OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego’s decade-old, farm-to-campus food program has put it in the company of three other campuses that will work toward promoting locally grown vegetables and the sustainability of healthy, local foods at all SUNY institutions.
The American Farmland Trust, an organization seeking to expand market competitiveness for local farmers, recently won a $99,427 federal grant to work with Oswego, New Paltz, Oneonta and the University at Albany to increase the use of fresh, frozen and processed vegetables raised by New York farmers as part of a pilot program that eventually would target all colleges and universities statewide.
Glenda Neff, who works for the AFT in Auburn, said part of the pilot would include a detailed look at Oswego’s farm-to-campus program to investigate areas of success as well as potential for gains. Another initiative would involve students paid as interns to document the project and help develop a promotional program to raise student awareness of the benefits of locally grown foods.
“Oswego is a good place where students are already involved and helping out with this,” Neff said. “That’s a key part of the program.”
Craig Traub, director of resident dining at the college, said Oswego’s farm-to-campus relationship with Oswego-based distributor C’s Farms began in 2003. The program has grown since then, he said.
For example, besides fruits and vegetables from two dozen farms in Oswego, Wayne, Cayuga and Onondaga counties, the college worked with C’s Farms this school year to add delivery of 2,400 dozen eggs a month from Hudson Egg Farm in Elbridge.
Dave Johnson, owner of C’s, said his 32 years sourcing and distributing locally grown foods has taught him the value of buy-local programs to farmers around the region as well as to his own business.
“Instead of having the college buy from stores or from farmers in other states, it keeps the business local — you have many people in the community involved with working to feed the campus,” Johnson said. That has increased employment at C’s and increased volume for such Oswego County growers as Dunsmoor, Ferlito, Fruit Valley Orchard, Hubbard and others.
From June 2012 to May 2013, SUNY Oswego purchased 489 bushels of apples, 4,248 gallons of apple cider, 13,500 pounds of yellow onions, 220 cases of grape tomatoes, 56 cases of red peppers and much more — all grown in New York state.
While the state’s farmers eye a potential market of 342 college campuses around New York that purchase $245 million in food products a year, SUNY Oswego looks toward educating generations of students in the economic, health and other benefits of consuming locally grown produce and other foods.
Jamie Adams, the college’s sustainability program coordinator, worked with Stephen McAfee, director of cash dining and catering for Auxiliary Services, to take part in the AFT grant.
“It’s very exciting,” Adams said. “I’m thrilled we are tied to it and able to participate.”
A kickoff meeting for the grant is scheduled for Dec. 4 in Albany. Adams believes the student-awareness part of the pilot project in farm-to-college food purchasing will be crucial.
“I think a big portion of that is the education piece,” she said. “Where are those educational markers — how we answer why this is important.”
The economic stakes are high. “Our state’s colleges and universities represent a huge market for New York’s farmers,” said David Haight, the trust’s state director. “More than a million college students are enrolled in the state’s 64-campus SUNY system as well as in private universities, community colleges and other institutions of higher learning. Expanding these markets will create economic opportunities for farmers and reduce the likelihood that they will be forced to sell their land for real estate development.”
A second-phase target of the AFT pilot, which is funded by a special crop block grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would be increasing volume purchases at SUNY Oswego and the other colleges of such high-demand, locally grown produce as potatoes, green beans, squash and cabbage, among others. The AFT’s Neff said that could involve the potential for pre-processing — such as cutting up and flash-freezing — vegetables at farms so they are available to campus year-round.
Traub said he’s interested. “You have to make sure the quality is there,” he said. “Quality is key.”