For this month, I’ve taken a look at what college dining services are doing to beef up higher education sustainability programs. I’ve found an impressive array of approaches that are increasing the appeal of these institutions to students while sustaining Georgia’s ecology.
Echoing the greater restaurant sustainability movement, Georgia’s higher ed community is responding to consumer demand. Several institutions are leading the national pack and have the accolades to show it – none more so than Kennesaw State University.
KSU has won a slew of awards, including 2013 Innovator of the Year and the Operator Innovations Award for Sustainability from the National Restaurant Association and the 2013 Residential Dining Concepts Silver Award and 2012 Bronze Award for Education and Out-reach from the National Association for Col-lege and University Food Services (NACUFS). The school made the Newsweek “Top 25 Col-leges for Food” in 2011.
Accessibility is a factor: The Commons at KSU, in the middle of the campus, is the na-tion’s largest LEED Gold-certified collegiate dining facility, serving global cuisine.
Another factor is taste: At The Commons, recipes are prepared in small batches to ensure low holding times and the freshest possible meals. Many items are made-to-order, using seasonal ingredients sourced locally. All food wastes are composted, and oil waste is sold as a biodiesel source.
Some 20 percent of the produce used by The Commons is grown on KSU’s farms, including Harmony Hill Organic Farm and Apiary, a two-acre organic farm just outside Cartersville, and Apple Springs Farm, a 40-acre property with 6,000 square feet of greenhouse space in Ball Ground.
Only non-GMO (genetically modified org-anism) heirloom varieties are cultivated, using natural methods of soil preparation, pest control and fertilization. Apiaries were added to both properties, and 48 honeybee colonies assist with open-pollinated varietals and make honey for The Commons.
The spring-fed property in Ball Ground also features a solar-powered pump irrigation system, a mushroom garden and the Gover-nor’s Garden, where produce is cultivated exclusively for the Governor’s Mansion. Additional farm-to-campus plans include programs to produce cheese and organic dairy as well as olive oil on the farm.
KSU’s weekly Farmer’s Market is a student-driven event sponsored and supported by Culinary Services and R.C. Paul, director of sustainability for KSU. Started with a group from KSU’s Environmental Sustainability class, this initiative is overseen by the Students for Environmental Sustainability (SES) collaborating with the Department of Culinary and Hospitality Services.
Other campuses implementing sustainable student dining programs include Emory University, which has set an ambitious goal of 75 percent local or sustainably grown food in its hospitals and cafeterias by 2015.
Georgia Tech’s cafeteria has a Simply Sus-tainable Salad Bar with 80 percent local and/or organic produce, and the school uses 2,600 gallons of biofuel made from waste oil annually.
Life University recently opened Socrates Café, a zero-waste dining facility in which all food and drinks are served in compostable containers with biodegradable utensils.
The University of Georgia won the 2012 NACUFS Residential Dining Concepts Gold in the large school category for its programs: Much of the organic food used at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education is grown by students at the College of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences.
Mercer University, Georgia College and State University and Valdosta State University all boast farm-to-campus partnerships with local and regional agricultural communities, something the state is stressing with its Geor-gia Grown Program.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed HB 298 in April, creating the Agriculture Commodity Commis-sion for Georgia Grown products. The Georgia Restaurant Association has also partnered with the Department of Agriculture to promote and implement the Georgia Grown program. We hope these developments will intensify the momentum generated by the sustainable food movement as it fulfills its promise for better food and healthier Georgians.