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Business Officer Magazine
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Vantage Point

Spotlight on an institution in one of the constituent groups: small institutions, community colleges, comprehensive/doctoral institutions, or research universities

By Cynthia Peters

SMALL INSTITUTIONS
Adding a New Dimension to Sustainable Dining

What does the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) have to do with campus dining? It turns out that the council assesses fisheries and authenticates the chain of custody for seafood. As a result of a move to direct management of its food services and an increased emphasis on sustainability, Pomona College, Claremont, California, reached a milestone in 2011, becoming the nation's first liberal arts college to achieve the MSC's chain-of-custody certification.

In addition, the college has made a number of other changes that have improved quality and increased students' use of the campus's food service.

Goals and Guidelines

In January 2011 Pomona College took over direct management of its dining services operation, following more than a decade of third-party management. The college made the change with two main goals: providing a consistently high-quality dining experience, and ensuring that food service management met Pomona's standards and reflected the college's values.

"The midyear switch required some deft maneuvering, from the facilities and campus services office—which manages dining services—to the business office and the dining staff," says Karen Sisson, vice president and treasurer at Pomona College. "We started with a food service consultant, who examined our dining operation, and hired a new management team. In addition, the business office reviewed prior invoices to determine the budget; helped with the assessment of new management and catering software; and is working on new reporting formats to aid in the management of the $4 million-plus operation. It's challenging to manage a service that operates 18 hours a day and provides meals from breakfast to late-night snacks."

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Frary is Pomona's largest dining hall, a grand room watched over by José Clemente Orozco's famous Prometheus painting.

 

Seeking Local Sources

The college now sources approximately 40 percent of produce locally (within 250 miles), with 15 percent coming from certified-organic or sustainably-managed farms. All eggs are from cage-free chickens. All chicken and beef used for grill stations—and most of the poultry and meat used in the kitchen—meet the humanely raised certification standards. That is, animals are hormone and antibiotic free, eat a vegetarian diet, and are allowed to range free. As for coffee and tea products, all are organic and fair trade.

Last summer's award of the chain-of-custody certification ensures that the seafood Pomona serves meets the college's sustainability standard, because MSC certifies the fisheries where the products originate, based on environmental impact and effective management. Receiving the certification involved special training for dining staff on how to order, store, and account for the MSC-certified seafood. Interestingly, we've found that MSC-certified products are the same or lower in price than the seafood previously used in the dining halls.

A year after Pomona made these various changes, students have taken notice. The average number of meals served has increased more than 50 percent, from approximately 2,000 meals to 3,000 meals per day.

Lessons in Lowering Costs

While Samantha Meyer, the college's sustainability and purchasing coordinator, acknowledges that purchasing local, organic, fair-trade, and humane foods can be more expensive, she has found creative ways to keep costs low.

  • Move proteins to the end of the main line, which encourages people to fill their plates with lower-cost items.
  • Offer fewer protein options, since many people will take everything that is offered.
  • Work closely with local vendors to negotiate the best prices.

"Finding and working with local vendors can be more work," says Meyer, "but it's worth it because we get a higher-quality product and we work with farms and businesses that share our sustainability values. We also get more personalized attention as well as customized products. It certainly makes food service—and our menu—more interesting."

SUBMITTED BY Cynthia Peters, director of media relations, Pomona College, Claremont, California