now purchasing some of Long Lane’s produce and selling it back to students, according to Will Curran-Groome ’14.
According to Curran-Groome, this new relationship was largely made possible with the support of Bon Appétit Resident District Manager Michael Strumpf, who has been very passionate about the new program.
“He’s definitely been a huge ally for us,” Scott Zimmer ’14 said. “He basically just invested in us without telling anyone.”
Zimmer and Curran-Groome also emphasized that the co-op could not have been possible without the student initiative to put pressure on Bon Appétit.
“They’ve been accommodating, but it’s mostly on us to figure [the program] out,” Curran-Groome said. “If we get it running fluidly, Bon Appétit is willing to expand significantly.”
In order for this expansion to happen, and for the co-op to survive, the organizers stress that students must continue to vocalize their desire for local food on campus.
“A lot rests on students to stand up and put it into action,” Zimmer said. “This is all a student-run initiative. So you do need to put pressure on Bon Appétit if you don’t like what they’re doing. If you do this maturely, in a professional way, there’s a lot you can do. But they’re not going to do the project you have in mind unless you initiate it.”
Curran-Groome cited the large enrollment in the co-op this semester as an optimistic sign of students’ growing prioritization of local food.
“The local co-op is students getting together to say they’re willing to spend money to ensure the food that they’re eating is local,” Curran-Groome said. “If people are interested in local food and weren’t able to be involved in the co-op this semester, they should express to Bon Appétit and the administration that it’s a priority.”