UDS boosts enviro-friendly food

by Emily Kaiser

On a bluff overlooking Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minn., sits Dennis Courtier, owner of Pepin Heights Orchards.

“This is probably my favorite place in the world,” he said.

The bluff is on Courtier’s apple orchard that grows 20 percent of the apples grown in Minnesota, he said. Approximately 320,000 apples are picked a day at the orchard during the harvest season, he said.

The orchard is certified by Food Alliance Midwest, which partnered this year with the University to increase the amount of local sustainable agriculture and environmentally friendly foods in the University Dining Services facilities.

UDS bought 2 tons of produce during the summer, supporting Minnesota farmers with a financial return of $5,000, said Karen Devet, operations director of UDS.

There are no estimates on the amount to be bought this semester, but UDS is using more certified produce than years past, she said.

Food Alliance Midwest is a nonprofit organization that offers a food certification program, said Bob Olson, business development manager for the organization.

“Most people are familiar with certified organic, which is a USDA certification process,” he said. “Food Alliance is an alternative for food that meets sustainable-grown and socially responsible guidelines.”

The Food Alliance guidelines include an awareness of protecting the environment, preventing pollution problems and an effort to reduce pesticides on crops, Olson said. Livestock must also be raised in a humane matter, he said.

“One thing our certification has that others do not is employees on the farm must be treated in a fair and respectful manner,” Olson said. “We are trying to prevent unsafe conditions for employees.”

The University’s use of local, sustainable agriculture is not a new development, Devet said, but UDS is trying to add more products whenever possible.

“We want to raise awareness that UDS does use locally grown products because there is an interest in it,” she said.

Pepin Heights was one of the first to join Food Alliance Midwest and had been practicing many of the guidelines beforehand, Courtier said.

“In our business specifically, these goals are just the right thing to do,” he said. “I do believe that as we go through our days we get to make choices.”

Supporting these standards should be important to anyone who really likes food, Courtier said.

“If you like to eat, investment in better food is important,” he said. “A vast majority of apples are lousy and just don’t taste good, like they were picked a year and a half ago and kicked all the way to the store.”

First-year entrepreneurial management student Jasmin Walker eats in the superblock cafeterias and said supporting local agriculture is not an important issue.

“If you are eating fresh food, you are always supporting local agriculture somewhere, whether it be locally or nationally,” she said.

In addition to supplying products to the University, the orchard works closely with the University on many projects and produces Honeycrisp apples, which were created at the University in 1960, Courtier said.

“There are a lot of nice ties bringing back developments and production to the school,” Olson said. “There is a real nice connection in the fruits of labor coming back to students and faculty.”

By bringing these products to the University, UDS is simply responding to people’s concern about the food they eat, Olson said.

“What Food Alliance can do is provide good quality food that meets good standards of excellence,” he said. “We can show how it protects people, and also brings in other values customers are thinking about.”

Supporting local farmers should be important to the University and students eating at UDS, said civil engineering junior Sam Pond.

“It makes sense to support Minnesota farmers,” he said. “We need to take care of our own and their livelihood.”

Left Bank Café

Java City Coffee is now serving Eco-Grounds at its Left Bank Café in the Regis Center for Art, Devet said.

The coffee shop serves as a testing site for the new line of coffee which is 100 percent organic, fair trade, bird friendly and shade grown, she said.

Surveys performed by UDS showed a higher interest in Eco-Grounds coffee on the West Bank, Devet said.

“We have been seeing a rising interest in organic and environmentally friendly products and that is why we made the change,” she said.

Fair trade coffee has been offered in the residence halls for a couple of years, but not the Eco-Grounds variety, Devet said.