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BC Participates in Sustainable Food System

When Berea College students enjoy sausage patties for breakfast and beef stew, roasts, pulled pork barbecue sandwiches and tenderloins for lunch and dinner from dining services, more and more often they can be assured that the meat is safe and fresh because it came from livestock raised just 2 miles down the road.

BC has begun offering college produced foods on campus.

This is a major accomplishment of the BC Local Food Initiative (LFI), which was formed in the fall of 2004. LFI consists of students, faculty and staff, and its stated mission is “to promote the participation of Berea College in the development of a sustainable food system.” Last year its seven-member steering committee presented a report stating the goals, challenges and recommendations of the organization. One of its goals was to “encourage campus use of college farm and garden products” and that has now been realized.

When David McHargue, director of food services, took his position, the LFI had already started. At that time the only locally-grown food the college was using was some greens at Boone Tavern's restaurant. The next step towards the goal of buying local products was last year when food service began purchasing Climax bottled water, which comes from Rockcastle spring, just 15 minutes from campus. At that time, dining services also began using college-grown greens when they were available.

Contrary to what one might think, the reasons behind purchasing local foods are not financial. According to McHargue, the savings realized in buying food in volume from national suppliers like Sysco, is “significant …. It’s hard for local producers to compete with that.”

So why do it? The director says buying local food is “in line with the college’s mission and what the students on campus would like to see. No one in this area has really done this. It helps out the local communities …and it’s a better product in most cases. Our goal is to hopefully bring local farmers into the mix as well and help them set up co-ops and organize and help them get their crops to where they need to be to be sold.”

A big problem with buying local produce, according to McHargue, is that not much is available between mid October and mid April unless it is raised in greenhouses. This option is “very expensive; farmers don’t have money to do this.” He notes that the Lexington-based produce company the college uses buys from local farmers whenever possible.

According to Bob Harned, BC farm manager, the farm has between 25 and 30 sows and between 200 and 250 young pigs at any given time. There are also 85 cows and a large flock of sheep and goats. Pork is sold to Swift Packing Co. in Louisville and Tyson Foods in Logansport, Ind. Local residents can also purchase it each fall for personal consumption. Harned says beef and lamb has also been sold to Boone Tavern.

“Right now it’s just in the beginning stages,” explains McHargue. "We have to …. get a feel for how much we use and how fast they will supply it. Our first choice will always be college meats if it’s available. We are just starting to see the fruits of our labor.”

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