AMHERST, Mass. – Seeking to transform the sustainable food landscape in New England, the Henry P. Kendall Foundation of Boston has granted $485,000 over the next two years to the University of Massachusetts Amherst to support and extend the campus’s award-winning leadership in food sustainability.
The foundation’s long-term goal is “to create a resilient and healthy food system in New England that increases the production and consumption of local, sustainably-produced food” so that by 2060, a majority of food eaten in New England will be produced here. It identifies the I-91 corridor from Greenfield, Mass. to New Haven, Conn. as one of its target areas and recognizes UMass Amherst as already a pioneering leader in using whole, local foods.
Andrew Kendall, executive director of the Kendall Foundation, says, “We chose to support this program at UMass Amherst because universities are important levers for change in the food system. They have economic clout that impacts the supply chain and they engage students who are future consumers. Having UMass Amherst in our Route 91 Groundwork area, together with a director who shares our priorities, presents a unique opportunity for the Kendall Foundation to support a high profile success story. There’s excitement and even passion there among the students, plus the administration has made a solid commitment to sustainability as a core value of the campus. It’s a natural fit and we’re very pleased to see what this dedicated group of people can do in the next few years.”
When he learned of the grant, Congressman James McGovern, long interested in promoting local and environmentally sustainable food, said, “This major grant will go a long way in allowing UMass Amherst to continue their innovative work in creating a sustainable, resilient, locally based food system. It is unbelievable to me that in 2014, it is difficult for most people to access local, healthy food. But changing that reality requires institutions like UMass to be out front on shifting the paradigm. I have seen up close and personal the pioneering work UMass Amherst is doing on a number of sustainability initiatives, and I congratulate them on being recognized for those efforts.”
The Kendall grant will help planners for the campus’s dining services to find and cultivate new suppliers of whole, local and more environmentally sustainable food on an unprecedented scale, says executive director Ken Toong of auxiliary services. “We share the Kendall Foundation’s goals. We’d like to shift the food we buy and help other institutions get to that.”
The transition will focus at first on the campus’s newly remodeled Hampshire Dining Commons, which serves about 1.3 million meals per year. UMass Amherst dining services now uses about 32 percent local produce and is seeking to increase that amount, plus adding more free-range poultry and eggs and other local and regional meats, dairy and fish.
“For example, we are very interested in finding a source of cage-free chicken for our dining services from Massachusetts,” says Toong. “However, in Hampshire Dining Commons, we require on average 50 chickens per day for one menu item and finding a vendor that could supply that volume has been very difficult. This grant from the Kendall Foundation will allow us to develop relationships with new, non-industrial poultry vendors in the region who can ramp up to match our demand. In the meantime, the money will help us buy the free-range chicken we’re seeking.”
Redesigned meals will use more sustainable seafood based on underused species such as hake, Acadian redfish and pollock, plus local, free-range and humanely raised meats, plant-based proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy beverages. The campus will also try varied strategies to eliminate waste and find cost efficiencies to offset the higher cost of protein.
UMass Amherst recently was the largest food service provider in the nation in higher education to sign on to the Boston-based Real Food Challenge, an organization whose goal is to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrially farmed and junk food and toward local and community-based, fair and ecologically sound by 2020.
The Kendall Foundation has embraced the New England Food Vision developed by Food Solutions New England, a spokesman points out. This vision wants to see at least 50 percent of food consumed in New England produced in the region by 2060. The foundation takes a regional view, seeing the food system as a complex web of people and organizations and recognizes that many complementary strategies and tactics are required to create lasting change.
In addition to funding two new sustainable food system coordinators who will explore such strategies as collective buying power with nearby educational institutions, the grant will support the expansion of two annual workshops already offered by UMass Amherst. One is an annual permaculture event to be known now as “Revisioning Sustainability.” In 2013, more than 100 faculty, staff and students from 34 campuses, 14 states and three countries attended.
Project organizer Rachel Dutton, a dining services sustainability manager says, “The mission is to make a sustainable and secure New England food system and the Kendall Foundation sees UMass as the pilot project. If we can figure this out, it could be a game-changer for institutions all over western Massachusetts and the I-91 corridor. We want to teach what works and share it with other campuses. So this quickly becomes a movement and sustainability becomes a new norm.”
The other annual event is the “Chef’s Culinary Conference,” organized by Toong. At this hands-on event, the largest in the nation for college chefs, participants hear lectures in the morning and spend the afternoons in groups of 20, testing 200 recipes in five days. In the next two years, there will be increased emphasis on how to use local, whole and environmentally sustainable foods in campus meal planning.
The award will allow the campus to broaden participation at both of these conferences by funding 40 scholarships and honoraria for the four conferences in 2014 and 2015, to bring outside speakers to excite, inspire and increase commitment to a resilient and healthy New England food economy. Dutton and other UMass Amherst sustainability staff plan to develop a “how to guide” for use throughout New England, showing others how to change a traditional campus food system to a healthy, sustainable system that supports regional food networks and meets the Real Food Challenge and Kendall Foundation goals.
Rachel Dutton, left, a dining services sustainability manager, with auxiliary services executive director Ken Toong at right, present Andrew Kendall, executive director of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation with a certificate of appreciation for its two-year, $485,000 grant to transform the sustainable food landscape in New England beginning with the UMass Amherst campus. Kendall said at a “home grown” lunch in his honor that UMass Amherst can be “a shining beacon” in the I-91 corridor from Greenfield, Mass. to New Haven, Conn., where other institutions can learn about finding and using environmentally sustainable and local food.