Kentucky Ag News
Local food connects Kentucky and UK campus
University of Kentucky News
LEXINGTON, Ky. - A local food movement is undoubtedly growing across the nation, and the University of Kentucky — surrounded by millions of acres of farmland and thousands of farmers throughout the Commonwealth — is poised to lead the way in sustainable solutions.
But what is so great about locally sourced and produced food? First and foremost, it's supportive of a robust Kentucky food economy. Purchasing locally also reduces the miles food travels from farm to plate, and ensures fresh, in-season products.
UK Dining partners with local farmers and producers to deliver that fresh, home-grown experience to a campus with more than 30,000 students and 14,000 employees. As UK and Aramark forged a 15-year, $245 million partnership last year to transform dining services, the opportunity to support Kentucky farmers and processors expanded.
UK Dining is committed to purchasing $1.2 million in Kentucky Proud products this calendar year and increasing this amount annually. Kentucky Proud includes products that are grown, raised, and/or processed in Kentucky — from meats and cheeses to baked goods and produce.
UK Dining is also committed to tracking and expanding its economic impact on the region and plans to purchase $800,000 in products and services from companies based in Fayette and contiguous counties. This is in addition to the $1.2 million spent with Kentucky Proud and will also increase each year.
Leisha Vance, sustainability manager for UK Dining, strategically looks at campus dining as a whole as well as what products are available in the local market to make recommendations. In the past six months, partnerships with Marksbury Farm, Custom Food Solutions and Trifecta Barbecue Sauce, just to name a few, have formed as a result of her recommendations.
And to increase food safety and reduce transportation waste, much of the local and Kentucky Proud products are distributed by partners Sysco and Piazza Produce. Vendors like Udderly Kentucky, Klosterman’s Bread, John Conti Coffee and Donut Days Bakery deliver directly to campus.
In January, an ongoing effort began to connect even more potential local foods suppliers to UK Dining. The “Accessing the UK Dining Market” workshop, sponsored by the Food Connection at UK, UK Cooperative Extension Service, and Lexington's Bluegrass Farm to Table, was held to introduce Kentucky suppliers to the potential of UK Dining partnerships, familiarize them with the UK system and identify the next steps in securing more local food at UK.
The event attracted 70 to 80 producers and processors, and the organizers have already been contacted by other interested suppliers.
"The workshop created opportunities for UK Dining, its suppliers and local farmers to talk about real-world, practical partnerships," said Lee Meyer, organizer of the workshop and extension professor in the UK Department of Agricultural Economics. "The next step is training programs, provided by UK Extension and our sustainable ag program, to help farmers meet UK Dining’s buying requirements."
The number of local vendors that UK Dining works with continues to increase. Vendors and farmers who are interested in partnering with UK Dining should email BuyLocal-UKDining@lsv.uky.edu.
As important as purchasing and serving is, UK's commitment to local food products stretches far beyond campus restaurants. Soon after UK Dining began its transformation, another partnership, the Food Connection at UK, sprouted.
The Food Connection, backed by a $5 million investment by Aramark and UK Dining, is housed in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Partnering closely with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Lexington's Bluegrass Farm to Table, Kentucky farmers, community partners, and consumers, the Food Connection aims to enhance the production, distribution, and consumption of local and Kentucky Proud food products.
The partnership includes $1 million to endow undergraduate and graduate internships and fellowships as well as another $250,000 in one-time start-up costs for equipment and programmatic needs, and $250,000 annually over a 15-year term for staff, programming, research grants, and other initiatives.
"Currently, there is unprecedented interest in local foods both on and off the campus," said Scott Smith, faculty director of the Food Connection. "We are building projects and partnerships to expand the opportunities in local foods for both farmers and consumers."
Some of those projects include research addressing the question, "How do we measure the impact of local foods purchasing?" and looking for tools to track the impact of UK Dining and other markets on farms and the local economy. The Food Connection also engages students in the education aspect of food systems and outreach, and offers student opportunity grants for related projects.
The Food Connection recently partnered with Lexington and Louisville stakeholders in the local food economy to host the Bluegrass Barn Raising, where more than 40 farmers, food processors, distributors, lenders and market leaders recently convened at UK to discuss strategies for expanding the supply of local foods.
"The University of Kentucky is uniquely positioned to be a national leader in sustainable agriculture and food systems," said Shane Tedder, UK sustainability coordinator. "These partnerships, combined with our existing research, extension work and curriculum, certainly move us in that direction."