The secret is in the sauce at SUNY Cortland

The New York campus will create its own sauce from locally grown tomatoes and ingredients.

Published in FSD C&U Spotlight

This fall, the pizza and marinara sauce at the Cortland campus of The State University of New York (SUNY) may taste a bit more like home than usual. A new agreement with local organic grower, Main Street Farms, has allowed the campus’s foodservice team to organize an ambitious endeavor for upstate central New York: the creation of its own tomato sauce made from locally sourced ingredients.

“We do a lot of local sourcing on campus, but this was our first stint in going directly to the farm on this large of a scale,” says Bill McNamara, director of dining services. “We’re going to make a base sauce and we’ll use [it] for tomato sauce and pizza sauce and various other recipe ingredients.”

Per the agreement, SUNY Cortland purchased all of the Roma tomato plants that will be grown on one acre of Main Street Farms land as a nonrefundable deposit. When the tomatoes are ripe for picking, the university will purchase every tomato that comes off of the acre for use in the tomato sauce. “[Main Street Farms is] helping us out and they’re making a little bit of money, and we’re going to have a much better product, more local, much healthier, better-tasting sauce,” McNamara says.

McNamara and his team have been evaluating the endeavor for some time and have already developed the base recipe. “We initially had the idea last year, so we needed to put a little bit of information together and see how it would work,” he explains. “We needed to know how much sauce comes out of a bushel of tomatoes once you do all the work. So toward the end of last year, we ordered in maybe 20 bushels of tomatoes and cored them and cooked them so we could develop a recipe and that’s what we plan to go with this year.”

For this first test, McNamara doesn’t expect the initial supply to last very long. “From the acre, we anticipate [growth of] about 5,000 pounds of tomatoes, which will turn into about 500 gallons of sauce and we’re going to use that in our residential dining hall,” he says. “This is 5% of dining services’ annual supply of tomato sauces and pizza sauces … but we anticipate it will last about a month and then we’ll have to revert back to our traditional canned California sauces.” After evaluating the success of the program and working out any kinks, McNamara hopes to increase tomato production after this year, as well as production of other vegetables.

The benefits to the community and the environment outweigh the benefits to dining services’ bottom line, however. “It’s a more expensive process, there’s no doubt about that,” McNamara shares. “We are investing directly right here into the Cortland community. What we are going to get is a much fresher sauce, and not only are the tomatoes local, but all of the herbs and inputs are going to be local as well. Everything is right here from Cortland, with the exception of oil, but that will be a New York state product.”
 

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
vote buttons pins

On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chalkboard

We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

Ideas and Innovation
raised garden beds

We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chartwells teaching kids

Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

Earlier this year, Saidel, Perkins and Harvey did a student demo featuring roasted chicken and white bean tacos with greens and citrus salsa. “We can say, ‘Why are we using chicken instead of beef? Why are there some beans in here?’ You can talk about plant proteins and the sustainability and health message around...

FSD Resources