In 2001 Cornell received funding to develop and strengthen farm to college connections in New York State. Cornell University and Vassar College, as pilot sites for this effort, have provided better understanding about opportunities and challenges to developing and maintaining effective connections with local agriculture. The Year I Report of this two-year project summarizes accomplishments of this project to date.
Vassar joined the Cornell University Farm to College Program as a pilot site in July, 2002. Because Vassar Dining is under contract management with ARAMARK, this pilot site has provided valuable insights into the potential for developing links with local agriculture under a management structure that is increasingly common on college campuses.
The Vassar Farm to College committee consists of faculty, campus sustainability committee members, dining management, ARAMARK representatives, educators with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess County, and project leadership.
In the fall of 2002, Vassar sponsored NYS apple tasting which was well received by students, staff, faculty and campus administration, the main dining hall held a harvest festival meal featuring local foods. In the Spring of 2003, the project team organized a Hudson Valley Farm to School Summit that attracted food service management, farmers, youth, and educators from the region. Members of the department of Campus Dining met with colleges from throughout the New England area at Yale University to discuss strategies, successes, and challenges, associated with farm to college initiatives.
Over the summer of 2003, Campus Dining made arrangements with a local orchard, a dairy farm, and a local produce wholesaler, in order to offer their product in the coming school year. On the day that first year students and their families arrived, The Retreat, one campus dining area, was offering gazpacho made with local tomatoes, cucumbers, and cilantro, fresh fruit with local cantaloupes, local apples, and flavored milks and drinkable yogurt from an area farm. Local tomatoes were used on sandwiches and the salad bar, as well as New York State romaine.
As the semester has progressed, we have continued to offer local apples and tomatoes, and have also introduced yellow and white peaches, Ozark plums, Sugar Baby and Yellow Baby watermelons, fresh made salsa with local cilantro and tomatoes, fresh pressed cider and raspberry cider, and corn on the cob. We offered a special pizza with local tomatoes and fresh basil. We are presently looking for a supplier of local potatoes so that we can offer fresh cut French fries and in October we will introduce "Hot Shot Nectarine Salsa", a product made by area high school students using local nectarines. Our relationship with our apple provider has resulted in a 10% discount for any member of the Vassar community at his "You Pick" orchard site.
Naturally, our customers love the variety (Ozark plums and yellow baby watermelons, as well as a constantly changing selection of apple varieties) and freshness of the locally grown produce, even if in some instances the prices are a little higher.