Farm-Fresh Delivery

At A Glance: Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Management:
•Richard D. Williams, director of dining services
•Terry Waltersdorf, assistant director
•Mary S. Kirk, assistant director
•Scott D. Turley, executive chef

Scope:
•1,410 students, 1,185 of whom are residents
•$5 million budget, staff of 43, preparing 2,600 meals a day

Innovation: Last July, Grinnell centralized all dining operations in the new, $42-million facility, the 800-seat Joe Rosenfield 25 Center. The servery houses a marketplace concept, including: wok station, pizza station, Honor "G"rill sandwiches, Vegan Special, pasta bar, eggs to order, Plat du Jour (rotisserie and carved meats), soup and salad bar, 8th Avenue Deli and Dessert Bar.


Until recently, the practice of sourcing products locally was confined mostly to foodservice operators in institutions on the East and West coasts. But as the trend picks up speed, operators in America's heartland are exploring the benefits of buying local.

FoodService Director - Trendsetter - Grinnell College

Grinnell College, in Grinnell, Iowa, is one of those Midwestern institutions leading the charge. But Dining Services has found that sourcing locally has a number of challenges, as well as tangible rewards.

Currently, Grinnell's foodservice department purchases from 15 nearby farms and orchards. Last year, the college spent approximately $61,000 on food purchased from local suppliers.

"That might not sound like a significant sum, but to us it was," says Richard Williams, Grinnell's director of dining services.

And he's upping the ante. For this year's fall term, purchases totaled over $70,000. One new vendor is Larry's Berries and Vi's Vines. "They grow grapes locally, and so we had a supply of wonderful grapes this past fall," says Williams, "and we were able to add local orchards for apples and pears." He has expanded the number of local suppliers and is constantly seeking new ones.

Williams tells the story about one of his purchasing directors who just happened to pull over at a roadside stand 30 miles north of the college. After buying some produce, the purchasing director got to talking with the farmer. "Long story short, we ended up buying apples from them," he recalls.

"The same farm will supply Grinnell with tomatoes and cucumbers as well," Williams adds.

Among the items in Grinnell's local market basket are fresh vegetables, grapes, apples and melons in season, fluid milk, pork, soybean oil, fresh herbs, cage-free eggs as well as an egg substitute used in vegan dishes, honey, pasta, and blue cheese from nearby Maytag Dairy.

Although, Williams doesn't think that the local sourcing policy has had a significant impact on sales, he does believe that Grinnell students appreciate being patrons of neighboring farmers. "We haven't taken a survey," he says. "But we have a very vocal student body. They let you know what they think."

Overcoming challenges: While sourcing locally has bucolic appeal, there are challenges to overcome, which is why Williams still relies on commercial distributors. The college's primary food supplier is Sysco of Iowa. Additional produce is purchased from Loffredo Fresh Produce Co. in Des Moines. Its food purchases last year totaled about $1.3 million.

One important consideration is, are there enough local suppliers to satisfy your needs year round? In Iowa during the winter, points out Williams, there is generally snow on the ground and below-freezing temperatures. Obviously, local fresh produce is strictly seasonal.

Another consideration is product quality. "Just because it's local doesn't mean it's better quality," notes Williams. He points out that finding high-quality items can be difficult.

FoodService Director - Trendsetter - Grinnell CollegeDelivering the goods: Logistics can be difficult when you're dealing with a dozen or more small suppliers, each with their own ways of doing things, adds Williams. He insists that potential producers be able to deliver their goods. And delivery schedules can be erratic. "Sometimes they bring apples once a week. Sometimes, it's a couple times a week," relates Williams. "With some suppliers, when we call in an order, they tell us when they will be able to make a delivery."

Working with local producers is definitely more labor-intensive than dealing with big suppliers.

"You have to be committed because it's an extra step," declares Williams. Whereas he can order from Sysco with the click of a mouse, Williams has to deal directly with the small suppliers and often take whatever he can get. "We'll say to them, 'What have you got to offer this week'?"

Consistency, or lack of it, is another challenge especially in the beginning. "We would order 300 pounds of potatoes," Williams recalls, "and they might get here with only 100 pounds. Then we would have to scramble to find another supplier."

These days, though, Grinnell has dealt with a number of its suppliers long enough so that each knows what to expect and what's expected. There's commitment on both sides.

Food costs are still a challenge for Grinnell's director of procurement, Terry Waltersdorf. For example, prices for items like cage-free eggs and organic produce are naturally higher. On the other hand, purchasing apples and pears directly from the orchards has saved the college money, 20%, Williams estimates, over buying from larger suppliers.

How does your garden grow?: How much can Grinnell's local food purchasing program grow? "As big as we can get it," answers Williams.

The director of dining services and his staff are constantly on the lookout for more prospective suppliers. And networking is paying off. "If somebody hears that we're doing it," says Williams, "they'll give us a call."

An advocate of local sourcing, Williams urges his colleagues to work through any difficulties they might encounter setting such a program in place at their own schools.

He suggests: "The more experience you have, and the bigger the commitment you have to purchasing locally, the easier it is to do."

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion
polystyrene takeout

New York City will immediately start phasing out foodservice operations’ use of polystyrene takeout containers after a judge ruled on Friday against an operator coalition that had sued to overturn such a regulation, Mayor Bill de Blasio said over the weekend.

Unless the measure is blocked again on appeal, the city will commence a public education campaign to smooth the way for the change to other sorts of containers. Operators will be given a six-month grace period to find alternatives before they’ll be subject to sanctions.

The measure was scheduled to take effect last...

Managing Your Business
uber driver

The freelance, independent-contractor labor market known as the gig economy is distinguished by working short-term contracts, or gigs, such as driving for Uber, Lyft or Instacart.

The majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers by 2027, according to a study called “Freelancing in America: 2017,” conducted by Edelman Intelligence. The annual study, commissioned in partnership by the Freelancers Union and Upwork Global, estimates that 36% of the U.S. workforce consists of freelancers who contribute approximately $1.4 trillion annually—an increase of almost 30% over the...

Industry News & Opinion

Sturgeon Bay Schools in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., has partnered with a local farm to construct a school greenhouse , Green Bay Press Gazette reports.

Construction will begin soon, and the district says that the project is already 75% funded. Once the building is finished, students will be able to grow their own food at the greenhouse and then learn how to preserve it through canning and other methods.

“The greenhouse will provide students with the opportunity to grow food, sample food they have cultivated, design planting plans, tend seedlings, integrate real-life technology in...

Sponsored Content
eating mac and cheese

From AFP advanced food products llc

Some iconic food pairings have stood the test of time―peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheese, just to name a few.

But, classic doesn’t mean boring or on the way out. In fact, there’s been a resurgence of mac and cheese on menus. According to 2018 data from Technomic’s MenuMonitor, mac and cheese menu mentions have grown by the following percentages over the past four years:

On the kids menu: 10.4% As an entree: 7.5% As a side/extra: 8.2%

In addition to increasing menu instances, noncommercial...

FSD Resources

Code for Asynchronous jQuery Munchkin Tracking Code