2014 Silver Plate: Mark LoParco

LoParco’s passion at Montana is inspiring students, colleagues and communities.

Published in FSD Update

Raised in upstate New York, Mark LoParco’s interest in sustainable food systems began early in life. “I grew up in a family of 10 and lived out in the country and hunted and fished and did those kinds of things, and still do,” he explains. This agricultural upbringing, paired with a sixth-grade geography lesson that introduced LoParco to Montana and the state’s vast land mass ratio, set him on the course for a future of food in the West.

From the ground up

Today you’ll find LoParco at the helm of University of Montana Dining, a department that LoParco, as its first and only director, played an integral role in establishing. “Basically this department was built literally from the ground up by me and my staff over the 22 years that I’ve been here,” he explains. With no best practices in place, “we were serving food and that was about it. There were no policies and procedures; it was just a ton of work.”

But LoParco and his team did the work, and then some. Today, the department boasts an annual budget of $12 million with more than 500 employees and serves more than 5,000 meals per day.

Among the long list of achievements during LoParco’s tenure, including multiple sustainability initiatives, department rebranding, facility renovations and re-engineering of meal plans, is the Farm to College Program established in 2003. Under the program, fresh, locally grown and processed foods are brought to campus through direct relationships with local farmers, ranchers and businesses. More than $800,000 in Montana-produced foods are purchased each year, supporting the state’s agricultural economy while satisfying and inspiring students. The initiative received more cachet when LoParco and colleague Neva Hassanein, professor of environmental studies at the university, gave a recent TEDx Talk about the program. TED is a nonprofit “devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks,” according to the organization’s website.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The Virginia Department of Health said it has traced a “cluster” of hepatitis A cases to frozen Egyptian strawberries used by Virginia units of a smoothie chain.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe voluntarily trashed the strawberries and switched to supplies from a different source immediately after being notified of the connection, the health department said in a statement issued Friday.

The department noted that it had traced earlier outbreaks of hepatitis A to strawberries imported from Egypt. But it warned that supplies may still be in the freezers of other foodservice operations...

Managing Your Business
business man smash computer

Foodservice directors spend a lot of time taking care of other people, whether it’s K-12 students who aren’t always eating enough at home, malnourished patients back for return visits or employees squabbling among themselves. That kind of pressure can weigh heavily—and come home from work. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America finds that 83% of men and 72% of women say stress at work carries over into their personal lives, and 50% call staff management their main culprit for workplace stress.

“Stress is very difficult in our world, and work-life balance is very much a...

Industry News & Opinion

Students at an Arkansas high school may have to take creative measures to get a meal, thanks to a school policy that prevents parents from dropping off lunches left at home.

The Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, Ark., last week posted a picture on Facebook of a sign that reads, “Stop. If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc., please turn around and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence.”

While social media opinions on the school’s rule were mixed, some commenters expressed concern that...

Industry News & Opinion

Novato Unified School District in Novato, Calif., has created a new vegetarian grab-and-go item as part of the district’s Meatless Monday initiative, marinij.com reports .

The Fiesta Rice and Bean Shaker, which is served in disposable cups, contains rice, corn, black beans, taco seasoning, corn tortilla chips and romaine lettuce topped with an optional salsa and ranch dressing. It’s also customizable, as students are able to select which ingredients they’d like to include.

The vegetarian shaker is made using produce from a nearby organic garden. Sofie Garcia, an employee in...

FSD Resources