COA Closes the Loop

You'd expect a college with an organic garden and an adopt-a-whale program to have a strong commitment to the vegetarian lifestyle—and sure enough, the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME, does.

In fact, when the College of the Atlantic (COA) was founded in 1969 to provide degrees in Human Ecology, the menu was all-vegetarian; it's only in recent years, according to foodservice director Donna Skill, that students and staff have voted to begin serving meat. She estimates that as much as half of the customer base is vegetarian or vegan.

"It goes along with the whole philosophy of the college," she explains. "We have a pretty idealistic view of things here."

'An elite community': With just 258 students, COA represents a tightly knit, elite community. Students come from all over the world to take advantage of the college's ecological perspective on social, biological and technological interrelationships—not to mention a spectacular setting on the coast of Maine, which affords beauty, natural resources and even a fleet of kayaks for leisure use.

The college also sponsors the Island Project to promote conservation biology and land stewardship, and maintains joint programs with organizations such as the Jackson Laboratory and the MDI (Mount Desert Island) Biological Laboratory. And then there's that opportunity to study finback whales. So it's not surprising that the operative word when it comes to food is "sustainable."

"A lot of our food is produced right here on-site, and we buy locally from organic producers as much as possible," says Skill.

...with an organic farm: COA maintains its own 86-acre certified-organic farm, Beech Hill, as both an educational and agricultural production facility. In addition to produce, Beech Hill Farm contains heirloom apple orchards, a community garden, five hoop (unheated) greenhouses, and free-range beef, pork, chicken and eggs.

Although most of the production occurs during the summer, when the college itself is not in session, the COA kitchen uses as much of the harvest as possible, particularly early-season crops such as lettuce and peas, and "root cellar" items like potatoes, onions, kohlrabi and squash.

"It's a very local way to enjoy your food," laughs Skill. And very high-profile, too. Skill believes that the ecologically conscious foodservice program goes a long way toward attracting like-minded students, and it's certainly helped garner some national attention—the Take-A-Break cafeteria in Blair Dining Hall has been singled out for Best Campus Food in the past three issues of The Princeton Review.

Mainly, however, students, staff and faculty have food they can believe in. The cafeteria is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday through Friday, and even most nonresidents eat on-campus. Each residence hall is equipped with a kitchen and dining facility, and students continue their commitment when dining cooperatively on their own.

A changing menu: Vegetarian menu options are legion. Rather than having a cycle menu ("We'd get bored," says Skill), the menu changes weekly, with favorites like vegetarian gumbo, tofu scramble, butternut squash lasagna, blackened tofu and millet cakes appearing regularly.

"We try to do a lot with grains and legumes," notes Skill, citing a recent vegetable ragout with squash, lima beans, turnips, carrots and spelt. "We also use a lot of hearty grains like kale, chard and spinach. And soups are always popular." From mushroom barley to white bean and broccoli, in fact, soups are made with vegetarian stocks so that vegans, too, can enjoy them.

"We try to limit the use of items like eggs and cheese so that we have a lot of vegan-friendly items," says the fsd. "Although we only have two practicing vegans this year, we do need to accommodate them."

Stir-fries and comforts foods are perennials. "The students can't get enough pasta, rice and potatoes, ever," says Skill. And Friday-night pizza is a mainstay, albeit with meatless versions.



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