Local food in an institutional setting
In the Summer of 2016, Westfield State University transitioned from having a contract with a food-service provider to running a self-operated dining program. By the Fall of 2017, 18 percent of the food served in the dining halls was from local farms.
“In surveying our students, we found humanely raised and local to be the most important attributes of their dining experience,” said Andrew Mankus, Director of Dining Services
at WSU. He says students have been very satisfied with the new food. And if they aren’t, there are lots of ways for them to provide feedback, because the dining program is self-operated and able change its offerings quickly.
Another positive effect of the new dining service is the ability to “engage the WSU community in local and healthy food systems,” says Andrew. This begins during orientation, when Andrew speaks to incoming students and their parents about the food program and why the school serves local food. He also hopes to start programs which will help teach students how to prepare healthy meals for themselves.
Transitioning to a self-operating model takes effort and buy-in throughout campus. During WSU’s transition, UMass Dining—another self-operated dining program—provided guidance, and the Kendall Foundation provided funding. The university hired and trained new kitchen staff and forged relationships with local farms and food producers. These changes also had implications for other departments on campus: Hiring additional staff meant more work for the human resources department, while purchasing from more than 30 farms resulted in more mail and invoices to process.
Andrew recommends that colleges and universities consider switching to the self-op model to help them connect more with their students. “We have a student-first mentality,” he says.