Dining Services supports local dairy farmers
Less than an hour from campus, a farm in Trenton, Ill., will soon be the source of Washington University’s entire yogurt supply—if Bon Appetit Management Company, the supplier of food to Dining Services, gets its way.
In an effort to better understand the sourcing and processing of the University’s food, Bon Appetit is continuing to engage small, local farms to increase the share of local food.
Part of that effort involves offering purchase guarantees that lock in a quantity and a price one year in advance. The expectation is that small farms can use the purchase guarantees to get loans in order to upscale production capabilities to meet the University’s demand.
Members of Dining Services and a few students recently went to visit Windcrest Dairy, a supplier that currently competes against Yoplait and Chobani for packaged yogurt on campus. Bon Appetit would like to increase the contract and make Windcrest the sole supplier of yogurt on campus.
According to Nadeem Siddiqui, resident district manager for Bon Appetit, the dairy farm is a third-generation, family-owned operation. Raising production to meet the University’s demand will present a challenge to Windcrest’s highly manual processes.
“We’re trying to make a commitment to buy all of our yogurt from him. For that purpose, he has to have some guarantee of cash, which means we will guarantee him sales,” Siddiqui said.
According to Siddiqui, the purchase guarantee will allow Windcrest to get a $60,000 loan to purchase equipment that will automate the processes currently done by hand.
One of the students on the trip, sophomore Daniel Scher, observed the family’s high-school-aged children operating the yogurt packaging process. There were three employees working the three main machines in the process—pumping in flavors, attaching lids and stamping on dates.
Scher returned from the trip largely in support of an increased commitment to local food.
“We could get factory-farmed meat, yogurt and milk, but it doesn’t taste as good,” Scher said. “It’s definitely worth it for the better treatment of animals and to support the small farm renaissance.”
Siddiqui said the goal of sourcing more food locally is to increase the health and safety of the food students eat.
“One of the things I tell our students is that I love them, but I love their brains more. I don’t want any chemicals coming in their brains, as much as I can avoid it,” Siddiqui said. “So we know where the food comes from without it being processed, without antibiotics, and all that other junk that goes into making the food taste better.”
But don’t expect Cheetos to disappear from Paws & Go shelves quite yet.
“The people are deadly committed to Cheetos—they would go fight and burn houses if they’d need to…that’s how much it means to some people,” Siddiqui said. “We are trying to give alternatives to allow people to make choices.”
Other students believe an emphasis on local food is something many students at Washington University would care about.
“I think Wash. U. is full of people who care about things and want to make the world a better place,” sophomore Sarah Mitrano said. “It would be hypocritical of us to get food from places not worth eating from.”