From crisp greens to succulent tomatoes using locally-sourced produce is just one of the many ways WKU is striving to provide more sustainable dining.
As a participating university in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Farm to Campus program, WKU uses a variety of fresh produce from local farms. WKU officially began connecting to vendors through Aramark in 2014. The produce is used in WKU Restaurant Group’s Fresh Food Company.
WKU Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan worked closely with the WKU Restaurant Group and Dining Services to implement the practice, which she felt was an essential step in ensuring that WKU is both mindful of the environment and of local economy.
“It is important because, as a university, we wish to reduce our environmental impacts and support local, sustainable agriculture,” Ryan said.
The process has not been without difficulties, however. Ryan said finding farms that can match the amount of food WKU needs is the biggest challenge.
“It is difficult for local farmers to produce enough to serve our needs, so we have to get as much as is available, and hope that our demand will encourage and allow farmers to produce more,” Ryan said.
Currently, less than 5 percent of WKU’s food is sourced from local providers. Dining Services hope to raise this quantity by 5 percent every year.
Local farmers may be stepping up to the task.
Jackson Rolett, a farmer from Think Little CSA of Scottsville said he thinks that the regional sustainable foods market is experiencing growth because of WKU’s partnership with Community Farmers Market in Bowling Green.
“We help connect Western with farmers who are ready to take their relations to the next level,” Rolett said.
Rolett is one of many local farmers who sell their products at Community Farmers Market, which WKU is an outreach partner with.
Rolett said WKU’s partnership with them helps create space in the market since larger farms have transitioned to sell to institutions and other companies.
“It’s great to see that there’s opportunity to scale up and to serve institutions,” Rolett said.
Gary Robbins of ATP Greenhouses, LLC in Morgantown supplies tomatoes to WKU. Robbins said his business still serves local customers at Community Farmers Market, but selling to WKU is beneficial to his business because his product is always needed.
“When you have a fresh product that you have to grow in the wintertime, you have a little harder time finding people to buy them,” Robbins said. “With Western, it has been a really good deal.”
Finding a local food supply to meet WKU’s demand is not the only challenge to making sustainable changes within campus dining.
Ryan thinks the most substantial hindrance to increasing sustainable foods in WKU dining is the campus culture. For Ryan, educating the student body as well as the faculty and staff on the importance of sustainable practices is imperative.
“While there are many students that want sustainable dining options, the majority of students seem unaware that these options are possibilities, or are even preferable,” Ryan said.
The Student Government Association Sustainability Committee, which was created by SGA President Jay Todd Richey in 2015, works closely with the Office of Sustainability to directly involve students in effecting change on campus.
“If students, faculty or staff care about sustainable dining options, the best way for them to make a difference is to join the committee, to help in making this change,” Ryan said.