Tasty Business: Managing Food and Future

food from the farm
THESE DAYS, everything about food on campus is fresh.

President Jonathan Lash announced a year ago that Hampshire would change the enterprise of producing, preparing, consuming, and managing food on campus. “We want to demonstrate that if you’re thoughtful, you can enjoy high-quality food that’s sustainable, good for you, and good for the world, and not have it be horribly expensive,” he says.

One year later, Hampshire has a new food service provider, menus built around produce harvested on the College’s organic farm, a comprehensive Sustainable Food Purchasing Guide, a dining commons that got a facelift over the summer, and strong support for ongoing cultural change from a campus community that is working diligently to model innovative food systems for the future.

Obvious benefits for students are healthy eating and great taste. They’re also learning, involved in every step of the “Healthy Food Transition.” They ask important questions about food production and supply systems and are encouraged to envision potential solutions to global resource challenges.

As is always true at Hampshire, questions related to management of resources inevitably include consideration of the College’s own financial resources and sustainability: Food becomes a literal case of putting your money where your mouth is. What does it mean to understand that food is more than a commodity? How can institutions (or individuals) best invest in their values and in the future? And will those choices prove more costly?

Most of those involved are convinced that what Hampshire is doing is the best choice not only educationally and ethically, but also financially. The College is committed to producing and serving food in a manner students want, doing the right thing now and for future generations—and providing a well-thought-out management model for doing so.

The Healthy Food Transition is helping Hampshire make optimal use of resources, both educationally and operationally.

Hampshire’s 800-acre campus includes 15 acres of vegetable fields and 65 acres of pasture and hay. The farm includes a dairy operation, and is home to cows, chickens, pigs, and a llama. Hampshire’s Farm Center is well integrated into campus life and recognized as a valuable educational resource. Hampshire was one of the first liberal arts colleges to engage in the study and practice of farming as well as the study of food systems. With the Healthy Food Transition, those connections can increase, based on the interests of faculty and students.

Operationally, the farm can economically provide produce, plus there is ample space to increase what is grown. Hampshire’s new food service provider, Bon Appétit Management Co., has said it’s willing to purchase whatever the College produces. Although it seems an unlikely scenario, if more is produced in the future than can be used on campus, Bon Appétit will use the surplus elsewhere, with other clients.

Create partnerships for positive change.
In Bon Appétit, Hampshire found a near-perfect partner in terms of shared values and management styles. Many regard Bon Appétit as the most forward-thinking, socially and environmentally responsible company in the food service industry.

food preperation

Alumnus Howard Wein 93F, Mark Spiro, vice president for administration and finance, and Beth Hooker, director of food, farm, and sustainability, were charged with guiding the dining service selection process. “We were looking for so much more than just someone to manage dining operations,” says Wein. “We wanted a strong community presence and a shared commitment to good, healthy food. We needed the ability, passion, and desire to work with student groups to help make positive changes.”

With a willingness to take a stand on issues surrounding food, Bon Appétit joins Hampshire in striving to create a better world. Its proposal to the College expressed excitement about working together “to change the way all college food service thinks about food and the environment.” One of the company’s first actions at Hampshire was to continue employment for hourly workers at their current rate of pay, or better, and to preserve their seniority. That decision spoke volumes in an academic community concerned with fairness and attached to some longtime employees.

Howard WeinExpand food sales on campus.
“Having a food service operation that reflects the desires and needs of the community will bring higher levels of traffic and more revenue,” says Wein. “The changes will appeal not only to those on full board, but to mod residents, faculty, and staff as well.”

The premise is simple: Healthy, local food tastes better and is better for you. Convenience and costs compete favorably with any outside vendor and make it unnecessary to leave campus to buy food.

With new menus and a new role for the dining commons as a prominent meeting place, more students are expected to spend money there. After a substantial renovation next year, those who prepare their own meals can stop in to buy farm-fresh ingredients or pick up healthy grab-and-go options. These approaches are being designed to complement, rather than compete with, established campus food traditions such as CSA farm shares and the student-run ventures Mixed Nuts and the Night Truck.

Hampshire also negotiated one free meal each week for every College employee this fall. Grant funds pay for the morale-boosting benefit. It promotes staff and faculty interactions with students and one another in an informal setting.

Many faculty and staff are expected to return and purchase more meals each week. While in the dining commons, through ongoing demonstrations by Bon Appétit, they can learn (as can students) how to prepare healthy dishes.

Build visibility and reputation.
The Healthy Food Transition draws on and enhances Hampshire’s reputation as a thought leader in sustainable innovation. The College is gaining visibility and prominence within food and agricultural circles. Wein, owner of the hospitality and venture firm Howard Wein Hospitality, has extensive experience in the world of commercial food, working with iron chefs and top restaurateurs. Bon Appétit partners with educational institutions and companies across the nation—and appreciates Hampshire’s commitment to innovation. “Hampshire students are already telling us, ‘If you have a wild idea, do it here. This is the place for new ideas,’” says Bon Appétit district manager Kelly McDonald.

It’s way too early in the transition to have data, but the visibility surrounding Hampshire’s fresh approach to food is expected to have a positive effect on admissions.

The College is taking a wise management approach, focusing on stewardship of its land resources as it challenges students in new and forward-looking ways.

Offset costs through sustainable choices.
Productivity on the farm already offsets some costs, says Mark Spiro, but Hampshire intends to do much more. Sustainability director Hooker is working on a plan for the 100 percent Local Food Challenge that Hampshire would like to launch. The goal is that all food except for items that aren’t available locally, such as oranges and coffee, will come from within 150 miles. Local sourcing reduces expenses related to transportation, refrigeration, and packaging, plus there is the important bonus of reduced fossil fuel use.

