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Notre Dame turns to locally produced food

Dennis Slater | Wednesday, January 30, 2008

In an effort to give a boost to the economic and environmental life of local communities, many people across the nation have turned to locally grown foods to fill their shopping carts – and Notre Dame is no exception.

Jim Yarbrough, the senior associate director of Food Services and chairman of its social responsibility committee, said that last year, Notre Dame spent more than $2,243,000 on local products. Any state that borders Indiana is considered local, and the food was predominantly purchased from Michigan and Wisconsin, he said.

“We can get to Wisconsin faster and more efficiently than we can get to Bloomington, [Ind.] so we consider that to be local,” Yarbrough said.

He said more than $600,000 was spent on Michigan and Wisconsin cheese, milk and dairy products, and another $400,000 on local meat products. Approximately $48,328 was used to buy Michigan and Wisconsin apples, and $27,675 for Indiana tomatoes.

Resorting to local products, he said, cuts down on expensive fossil fuels that would be needed to transport the products. It also limits – and in some cases eliminates – the need for chemical preservatives that could be detrimental to a person’s health, Yarbrough said.

Last year’s local foods purchases were part of a regional effort a coalition of Indiana colleges began five years ago to drive up the demand for organically produced foods, he said.

Food Services strives to benefit the community in other ways.

“Usable leftover food is sent to the Hope Rescue Mission or the Center for the Homeless,” Yarbrough said. “There is an energy conservation program within our staff to reduce food waste, conserve electricity, natural gas and water.”

The Food Services staff members involved in this program examine the campus, making sure to replace incandescent light bulbs, which produce more heat and waste more electricity, with fluorescent light bulbs, which are more efficient and produce less heat.

In addition to the conservation program, Yarbrough is also responsible for maintaining a campus-wide recycling effort that has been in place for more than 18 years.

Yarbrough and his crew have placed a multitude of recycling receptacles to make more students aware of how easy it is to recycle. Educating students to recycle their newspapers is a top priority for Yarbrough.

“We have placed the blue recycling bins across campus and especially at the dining halls to discourage students from leaving their newspapers on their trays and tables or throwing them in the garbage,” he said.

Food Services, for its part, uses compactors to dispose of any cardboard boxes to make sure they can be reused.

And these are not processes or programs that are ending anytime soon. It is an ongoing agenda exemplified by the weekly meetings to brainstorm ideas and maintain a greener Notre Dame, Yarbrough said.

“Our staff is committed to purchasing locally grown foods and staying environmentally friendly,” he said. “This is a continuing process and we are happy to be educating our students about recycling and the benefits of local food purchase and consumption.”