Bates ‘foodshed’ widespread

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LEWISTON – As worthy as the goal of shrinking its “foodshed” may be, Bates College has limited options to raise the percentage of local food purchased for its dining services.

One company in Arkansas pretty much has a lock on the chicken market, but there’s a supplier in Greene for much of the college’s hamburger beef.

The information comes from a Bates College senior who presented her independent study project about the Bates foodshed Tuesday afternoon.

Ari Rosenberg, Scotsdale, Ariz., showed how 14 common food items – mostly ingredients for chicken Kiev – come from the four corners of the country. The origination points are California, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Virginia, Florida and Maine. All told, the 14 items represent about 17.5 percent of about 1,000 items routinely used for the Bates College dining hall meals.

Arkansas had the highest percentage – about 7 percent – of the studied products because Tyson Foods Inc. controls so much poultry production.

“It’s a huge industry and there’s really no room for it to change,” Rosenberg said.

Maine products accounted for 6.3 percent, mostly potatoes and apples.

Rosenberg’s research showed that most of the Maine purchases were in Cumberland County where Oakhurst Dairy is based. Aroostook County was second and Androscoggin County was third with just over half a percent for purchases of apples.

“It’s important for people to be fully aware of where their food comes from,” Rosenberg said.

There’s still plenty of research that can be done on foodsheds, Rosenberg told the audience at Chase Hall.

Christine Schwartz, Bates director of dining services, said, “We are always trying to find out how to most responsibly spend our food dollars at Bates. It’s not always quite as easy as it seems.”

Schwartz said, “It’s really so great to think about it from the students’ point of view.”

She said the Bates College dining services spends between $42,000 and $55,000 each week.

About 25 percent of the dining services food budget is spent locally, Schwatz said, adding that she would like to see that increase to about 35 percent.

“We would like to buy almost everything locally, but the reality is, we couldn’t do it,” she said.

The presentation at Chase Hall was attended by several dozen students who contributed to a spirited discussion after the talk.

The term foodshed, as defined by the Wisconsin Foodshed Research Project, was initially adapted from the concept of watersheds to describe the flow of food from where it is grown to where it is purchased or consumed. Individuals have personal foodsheds, but researchers can also calculate foodsheds for businesses and communities.

According to Locavores, a group of Bay Area food activists, the average piece of food travels 1,500 miles before ending up on a U.S. consumer’s kitchen table.

Rosenberg’s project was sponsored by Bates College’s Harward Center for Community Partnerships.

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