FSD Culinary Council

Driving sustainability on a large scale

Here’s how a big university and a big company are moving to reduce their carbon footprint.

Large institutions often have to move more slowly when it comes to sustainability initiatives, as their big size can hamper efforts to work with small farmers and build eco-friendly spaces. But both the University of Michigan and Hormel Foods are not letting size get in the way of their mission to become greener. Here’s how they’re making it happen.

Steve Mangan, senior director of Michigan Dining, has ramped up the Ann Arbor university’s sustainability initiatives in the last few years. His department works directly with local farmers and producers—including the Campus Farm—with the goal of purchasing at least 20% of food from farms and producers within a 250-mile radius. Michigan-grown apples, beans, lettuce, honey, dairy and other products feed the school’s 46,000-plus students, staff and visitors.

“About 70% of our spend is with Michigan companies,” Magnan told the chefs assembled earlier this month for FoodService Director’s second annual FSD’s Culinary Council Summit, held at the university. Local seafood is its most recent sourcing initiative—Michigan Dining is now purchasing perch and whitefish from Lake Michigan fishermen—and the department recently installed a hydroponic freight farm on the Campus Farm, close to the hoop houses that grow produce throughout the colder months.

On the supplier side, Applegate Brand, a division of Hormel Foods, is also on a mission to reduce its environmental impact, presenter Blake Flores, Applegate’s national sales manager, said during the event. The company’s location in southern Minnesota means easy accessibility to Midwest farms—many of them run by small family farmers. Since these pig farmers are located near soybean- and corn-growing areas, the animal feed has a short trip from field to farm, reducing food miles.

Animal welfare is key to Applegate’s sustainability mission as well. The company sources pigs that are humanely raised without antibiotics and are not confined to barns and stalls, Flores explained. Instead, the animals are out in the fresh air with access to small sheds for shelter and warmth.

On the zero-waste front, Applegate recycles the corn cobs left over from animal feed and uses them as fuel for smoking its bacon. It’s a high-flavor solution to waste reduction.

Photograph: Shutterstock



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