SUNY New Paltz Sets Local Food on Plates

As with many institutions, feeding a population of thousands of customers is a big production, often requiring the dining service to be run and supplied by large corporations. How can an institution integrate local and organic food when so much of the food is tied to a wholesaler that is not necessarily connected to local farms, and is likely more concerned with quantity and price than with quality and sustainability? SUNY New Paltz’s story involves many different constituents: farmers, students, staff, corporate-run dining service representatives, the USDA, and more. In a collaborative effort, fueled by persistence, the stakeholders worked to bring more local food to the tables of SUNY New Paltz’s dining halls.

How It All Began

SUNY New Paltz’s Environmental Task Force was convened in 2005 under the leadership of long time Environmental Consortium member and professor of sociology, Brian Obach. Along with several colleagues and students, the Task Force brings together many constituents from campus to address environmental concerns. Members of Students for Sustainable Agriculture, as well as the New Paltz Recycling Club, overlap with the Task Force members, creating a wealth of connections and synergies that make the interest and pursuit of sustainable measures possible at New Paltz.

New Paltz students Marigo Farr, Katy Kondrat, and John Wilson co-founded Students for Sustainable Agriculture that same year with a mission to promote a sustainable food system that is healthy for consumers, farm-workers, and the environment. The group has worked tirelessly ever since to bring changes to their campus. Co-founder Marigo Farr remarks, "After approximately 5 years of educating the campus, rounding up support from the student body for a change in food policy, and numerous meetings with Campus Auxiliary Services and Sodexo Corporation, Sodexo approved a new vendor that was capable of providing the university with local food.."

A Local Distributor with Local Food

It was the unanimous passing of a ‘Local Food Resolution’ by the Campus Auxiliary Services, through the work of the Environmental Task Force, which set the stage for an increase in local foods on campus. In May of 2010, Matthew Flusser, the Production Manager of Hasbrouck Dining Hall at SUNY New Paltz and member of the college’s Environmental Task Force, began receiving large deliveries of fresh local vegetables and fruits from Red Barn Produce, increasing their stock to up to 75% local in season.

New Paltz’s road to the Red Barn Produce partnership was featured in a recent article in The Valley Table (September-November 2010). It brings to light a story within this story of how Red Bar Produce came to be and how the connection to New Paltz was made. A local activist and former farmer, Dan Guenther, helped introduce the newly established business to farms in the area. Usually individual farms do not produce enough to supply large institutions, but collectively, through a distributor, local farms can supply enough to fulfill orders to large institutions. Interestingly it was an administrative regulatory matter that changed the way SUNY New Paltz procured it fruits and vegetables.

In order for Sodexo’s corporate office to accept Red Barn Produce as an approved vendor, the outfit needed USDA inspection and certification to even be considered. Passing its inspection with a perfect score (80% is needed to pass, Red Barn earned 100%) and receiving certification, New Paltz had a new vendor. Red Barn also delivers to other businesses and institutions of higher education in our region, making the vendor more attractive to the food service corporation because of its efficiency and use at other Sodexo operations.

Using Red Barn Produce has benefited the Hasbrouck Dining Hall operation in many ways. Prior to their connection to Red Barn, food orders for the following week had to be placed on Friday for Monday delivery. However, over the weekend, there were instances where customers did not eat as much of a particular food as anticipated, causing surplus and waste with a delivery already en route. With Red Barn, orders can be filled quickly, often the same day, allowing the dining hall to purchase only what it needs, cutting down the waste.

Other benefits of using a local distributor include: reducing transportation emissions; helping the local economy and local farms to stay in business, which in turn preserves the farmland and open space; the food is more nutrient rich; and customers feel good about what they are eating. The Dining Hall is also able to serve a larger variety of fruits and vegetables through a local contractor since the food travels less distance, and is therefore fresher and does not require the level of preservation as food crossing the country. In addition, the smaller local farmers often have the flexibility to grow more variety than conventional large-scale farms.

In addition to Red Barn Produce, New Paltz’s Hasbrouck Hall serves apples grown and delivered by Fishkill Farms, a nearby orchard. Winter Sun Farms produce is also being integrated into the dining hall. Founded by Jim Hyland, Winter Sun Farms procures fresh produce from local farms in the Hudson region, at market value, during the growing season and freezes it. This allows some items to continually be stocked by customers, even in the winter months, extending the season, and supporting the local agriculture. Organic yogurt, breads and cheeses have also recently been brought to the New Paltz dining experience.

Developing a relationship and sense of community with the very people who are making your food is a rewarding aspect of serving local foods, says Flusser. He encourages other institutions to not shy away from local and organic foods because of cost. Sometimes the price is the same, other times it may be a little more expensive. However, knowing the benefits of local food make the change worth the extra money.

Reduce, Reuse, and Compost

Other work going on at SUNY New Paltz that ties into the sustainable food effort includes reducing waste and composting. A number of members of the Recycling Club attended the Environmental Consortium’s annual meeting in 2010, Advancing Our Regional Foodshed: The Role of Higher Education. Hearing Vassar’s Director of Marketing and Sustainability for Campus Dining, Kenneth Oldehoff, describe reusable containers and composting efforts at Vassar has ignited more ideas and pursuits for the Club.

To reduce post consumer food waste, Hasbrouck Dining Hall went trayless. The group noticed an excessive amount of food left on plates when people were finished eating, presumably because the trays allowed for several plates to be carried to the table at one time. Once the facility removed the trays, students were returning for more food only if they needed to, and were leaving noticeably less food waste.

Composting is done on the pre-consumer waste (tons of it!) from Hasbrouck Dining Hall. Bins are set up and filled, and picked up by Greenway Environmental Services, an operation with facilities at Vassar College. The compost from Greenway may very well be used by the farmers who produce the foods that are distributed by Red Barn Produce. The New Paltz Recycling Club has started a pilot composting program on its own campus, with a goal of eventually including post-consumer waste and housing all the institution’s composting right on campus. Different methods and bins are being tested at this time. In addition to turning the compost piles three times a week, while many students are out enjoying the afternoon off campus, members of the Recycling Club have their fun while adding food scraps to the composting piles every Friday.

Members of Students for Sustainable Agriculture have started an organic garden on campus. They grow a variety of produce that is made available to the student body. It is the group’s goal to increase student involvement in the garden, while also seeking to engage faculty to incorporate it into their class curriculum. They also hope to serve as a resource, labor and venue, to faculty who may have grants, or be applying for grants, involving organic and sustainable farming.

Keep up to date on all of SUNY New Paltz’s greening efforts at