University of Louisville Sources Food Locally – Reaching 24% in 2009

by Mitchell H. Payne, Associate Vice President for Business Affairs, University of Louisville

(This article appears in the April, 2010 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The University of Louisville has successfully launched several local food related initiatives that have helped the university to achieve two of its strategic goals: increasing sustainable practices on campus and helping faculty, staff and students improve their health. At present, our locally grown and/or produced products equal 24% of our total controlled food related purchases.  We established an initial goal of 15% when our present campus dining services contract was developed in 2008. Our contract was awarded to Sodexo Campus Services, and we have formed a very positive and cooperative partnership that has made local foods (growth, purchase, preparation, sale and education) its mantra.  The results have been an increased customer demand for organic and locally grown foods, sustainable products and eco-friendly business practices.


University of Louisville is Kentucky Proud


UofL and Sodexo meet as a team, at least twice a week, to review the progress of our sustainability and local foods initiatives. These were jointly agreed upon after prioritizing a list of ideas that our university sustainability committee wanted to pursue. New ideas are solicited from our customers through faculty, staff and student organizations via campus suggestion boxes, electronic customer surveys, focus groups, etc. on an ongoing basis. Also, Sodexo provides UofL with a report detailing their local food spending on a monthly basis.

Strategic planning, being pro-active and choosing a food service provider/partner with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability, diversity and creating a healthy food campus lifestyle have all been an asset to our success. Listed below are a few of the major initiatives that we have successfully implemented to achieve our results:

  • Developed the needed organizational support infrastructure, under the direction of the University Provost, by creating a Sustainability Council, made up of faculty, staff and student representatives with an Operations Committee, which is headed by our Vice President for Business Affairs.  Additionally, the administrative position of Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability was created.
  • Established a working relationship with our state Department of Agriculture to identify the state farmers, their products and any distribution issues that they might have.  As an urban college, we have also engaged faculty experts from the state’s flagship agriculture institution, to draw from their expertise.
  • Pooled resources with our local school district and Mayor’s Office to address the distribution issue of bringing more locally grown foods into our total community.
  • Contacted our Carnegie-Research I benchmark institutions, Sodexo’s similar sized accounts and Big East Athletic Conference members (to which UofL belongs) to determine if they had any successful ‘from farm to fork’ experiences to share.
  • Facilitated, with Sodexo, a meeting with their distributors to review their respective policies and procedures regulating the purchase of locally grown/raised farm products and to share the university’s commitment to reach and maintain our stated minimum goal.
  • Encouraged our private university faculty/staff club to serve and promote locally produced and grown menu items. Plans are underway for the club to host a campus social event with a menu comprised of locally grown food samples.
  • Expanded our campus convenience store to include the new Basic Pantry. This designated store area and its specifically tailored program helps students purchase both locally grown and organic products to create a recipe or meal menu.  Live cooking demonstrations on how to prepare these products are also provided on a regular basis.  Our Campus Health Services and Sodexo have worked together on this project.
  • Requested that caterers that do business with UofL develop and expand their locally grown menus.
  • Shared information through social networks: Facebook, websites and other electronic technology such as message boards and e-distribution lists.

The following two events/initiatives were designed to further engage our faculty, staff and students to adopt healthier lifestyles, while also providing economic support to our local farmers:

  • On April 1, 2010, we hosted our 2nd Annual Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Fair, in order to kick-off a way for local farmers to directly sell their fresh produce on campus during the months May-October, 2010. See # 1 and 2 below.
  • On April 6, 2010, we will have a ribbon cutting ceremony at our Campus Bookstore (Barnes and Noble) to open a section of the store dedicated to locally produced farm products and related items such as cookbooks, utensils, clothing, etc.

The implementation of our local food initiatives has been challenging, rewarding and inspiring. However, it definitely could not have happened without the collective participation of our total university community.