The Dining Services department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is bonding with the local agricultural community and turning students on to new foods through a year-old program that has come to be known as GFL—Good, Fresh and Local.
GFL is a cooperative effort between Dining Services and two other university organizations, the Food Processing Center and the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center. Thus far, it has showcased local meats, grains and produce in a special dinner at the Cather/Pound/Neihardt Dining Center.
They come out at night: Pam Edwards, assistant director of dining services, says that on GFL Night, the number of students dining at Cather/Pound/Neihardt rises from 550 to as many as 900.
“We started planning this about a year ago,” Edwards recalls. “We worked with two other departments on campus to identify potential farmers and other food producers. We wanted to serve meals using foods from local, small farmers and producers, particularly those that use sustainable agricultural practices, like organic.”
The list, she adds, included processed foods from Nebraska suppliers, even if they weren’t derived from sustainable means. “The primary focus of the program is on local,” she explains. “If you are going to serve organic, but you have to ship it from Argentina, what are you really trying to accomplish?”
In the first semester of the program, Dining Services staged GFL once in September, October and November, and twice in December. Local farm representatives were on hand to answer students’ questions.
“In the second semester, we also started adding GFL items to our regular menu, such as cage-free eggs and certified organic oatmeal at breakfast,” she says. “We are planning for the fall to add more items, such as grass-fed ground beef. Then in the second semester we plan to spread the program to a second dining center.”
Edwards notes that the program thus far has attracted 25 Nebraska farms and food producers. “Now that people are learning about the program we hope to be able to expand that number,” she says.
On the lamb: One of the pleasant surprises the department has found has been the willingness of students to embrace the new foods. One example Edwards cites is lamb.
“Typically, we don’t put lamb on the menu because the kids won’t eat it,” she says. “When we did offer it we’d prepare 20 pounds and have some left over. Well, we served free-range lamb one night, preparing 60 pounds, and it was gone in the first hour. Students were willing to try it because it was GFL.”