The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News April 14, 2006

College Dining Services Funds Greenhouse and Local Foods
Greenhouse Gift Benefits Community-at-Large
Big Bucks for Fresh Produce: Bon Appétit presents the George Jones farm with the financial means to build a greenhouse.

Eighty years ago, the Ohio Valley was an area rich in farming, so much so that it was profitable for local farmers to sell their goods house to house. Then 30 years ago, greenhouses, a new method whereby produce could be grown year-round and shipped across the country, began to take away the local farmer’s business. Today, with the tumultuous prices of fuel, shipping produce no longer seems like a viable way of attaining it; once again, local farming could become a sustainable endeavor.

Bon Appétit, the company that manages dining services at Oberlin, has joined a growing trend of buying produce from local farmers rather than from larger, more distanced corporations.

“We are trying to bring awareness to the community and to Oberlin College that there are local farmers and artisans in the area that we can use as vendors rather than outsourcing to vendors 1000 miles away,” said Rick Panfil, general manager of Campus Dining Services.

“The bigger issue here is that our current food system assumes that there are going to be cheap fossil fuels. I don’t think that is a long term assumption that will hold up,” said Brad Masi, OC ‘93, executive director of the New Agrarian Center, which operates the College-owned George Jones farm.

Bon Appétit has recently invested $6200 toward a greenhouse and waste oil furnace at George Jones Memorial Farm — a waste oil furnace uses used oils to generate heat. The items will further a project that combines a number of eco-friendly farming operations including vermocomposting, a process by which earth worms turn kitchen waste into high quality compost matter, and waste recycling.

The greenhouse, which was completed in March, will be used to grow seedlings as well as greens and other produce year-round.

The greenhouse and waste oil furnace help to increase the interdependence between CDS and George Jones Farm in a number of ways.

“We are working on a plan to collect grease from Stevenson, where it will be burned in the furnace and it will function as a fuel source for the greenhouse to generate heat,” said Masi.

Both parties said that this investment towards a project that in total will cost $9200 is a way of securing future transactions between Bon Appétit and Jones Farm, thus promoting the message Bon Appétit wants to get across.

“What we want to do with the greenhouse at Jones Farm is to help educate farmers that there is still value in farming,” said Panfil.

The greenhouse will enable a longer growing season and thus ensure that the college can buy more produce.

“We are trying to reach out to local farmers and say that we value you and value your land and we want to prove that to you by buying your products,” Panfil said.

Bon Appétit has been steadily obtaining more of its food from local and organic farmers, a premise that was annunciated with the “Eat Local Challenge” held in September, a program which required CDS meals to be made almost completely from local ingredients.

“Here we’re taking fresh product that is ten minutes away, buying the product that day and it is ready to eat that day,” said Panfil.

As an extension of the “Eat Local Challenge” and “Farm to Fork” campaign, CDS has increased the purchase of local food from five percent to 30 percent in the past five years.

Local and organic purchases now constitute much of CDS’s produce and also have become commonplace in Decafé as CDS is attempting to increase local purchases to 50 percent by 2007.

“Bon Appétit has an initiative to search out local vendors. The first choice is to buy from organic or local artisans, anyone in a 150 mile radius, but we try to find those who are closer,” said Panfil.

“We know the value of putting the money back into the local community and also of fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Panfil.

Oberlin Nutritionist Joan Boettcher said that freshly picked food is also more nutritious.

“Vitamin C degrades the longer it’s off the vine,” she said.Many students are aware of the benefits of organic and local foods and seem to appreciate the inclusion of those foods in their CDS dining experience.

“It’s really commendable because [Bon Appetit] could easily buy foods in a cheaper, less conscientious way. I appreciate it,” said College sophomore Alexa Punnamkuzhil.


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