What do a University of Louisville national championship pennant, a U of L Cardinal T-shirt and a jar of Ale-8-One salsa have in common? They’re all red hot. They all signify local pride. And you can find them all at the university’s bookstore.
The availability of Kentucky Proud products on campus retail shelves and in dining halls across the state is part of the Farm-to-Campus program, an initiative of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. The program encourages universities and colleges to make more locally grown foods available to students as a way to educate them about the nutritional benefits and the impact to the local agriculture economy.
At the University of Louisville, the initiative is strong and far-reaching. Local food-related purchases in the past year totaled well over $500,000.
“For an urban institution, we’re quite proud of our results,” says Mitchell Payne, associate vice president for business affairs at U of L.
He explains that the efforts to provide local foods to students go beyond keeping them on shelves. Local produce, when in season, is part of the all-you-care-to-eat Ville Grill as well as grab-n-go convenience locations across the main campus. Local beef from Marksbury Farms is also served at the Ville Grill as well as at the Cardinal Burger Company on campus. The U of L’s dining services partner, Sodexo, even publishes a map each semester, so that students can see what local sources provide their food.
Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) is another partner in the Farm-to-Campus program. Kentucky Proud products are available in their bookstore, in student convenience stores and at the Fresh Food Company restaurant in the Student Center. EKU’s food service partner, Aramark, is also serving Kentucky Proud products in the dining halls.
Efforts across Kentucky campuses continue to grow. Some provide information on area caterers that use local foods in their menus as a way to encourage university departments to consider that in their choices. U of L holds a Community Supported Agriculture Information Fair each year as well, so students can meet with local farmers and learn more.
“We are always looking for ways to expand the program to better serve and educate our students on sustainability and local food issues,” says Payne.
That’s one important goal of the Farm-to-Campus program, says Kristen Branscum, executive director of marketing for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
“The earlier and the more frequently we can educate consumers about the value of locally grown foods, the greater the benefits for them and for the agriculture community,” she says.
EKU President Michael T. Benson agrees the program is a creative and productive way to benefit Kentuckians’ quality of life and the Commonwealth’s economy. “I firmly believe the Farm-to-Campus program will quickly become a model of success other campuses across America will want to follow. I am proud EKU and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture are on the leading edge of what will surely become a national trend.”
Getting Vocal about Local Food
Farm-to-Campus is only one piece of the expanding Kentucky Proud program.
Other new initiatives that focus on promoting locally grown foods include Farm-to-Table efforts and partnerships with the James Beard Foundation and the Kentucky Derby Festival. The Farm-to-Table program hosts charity dinners at local restaurants that feature menus filled with Kentucky products.
The first chef’s bootcamp sponsored by the James Beard Foundation was held in Kentucky and featured locally grown products. The Kentucky Derby Festival provides opportunities to promote Kentucky Proud initiatives, including Homegrown by Heroes products produced by farmers who are also veterans.
Branscum explains that getting in front of these different audiences to spread the word about local foods is extremely important. “The Kentucky Proud program is more than a decade old, and there’s been a lot of growth in that time. But we’re also always looking for new ways to bring the message of locally grown to as many people as we can. It benefits consumers, producers and the overall economy of Kentucky.”