Students discuss sustainable food

University community members, local food experts explore environmentally-conscious dining approach

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A group of Charlottesville residents, University students and local producers met in the Jefferson Foundation Hall last night to discuss the importance of supporting local food produce.

The event began with a 30-minute documentary, "Nourish," which traces the different sources of food across the world. The film was followed by a panel discussion with speakers from the Local Food Hub and University Dining Services. The panel focused on the University's promotion of sustainable farming and its growing relationships with the Local Food Hub, a not-for-profit organization based in Northern Virginia that coordinates distribution from local growers to buyers.

"We wanted to share the film "Nourish" with the U.Va. community and Charlottesville community and to bring some of the key players together," said Nicole Jackson, marketing manager for University Dining Services.

The event was suggested by "Green Dining," a group of University students that meets weekly to discuss sustainability. The group is coordinated by University Dining Services.

"Students were especially interested in seeing transparency of local produce," said Kendall Singleton, sustainability coordinator for University dining.

Concern for health, the environment and financial viability of farmers are all reasons the University is concerned with sustainable food option, Singleton said.

"At this point, now we know the negative impacts of conventional production and the benefits of working with local farmers, so we have a moral obligation to act on it," she said.

The University has succeeded in increasing the percentage of sustainable produce during the past year. In 2009, 22 percent of produce distributed by University dining was sustainable. Now, more than 26 percent of the produce meets this standard, which includes local produce as well as recyclable packaging.

Dining attributes this success to a strong relationship with local producers and improvement in packaging options.

"We've partnered with the Local Food Hub," said Bryan Kelly, executive chef for University Dining Services. "We've addressed packaging, biodegradable containers, plastics. We only buy approved seafood from Monterey Bay Seafood."

Kelly believes the University's emphasis on sustainability has encouraged a change in attitude conducive to long-term success for the effort.

"The growth is steady enough that we don't need to set a goal," Kelly said. "By starting off with a goal, even people who have been working in the company for 30 years are starting to think about where we can get local produce."

The panelists emphasized University students and Charlottesville residents should become more aware of the importance of local produce.

"During National Nutrition Month we're going to pair nutrition with local produce," Kelly said. "Outside of the themed dinners, this is the most focused step we've taken."

Students at the event expressed an interest in learning about University dining.

"I'm really interested in the U.Va. Dining system and where they get their food from and how much local produce they're using, especially because the local Charlottesville area has so many good farmers," first-year College Student Staige Davis said.

However, some students feel that University dining needs to do more to inform students about the importance of sustainability.

"I think U.Va. is doing a good job so far, but I don't think they educate students enough," First-year College Student Ida Yu said.

Kelly said University dining said will continue to strengthen its focus on sustainability.

"We want to continue the success we've had with the Local Food Hub and other vendors and explore new relationships," Kelly said. "There is a lot more room to grow"

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