At University of Portland, activists work with farmers through food caterer Bon Appetit’s Farm to Fork program.
According to Kirk Mustain, general manager of Bon Appétit, 15 farms within 150 miles of UP provide food to students.
Farm to Fork hopes to promote sustainable farming practices by supporting both local and organic farmers, according to Café Bon Appétit.
Providing both local and organic food for thousands of college students isn’t the easiest demand.
Staying away from large scale farming practices that involve pesticides and genetically modified seeds can be difficult.
According to Mustain, some of the challenges that arise from working with local and organic farmers include monetary and product difficulties. He points out that it’s important to pay the farmers within 10-15 days because it’s too financially difficult for them to work within the typical 30 day pay period.
Additionally, planning menus is dependent on the weather. At times UP’s Bon Appetit team has had to make runs to grocery stores when produce can’t be delivered from local farms.
“The products are not always perfect, you’re at the mercy of the weather,” Mustain said.
Not all products Bon Appetit uses are organic. According to Mustain, Bon Appetit supports local farmers before they support organic farmers that are further from campus.
“Sustainable local then organic,” Mustain said. “It doesn’t make any sense to spend dollars on organic foods that have to travel additional miles because that negates the organic benefits. We’d rather deal with local products that are grown in a responsible manner and form partnerships with our local farms and get to know who these people are and put the dollars back into the local economy.”
Transfer student Mairi Rodriguez points out that not only is local better for students, it is a large improvement from other college campus meal plans.
“I think it’s good that we’re buying local,” Rodriguez said. “Even though a lot of students complain about the food here, as a transfer student who’s had different [college campus] food that was terrible, the quality and freshness [of Bon Appetit] is so much better than you get at a lot of places.”
While students who eat at the commons are already making a difference by supporting local and organic farmers, Mustain also encourages attending farmer’s markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
CSA is a way for students to continue supporting local farmers after graduation. People purchase shares in a farm and receive weekly produce from local and organic farms.