Colleges look to local farmers

By Repps Hudson MCT

ST. LOUIS – Universities and colleges crave a steady diet of meat, vegetables, fruit and other food for hungry students.

Take the University of Missouri at Columbia, where students consumed nearly two million meals in residence dining halls last year, according to a story in Mizzou, the alumni magazine. That daunting statistic includes 51,500 pounds of fresh tomatoes, 9 tons of cheddar cheese and 160 tons of french fries.

Likewise, local farmers need strong markets year round for their meat, produce, milk and eggs. But small local farms cannot totally fill the orders needed to satisfy a campus of hungry students, day after day, through all the seasons.

That fact hasn’t deterred proponents who believe in providing students with fresher, more nutritious food, and small farmers a decent living.

Mary Hendrickson, a rural sociologist with University of Missouri Extension, ticks off the benefits:

“Locally grown food is fresher and doesn’t have to travel far, which means a longer cooler or shelf life while cutting down on fuel consumption and harmful engine emissions.

“The universities have first-hand knowledge of the farmers who grow the food.

“The students have healthier food that isn’t treated with chemicals or additives.

“Valuable relationships are formed between local consumers and farmers that can rebuild a food-supply infrastructure.

Hendrickson always is searching for ways to strengthen small family farms in the face of large-scale, industrial agriculture that turns out meat, vegetables and other produce on a mass scale.

Her latest effort is coaxing food service managers and supply companies, such as U.S. Food Service of Columbia, Md., which supplies Mizzou and Washington University, to search for and buy from local farmers.

Hendrickson persuaded the food service at Mizzou to feature Missouri apples – Jonathan and red and golden Delicious – in one dining hall in the fall of 2005.

Campus dining halls highlighted Missouri apples again this fall.