Walking between the frozen dirt and snow-encrusted aisles of the Kalamazoo community farmers market Katherine Rapin ‘15 introduces James Chantanasombut to the local farmers and possible vendors for the Kalamazoo College Dining Services.
Rapin serves as the current sustainability intern for Kalamazoo College Dining Services and works alongside Chantanasombut, the Director and Executive Chef. The two work together with student organizations, such as Farms to K to bring local food to the College’s campus.
School organizations that work together to support and use local food helps to create a strong sense of community, said Rapin.
“Through something that makes up our body and nourishes us, we can support a lot of good,” said Rapin. “It can be such a positive community building experience for people to share together.”
Rapin has served at the Civic Engagement Scholar for Farms to K and also worked with Sodexo, K’s former cafeteria operator, to measure the amount of real food the company used at the cafeteria.
In her transition from CES of Farms to K to Sustainability Intern at Kalamazoo College Dining Services her relationship with advocating for local food has shifted.
“At Farms to K my sophomore year it was so much outreach, so much education, so much pushing, now I kind of have a balance,” said Rapin. “For the Creative Dining job I’m going to try to get as much local food in the cafeteria as possible and hope that the students like it, which means we can keep buying it.”
The goal to purchase local food on Kalamazoo College’s campus has been an organized activity since the initiation of the group Farms to K in 2005.
The role of Farms to K on campus is to connect the community producers and the college to increase local foods used on campus.
The current CES of Farms to K, Gretta Herrin, agreed that supporting local food is a positive community builder and stressed the additional benefits that local foods have for the community and campus.
“We should have the money to make sourcing local food a reality because it has such a huge ripple effect on the greater Kalamazoo Community,” said Herrin. “That’s something the college should take as a priority and not necessarily do we have the budget for this, because it’s whether or not we care about our students, and community, and our local growers.”
In 2010 Farms to K created a policy for a Sustainable Kalamazoo College Dining Services Program. This policy has not been adopted by the College but was attached to the process of request for proposals for the dining service contract, said Allison Geist Director of the Center for Civic Engagement and current faculty advisor for Farms to K.
Although the college has not officially adopted the policy, its inclusion in the request for proposals had a positive effect during the transition to Creative Dining services from Sodexo.
While Rapin worked with Sodexo she measured the amounts of real food the company used on campus. Her research resulted in only two products that qualified.
“The only things that counted were Michigan apples and fair trade coffee and that was it,” said Rapin. “I think if we would’ve done it in October the results might have looked a little bit different but probably similar.”
In total Kalamazoo College Dining Services purchases 36 percent of the food and beverage used on campus from companies that have sustainable practices. About 25 percent of that total comes from local sources, 10.3 percent from local privately owned farms and artisans, and less than 1 percent from Eco friendly sources, such as USDA organics.
The dramatic increase from two items that qualify as real food to 25 percent local food is due to the flexibility a smaller local company such as Creative Dining offers. Creative Dining is based out of Zeeland Mich. and supplies about 70 clients while Sodexo is based in Maryland and supplies over 9,000 clients in North America alone.
One of Chantanasombut’s roles as director and head chef is to focus on the students’ desires opposed to the profits.
“We’re more focused on bringing in local for the students, it’s not so much about kickbacks and things like that,” said Chantanasombut. “So we don’t have to go through as much red tape.”
Rapin enjoys working with dining services because of their willingness to try new things.
“If I ever have an idea they don’t ever shut it down,” said Rapin. “They really are invested in sourcing more and more local producers so, I think it’s just really getting better consistently.”
The reason Creative Dining won the bid as Kalamazoo College Dining Services is strictly based on their eagerness to satisfy the desires of the student body, said Rapin.
“They really wanted to do whatever we wanted as students at K. They have so much more flexibility just because of their smaller scale of their company,” said Rapin.
Rapin said that although the policy for a Sustainable Kalamazoo College Dining Services Program is not in effect, Creative Dining already attempts to follow some of the guidelines set up in it.
“Creative dining already wants to do it, so I think the policy will be huge for
the college and it’ll look really good,” said Rapin.
Geist agreed that Creative Dining is making positive changes to support local food but feared that the majority of the support for the movement resides on Chantanasombut’s shoulders.
“They’re trying to do a lot better and I think if there were a policy that required it they would do better still. But James is very responsive but what if we didn’t have James?” said Geist. “You can’t have a successful policy that depends entirely on whether there is one person in the position who holds those values. You really need to have an organization, an entity, that’s committed and that’s meeting a commitment that we’ve set.”
Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Development, Dr. Sarah Westfall referred to the policy as a set of guidelines that Kalamazoo College Dining Services adheres to, but the guidelines are not a part of their contract.
“The guidelines still guide what we’re still asking Creative Dining as our dining provider to do,” said Westfall. “And they would know that if they weren’t making that kind of progress then that would put their ability to bid again at risk. That may not be the only thing and that may not be the most important of things but that will be one of the things.”