An on-campus eatery makes sustainability a learning experience.
Colleges and universities are moving toward greener, more local sources for the ingredients that go into what students are eating. That's particularly true for places like the University of New Hampshire, which was originally founded as an agricultural school, and is still a big innovator in food production.
One of UNH's many answers to the call for sustainable food is the Dairy Bar.
“We have a lot of products that are local or that we make in-house,” says senior Amanda Taitel, who has worked at the Dairy Bar for three years, preparing and serving sandwiches, soups, salads, and ice cream. “One of the things we're most proud of is the UNH high tunnels. There are two of them, and we get most of our greens there throughout the year as well as our leaf lettuce. Then, in the summer, we get our tomatoes when they're available, some cucumbers, radishes, carrots, stuff like that.”
The Dairy Bar operates like a casual restaurant but is part of UNH Dining, and mainly employees students. But Taitel, who majors in Environmental Sustainability and Eco-Gastronomy, says it's not just a job. “My advisor actually told me to maybe come in here, and that I'd be a good fit,” she recalls.
Taitel has learned plenty since then, especially in her senior capstone project, a sustainability analysis of the Dairy Bar. The menu is about seventy-five percent locally-sourced, and Taitel says the hardest part of her project was coming up with ways to make the Dairy Bar more sustainable. While she came up with a few possibilities, she says her overall conclusion was, “We do a lot of good stuff where we can as it is.”
Taitel isn't the only one making the Dairy Bar a learning experience. Andrew Ogden teaches a two-semester course on growing vegetables, the same ones Taitel mentioned coming from the high tunnels on campus. “The students in the course, they're involved in all aspects,” Ogden explains, “from seeding these crops to tending to them to controlling for any kind of pest or disease problems we have, up to ultimately harvesting, washing, and delivering the produce to the Dairy Bar with an invoice.”
Ogden says the Dairy Bar was a perfect fit for the class: it has a big focus on sustainability, and it sells a lot of salad.
As for the customers, like freshmen Elizabeth Wise, Brynn Pedrick, and Gianna Tempera, they seem to appreciate the benefits of local ingredients, too.
“It taste's better! It's fresher,” says Wise. “And the greens!” adds Pedrick. “The salads, everything is just so fresh, and you can really tell.”
Pedrick is an Environmental Sustainability and Conservation major, so odds aren't too bad that, before she's through at UNH, she'll be growing some of those greens herself.