March 2018 — The goal of the University Food Systems (UFOODS) initiative is to contribute to the building of local food systems in North Carolina by demystifying complex university food purchasing systems, identifying entry pathways for local foods, and building supply chain connections to bring products to campus. The initiative, a project of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and the NC 10% Campaign, is working with six partner universities in North Carolina, including the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNC-P).
This past year, UFOODS worked with UNC-P Executive Chef Glenn Reynolds and produce wholesale/distributor FreshPoint to increase local sourcing for campus dining. The result of this collaboration? UNC-P more than doubled their year-over-year percentage of local produce (defined as sourced within 250 miles) purchased through FreshPoint, from 3.35% to 8.9%. This increase in just one year shows strong potential for increasing local procurement on a larger scale.
It helped that UNC-P has a supportive administration. UNC-P Executive Chef Glenn Reynolds says that he had support from as far up as the Chancellor to pursue local foods sourcing for campus dining halls. The challenge was finding it, and figuring out how to get it through their authorized produce vendor, FreshPoint.
UFOODS project staff facilitated meetings and ongoing follow-up over the course of a year to connect farms located within 10 miles of campus into the produce supply chain serving UNC-P. The UFOODS team also included a local foods intern, Julia Sampson, funded through UNC-P’s Sustainability Office. “Julia has really been instrumental to all this,” says Chef Reynolds. “She is constantly speaking with farmers, recruiting farmers – she’s definitely persistent.”
Student advocacy was also a critical ingredient. ” With agricultural fields so close to campus, UNC-P students understand how strong local food systems can support the local community, and are committed to connecting the dots of local economic development with sustainable farming practices. We have always been so impressed with the students at UNC-P, as well as the dedication from UNC-P’s Sustainability Office and faculty who go above and beyond to support these students and raise up UNC-P as a statewide and national model of sustainable programming,” says Robyn Stout, statewide coordinator of the NC 10% Campaign.
Because UNC-P’s Sodexo-managed dining operations hold exclusive contracts with particular authorized vendors, one strategy to increase local food in dining is for local farmers to sell to FreshPoint, which then supplies the produce to UNC-P. “The farmers meet the [FreshPoint] truck at UNC-P on Friday, and the produce is back here on Monday,” says Chef Reynolds.
“Trucking the product to FreshPoint’s warehouse and then back to UNC-P might seem inefficient,” says Rebecca Dunning, UFOODS team lead. “But it complies with the university and distributor practices, saves farmers the expense of trucking the product to Raleigh, and creates the opportunity for local farmers’ products to be sold to other FreshPoint customers.”
To share insights learned over the past year, Dunning, Chef Reynolds, and FreshPoint’s Local and Organic Marketing Specialist, Lauren Horning, presented a session entitled “Dining and Distributor Collaboration for Authentically Local Sourcing” at the National Association of College and University Food Services Southern Regional Conference on March 6 in Denton, Texas.
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 NC Growing Together Newsletter.