This year, roughly 30 percent of food served on campus will be local. Bon Appétit doubled the number of Hampshire CSA shares purchased for the dining commons, and will continue to increase that amount in the future as well as purchasing turkey, pork, beef, and eggs. Through introductions made by the College, Bon Appétit has set up ten other farms within a 10-mile radius as Farm-to-Fork vendors.

Bon Appétit will serve fresh food year-round, says McDonald, but some items grown on campus can be prepared for off-season use: freezing berries, for example. In late summer, the chef pickled cucumbers to serve this winter.

Attract philanthropic support.
Donors and foundations find the Healthy Food Transition compelling, says Clay Ballantine, chief advancement officer. Stonyfield Farm’s Gary Hirshberg 72F gave $1 million to help launch it. Grants from Newman’s Own Foundation and the Massachusetts Society for the Promotion of Agriculture support the transition goals, including connections with local farmers. An anonymously given $500,000 grant supports educational programming. The Vervane Foundation awarded $45,000 for a plan to expand the farm.

Increase revenue streams with additional farm-based education.
In 2012, Hampshire ran the pilot Food, Farm, and Sustainability summer institute. In summer 2013, a dozen students enrolled—from Smith, Skidmore, Dickinson, Ball State, Connecticut College, Anhui Agricultural University in China, and an incoming Hampshire first-year student and a Hampshire student from Afghanistan. They spent six weeks in the eight-credit academic program, working in the vegetable fields or with animals on the farm in the morning, then in classrooms and labs in the afternoon.

student on farm

Explore the possibility of a Hampshire College food brand.
Hampshire College cheese? Tomato sauce? Maple syrup? This concept, too, connects to the academic program: for example, a popular course that teaches microbiology and biochemistry through the making of cheese. Yes, Hampshire is exploring the idea of creating and selling its own line of food products, offerings straight from the College farm. Although we emphasize “exploring,” it’s an idea that generates enthusiasm. “A partner like Bon Appétit can help us think through the process, our needs, the economies of scale, those kinds of things,” says Spiro, who considers this an endeavor worthy of investigation. It also connects with an ambition to increase processing and storage facilities on campus, which would be helpful in making Hampshire- and other locally grown foods available over the winter.

Energize the board.
“Hampshire’s trustees got it right away,” says Wein. “They understood that the Healthy Food Transition is important on multiple levels, from the food served daily to how the College’s reputation as a risk taker and thought leader will be reinforced.”

Trustee Kenneth Rosenthal has been closely involved with Hampshire all the way back to planning for the 1970 opening. He’s now vice chair of the board and a member of its Buildings, Grounds, and Environmental Sustainability Committee. “As a young college, Hampshire hasn’t had time to build the large financial endowment enjoyed by some institutions, but from the beginning Hampshire’s been endowed with land, a richness of creativity, and social commitment,” Rosenthal says. With the Healthy Food Transition, he says, “the College is taking a wise management approach, focusing on stewardship of its land resources as it challenges students in new and forward-looking ways. The work taking place on campus feels transformative for the institution and its students.”

Engage constituents.
The College is fortunate to have alumni who are farmers, food entrepreneurs, food writers, scientists concerned with resource questions, artists working across media who contribute to positive cultural change, scholars and innovators, and many, many more creative thinkers who can support the Healthy Food Transition in varied ways.

Five College connections are also important. Hooker, whose doctorate is in agricultural ecology, is working to build a collaborative center for food and agricultural scholarship at Hampshire, to be a resource within the Five College community. An infusion of visiting scholars and practitioners across disciplines will both take out and bring in new ideas and energy, she says.

“One of the most important outcomes of our partnership with Bon Appétit is relationships,” says Spiro. “We’re working together to forge deep and lasting relationships with local growers, and to contribute to the local and regional economy.”

Rally behind a shared commitment.
The Healthy Food Transition is about Hampshire’s future and the global future. Hampshire continues to attract visionaries who, even if they’re pragmatic visionaries, don’t always agree on the best path to a better world. Food touches everyone and everything. For so broad an initiative, and one requiring cultural change, to be implemented successfully within one year indicates how well it fits with Hampshire’s values.

In his inauguration speech, President Lash made clear his view of Hampshire as a transformative institution. Hampshire, he said then, prepares the kind of future leaders needed to help solve global resource challenges, such as changing the way we interact with food on a daily basis. Lash’s leadership was instrumental in moving the Healthy Food Transition forward so fast, says Hooker. He set the vision, determined priorities, and provided the necessary tools. “We got a rare level of campus support in selecting a dining service,” she says.

students in dining commons

Reach minds through food.
Most important, students’ minds are being nourished. Some will learn to manage and run food operations or farms. Some may come up with truly revolutionary ideas with the potential to change food systems. All will become more-informed consumers.

Faculty creativity and Hampshire’s innovative pedagogy drive this process, along with student interests. Already immersed in hands-on learning on the farm, professors are developing curriculum to take full advantage of farm and food as academic resources. Microbiologist Jason Tor, ecologist and entomologist Brian Schultz, and physiologist Cindy Gill are working with Beth Hooker on courses for the Food, Farm, and Sustainability summer program. This fall, public health professor Elizabeth Conlisk is teaching Agriculture, Food, and Health, and economics professor Helen Scharber is teaching The Political Economy of Food. As the farm’s role as a site for learning expands, so will that of the dining commons, providing a setting for discussions of food politics and food justice.

Visitors to campus now ask what Hampshire is doing with food and why. The Healthy Food Transition, they learn, is about growing food and people, and Hampshire expects a bumper crop of future leaders.

If you’d like information on how to support the Healthy Food Transition, call 800.619.4267 or
email coll-adv@hampshire.edu.

Learn more about Sustainable Hampshire.

Learn more about Hampshire’s new food service provider’s sustainability commitments.