The Power of Local: OU’s shift to local produce

By cheryl Appel

Starting in the fall of 2019, Ohio University will incorporate buying produce such as blueberries, sweet potatoes, apples and tomatoes from local vendors and Ohio University’s very own Student Farm.  

All three dining halls on campus are now sporting “local apple” signs next to the produce bins and there are currently plans to expand local purchases even further. But how is this benefiting student consumers?

Buying locally ensures consumers have fresher produce tailored to the local consumer, and often better tasting food because of it. Dr. Theresa Moran, Director of OU’s Food Studies Certificate and one of the many advocates for local produce on campus, said that there’s even the potential for a more nutrient-dense product with less pesticide use. Beyond that, it helps students to feel more connected to the Athens community and the people that live here.

Buying locally also helps to lower the student population’s carbon footprint. With produce coming from no more than 100 miles away, the food doesn’t have to travel as far, meaning far fewer trucks, ships and planes are contributing to greenhouse gases in order to ship food to campus.

Currently, local for Ohio University is technically defined as within 250 miles, or in the state of Ohio, so part of Dr. Moran’s goal was to support areas closer to home, specifically, the Athens community and the surrounding counties that have been historically agricultural. So, Moran with the assistance of her graduate student, Joy Kostansek set out to redefine local as only within 100 miles of campus. 

Included in Dr. Moran definition of local is the student farm. Just west of campus, the Ohio Student Farm grows everything from tomatoes to watermelon to pawpaws. The OU student farm is headed by Arthur Trese, a plant biology associate professor at OU, and with the help of Food Studies interns and Sustainable Agriculture students the Student Farm produces hundreds of pounds of food a growing season.

According to Dr. Moran, part of the initiative’s goal to get more local produce purchased by the university was to support local community agricultural producers, including OU’s Student Farm, in obtaining procurement certification. With the help of Rural Action all six farms that were part of this initiative obtained their certification. The GAP procurement certification was extremely important because, according to Dr. Moran, it would not only allow for local farmers to sell to OU but also other major retailers and operations. This tremendously expands the potential they have for business. On top of all that it creates a cycle of positive business within the community – local businesses supporting local businesses.

Remembering the taste of a freshly picked apple, the connection to our community, all while being able to reduce the university’s carbon footprint is a winning combination for people who are striving to change the world. Dr. Moran hopes to get students to “think of the power of their food dollar” and to remind students that conscious consumption can help make a difference.

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