Integrating Local Food into St. Lawrence University Dining Services

Strawberries from California. Avocados from Mexico. Pineapples from Hawaii. At St. Lawrence University, students, like myself, have access to all of this distantly-sourced produce during the majority of the school year. We often take it for granted that these fruits and vegetables are readily available to us, but we don’t often think about the various external environmental, economic, and social costs that come along with sourcing the majority of St. Lawrence’s food from the global industrial food system, instead of local farms. These negative impacts are why I believe it is vital that St. Lawrence University increase its integration of locally-and regionally-sourced in order to decrease environmental impact, aid the local economy and increase food security at the University.

Integration of local food into St. Lawrence’s dining services would mean that St. Lawrence would purchase their food from various small, local/regional farms in the upstate NY area, instead of obtaining food for Dana, the pub, etc. from their current main source, Sysco, a global industrial food company. Sysco, according to their website, is said to be “the largest North American distributor of food and related products.” Although it is the largest distributor of food, buying food from this corporation comes with a number of negative impacts both on the environment and the economy. The environment is affected by this problem as the pollution produced from both transporting food from distant countries or states and from CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) in the industrial food system adversely affects the water and air quality. Also, the health of students is influenced by the lack of local organically grown food. Much of the food that comes from industrial farms is filled with antibiotics to which humans can develop resistances, leading to a lack of ability to fight off infections in the future. The local economy surrounding SLU is also harmfully affected by purchasing food from Sysco. Farmers are losing local consumers of their products to distant corporations which essentially exports money outside the immediate St. Lawrence community, leaving farmers without capital to survive on.

To remedy these problems, I believe it is necessary for St. Lawrence to increase their integration of local food into the university’s dining services. Currently, SLU does purchase some local food from the Potsdam Food Coop and Potsdam Bagelry and offers these products in the pub on certain days. Additionally, Dining Services, according to their website, has asked Sysco to purchase local NY state items and they have complied. But, I believe more should be done. St. Lawrence should make it a priority to contact small businesses in the area to change who provides its food.

Despite the positive impact that increasing the amount of local food in SLU’s dining services, many may argue that students want much more variety in their diet than local sources can offer. To address this, I propose that students should be educated on the importance of locally-sourced food products. This should be done through required involvement in some aspect of the Sustainability Program that is offered at SLU. This program, located at a sustainable farm close to campus, teaches students the value of farming their own food and the impact that this action has on the environment. If SLU students were required to work at this farm or at least visit it a few times a semester, they would be more inclined to believe in the importance of locally-sourced food. However, if this does not work, I would advocate for SLU to offer non-local food that is grown on only organic, small scale farms. This way, although it is not sourced locally, it is still more sustainable than being sourced from a large scale industrial CAFO or factory farm.

The increased integration of local food into SLU’s dining services may seem like a difficult problem to address, but it isn’t. Various other schools, such as UMass Amherst and Denison, are basing the menus for the dining halls on what is available locally and seasonally, depending on the month, according to the article, “Colleges dig into sustainable dining.” I believe that St. Lawrence University can be the next innovator in this aspect of sustainability by prioritizing buying local and integrating local food into our meal plans.

Cows at Bittersweet Farm
Cows at Bittersweet Farm, an organic farm about 35 minutes away from the St. Lawrence campus