Local view: Food for thought: Time for campus to connect with the communityI read with excitement the March 11 business-page story, “Locally grown food moving mainstream in Northland,” which highlighted the important announcement by Duluth’s Essentia Health Systems that it would be purchasing 20 percent of its food from local sources by 2020, which would be in line with the Superior Compact.
By: Judy Breuer, for the News Tribune
I read with excitement the March 11 business-page story, “Locally grown food moving mainstream in Northland,” which highlighted the important announcement by Duluth’s Essentia Health Systems that it would be purchasing 20 percent of its food from local sources by 2020, which would be in line with the Superior Compact. As Essentia Health’s director of nutrition services highlighted, “Supporting local food production fits with (its) mission of making a healthy difference in people’s lives.”
This public-health imperative, and likely Essentia’s rationale, was the overarching theme of a recent Good Food Transforming our Region Summit, which drew regional and national experts to Duluth. Keynote speeches by the director of the Carlton-Cook-Lake-St. Louis Community Health Board and by a nationally recognized physician helped us better understand the seriousness of the very poor health status in our region and the evidence linking our industrial food system to impacts that extend far beyond obesity.
Participants learned about research at the University of Minnesota Duluth showing we can grow enough food in our region to feed ourselves (if we give up bananas and coffee — and despite our climate and poor soils) while generating more than $1 billion in local economic activity. In fact, this research became the basis of the Superior Compact, the 20 percent local-purchasing commitment now signed by Essentia, St. Luke’s and many others.
Participants, summit volunteers, UMD students and others at the summit were excited and motivated to learn through presentations and workshops about the important interconnections between food, agriculture, health, community, environment, culture, education, obesity and hunger.
The excitement, however, was severely tested during one workshop. After an impressive and inspiring presentation from Northland College, which also has signed the Superior Compact and is working with local farms to go from its current 20 percent local food procurement to a goal of 80 percent, we attendees heard from UMD Food Service. We learned UMD shifted from a 100 percent beef burger back to one with bread filler without informing students. For those with celiac disease or wheat allergies, this was massively concerning.
The local beef initiative in UMD’s Center Court restaurant (which made headlines in the News Tribune in 2012) still was not labeled or marked. One audience member said she recently had to ask the Center Court workers if the beef was still local and why it wasn’t marked. Finally, we gained understanding that UMD food service did not have any forward-moving goals regarding sustainability or any of these issues. To say we were shocked would be an understatement.
This fall, the University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs published research by UMD professor David Syring showing that in our region 88 percent of those surveyed look at food labels to see where a product is made or grown and that 81 percent actively seek local foods. Students and the general public want to support local food systems and want to know where their food is coming from. But they can’t without proper information.
The Duluth Grill is serving 26 percent local food. The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire spends 20 percent of its $4.3 million yearly food budget locally. Local foods are served every day at the University of Minnesota Morris, where the campus food contractor is required to purchase local whenever possible. Clearly, local is possible even on a university budget.
What if UMD administrators internally connected key faculty experts, health services, food service and students with farmers and community organizations and created measurable goals that truly could transform our region? Why can’t UMD join and support the Superior Compact? And what will it take for UMD dining services to truly get connected to the community both outside and inside its doors?
Judy Breuer is majoring in community health education at the University of Minnesota Duluth. UMD graduate Andrew Bettilyon and Caitlin Nielson and Saba Andualem, who both are majoring in anthropology at UMD, contributed.