WSU partners with sustainable, quality food providers

By Hilary Sandberg, Administrative Services marketing intern

produce-170PULLMAN, Wash. – Dining Services supports the community by building a strong base of local and regional suppliers to provide Washington State University students with quality food that is responsibly grown.

“With our students and customers, fresh is definitely popular, and they are paying more attention to what they are putting into their bodies,” said Chelsey Woods, registered dietitian for WSU Dining Services. “Incorporating local food into our recipes increases the freshness and the nutrient value.”

It also increases community ties, said Adam Koerner, executive chef at WSU’s Southside Café: “Our footprint in this area is massive. When students are here, the community thrives.”

Family farm ties

Last summer, Koerner connected with the Allan Family Farm in Pullman at a local farmers market. He said the Allans jumped on board right away when asked to work with Dining Services.

“I thought it was pretty unique and awesome that (Koerner) reached out to us,” said Robert Allan. “They feed a lot of kids every day. If they could use produce from local farmers – that would have a really big impact.”

Allan began farming a few acres with his dad, Patrick Allan, in 2012. Patrick is a WSU alumnus and his father, also Robert Allan, is a retired wheat geneticist at WSU.

They are among many local farmers who value living sustainably, producing quality food and doing it naturally. Besides produce, the Allans keep bees for honey and grow berries and fruit trees.

The university buys locally and sustainably produced Shepherd’s Grain wheat flour and partners with a local company, Rizzuto’s, to buy pizza dough made with Shepherd’s Grain flour.

“Knowing where food comes from is something that society is seeking more of,” said Karl Kupers, co-founder and general manager of Shepherd’s Grain. To facilitate the connection between consumers and farmers, every bag of Shepherd’s Grain flour includes information that allows buyers to trace the wheat back to the farm where it was grown.

Sustainable ag

Allen Druffel and Art Schultheis run two such farms near Colton, Wash., just south of Pullman. They practice sustainable agriculture through direct-seed farming, where seed is drilled into untilled soil. Stubble is left to decompose naturally back into the soil, which helps prevent topsoil erosion and increase soil water retention.

“I want to promote sustainable farming,” said Druffel, a fifth-generation farmer. “If we want to continue farming, we cannot keep doing it the way we’ve been doing it.”

With direct seeding, farmers are able to conserve land and water and leave the land in better shape than before, Schultheis said.

“I don’t want to lose the ground,” he said. “I have a sixth generation that wants to farm. We are trying to keep it productive and make it better than it is now.”

Aiming for more

Other local and regional food suppliers working with Dining Services include: Artfully Yours Bakery and WSU Creamery in Pullman; Charlie’s Produce, Wilcox Family Farms, Snoqualmie Falls Oatmeal and Auburn Dairy Products in the Northwest; and Northern Fish in Seattle.

While the logistics of supply and demand and seasonal limitations create challenges for WSU Dining Services to buy food locally, providing sustainable and quality food remains an important goal. The big dream is to organize a farmers’ co-op that could provide enough seasonal produce to meet the university’s demand.

“I think people all the way through Dining Services have the right idea about where we want to go and what we are willing to do to get there,” Koerner said. “We are taking the right steps to move in the right direction.”