Cornell Dining serves up Cornell-grown produce

Cornell Dining has purchased food from local sources for years, but this fall it is taking the "local foods" concept to a whole new level by buying corn, potatoes, squash and ornamental gourds directly from Cornell's farms.

As part of the Farms-to-Dining Initiative, Cornell chefs are now using produce grown at Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES) farms near campus. This past growing season, CUAES's Homer C. Thompson Research Farm near Freeville and Campus Area Farms, which manages agricultural fields on and around campus devoted several acres of farmland that was not needed for research in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to satisfy the desire of Cornell Dining chefs to include home-grown vegetables in the 2 million meals served annually in the popular all-you-care-to-eat dining halls and other food venues on campus.

"It is food grown at Cornell for Cornell; you can't get more sustainable than that," says Senior Executive Chef Steve Miller.

Cornell Dining has developed relationships with other area farms to offer seasonal vegetables, as well as dairy and meat products. As part of its commitment to sustainability, Cornell Dining has directed its vendors to purchase food items from local farmers and merchants whenever possible. Currently, approximately 20 percent of the produce used by Cornell Dining is purchased locally or regionally.

But the new tie-in with CUAES brings the "local" in local food even closer to home, or campus, to be exact.

"Getting local food at Cornell has required hard work on the part of a lot of people," says Melissa Madden, CUAES organic farm coordinator.

In the past, Cornell Dining worked with the Dilmun Hill student farm, the student-run farm that now primarily caters to Manndible Café, located in Mann Library.

"For the larger-scale Cornell operations like Dining, we needed more production capacity than Dilmun Hill could provide," says Madden, who works with both organic research facilities and the Dilmun Hill Student Farm. "Growing vegetable crops on some of the plots not currently needed for research on our larger farms made sense. It's a win-win for everyone involved."

Last spring, CUAES Freeville farm manager Steve McKay planted a sweet corn variety he thought students would like, and by season's end, his staff delivered 95 dozen ears to Cornell Dining. While corn is seasonal, the longer shelf life of some of the vegetables, specifically potatoes and squash, allows them to be easily stored, packed and shipped with short notice as requested by Cornell chefs. Campus Area Farms, for example, grew 23,950 pounds of red potatoes for Cornell Dining this year.

Isabel Lea Sterne '10 is a communications intern with the CUAES.

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Joe Schwartz