Sustainability at Culver

Conserve – Reduce – Educate

Dining Hall Update

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The following post is reprinted from the November 2017 “Academy Road” Blog

By Chef Amy Collins , Sustainability Director Chris Kline and Wellness Consultant Tracy Fox

With the ever-growing popularity of the local food movement, veganism, eating “clean,” and gluten free, it  seems only natural that the trends would eventually creep into our student populace. Each year we get more and more Senior Service Projects focusing on food and its many facets and effects on the community. This year is no different, with several students focusing on all areas of food from waste, to health, to promoting local farm to school initiatives. These students are passionate, well-informed and eager to make a difference when it comes to how we operate Lay Dining Hall.

The first example is focusing on the Farm to School initiative. Megan Collins is aiming her project at educating the student body as to what the Lay Dining Hall is doing when it comes to local food and why it should be important to them. She’s conducting a real grass roots initiative, talking to her fellow students, creating signage and inserts for the dining room, and working with our staff so that students know what is local on our menu. As highlighted in last month’s Healthy Campus Update, over the last several years Culver has been sourcing an increasing amount of food from local farmers and producers.

A couple of other projects are aimed at reducing sodium and saturated fat in our meals with the goal of having a healthier campus. We struggle with this regularly, as many students are interested in healthier food, but we dare not take away their pizza puffs or baked ziti or we’ll feel the wrath of a social media campaign! However, students are eager to prove that students can be conscious about what they’re eating. Along those lines, a group of students meets regularly to prepare a healthy meal together to serve to fellow students, and share ideas on healthy eating and how the food environment is
often challenging when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

A couple of other projects in the works seek to reduce the impact of our uneaten food, both prepared food that is never served and food “waste” (scraps, peelings, etc.). One that is just getting off the ground includes purchasing a system to safely package uneaten but perfectly safe food from the dining hall. We will be looking into options and outlets that will accept food and have been inspired by schools nationwide that are packaging “to go” meals for donation. With labeling and a vacuum sealer, we may be able to box “to go” meals for local persons and families in need. We hope to get this program off the
ground later this year.

A complementary project that is underway includes diverting food scraps. When food (or any organic material) is sent to a typical landfill, the material decomposes producing methane, a potent contributor to climate change. Recently we have begun to divert our food scraps from the landfill to a local dairy which operates a methane digester. Culver’s food scraps (anywhere from 700-1,000 pounds per week) are dumped into the digester and the resulting methane is captured and burned to generate electricity. The leftover material makes an excellent natural fertilizer.  This project stems, in part, from two students from the Class of 2017 who examined food waste in our dining services.

We hope to provide additional updates and information about the efforts of students and staff to continue to provide and promote healthy, and in some cases locally grown and produced, food and reduce food waste. We are especially proud of many of the students who are leading a number of these exciting efforts and look forward to continuing to support them.



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