Carolina offers local, organic grub

January 22, 2010 at 10:08 pm 1 comment

UNC took a giant leap forward in providing “local, sustainable, organic” food for students, faculty and staff last week. It opened its “1.5.0” station in the Main Street food court in Lenoir Dining Hall at the heart of campus. The name signifies that much of the food will come from farms within 150 miles of campus, and all of it will be healthy, organic or local.

I sampled some of the local fare today, including the “Grass-Fed Beef Chili” with meat straight from Cane Creek-Braeburn Farms in Snow Camp. It was great to be able to patronize the campus eatery and know where my food came from, which is the way it should be at the nation’s first state university. It was tasty and affordable, too ($3.99).  Other choices included short ribs and several organic bean salad plates.  Sometimes they have Indian dahl. The only problem now will be trying to resist eating sweet potato fries with local honey butter every day when it’s only minutes from my office. 

Business was brisk as students lined up for local healthy food. Mike Freeman, director of auxiliary services, told the Daily Tar Heel he was aiming to just break even, but after only a week, the locavore eatery was exceeding his projections. The new 1.5.0 averaged $1,320  in daily sales — about one fourth of what Chick-Fil-A takes in at its Main Street concession, still the most popular one netting about 30% of food court sales.

I’m betting that when more local food is available this spring, 1.5.0 will get even more attention and sales. The food is healthy, tasty and affordable, a triple bottom line for students, faculty and staff. Why didn’t they have this on the menu when I was in college back in the day?

The new eatery is just one of several initiatives at Carolina to encourage local, healthy diets.  University employees have launched a community garden on the edge of campus where students and staff will be welcome to grow their own plots (see Employee Forum Newsletter, page 2). There are at least three other community gardens sponsored by students on campus and in Chapel Hill, including one designed to provide farm training and jobs for the homelessThe School of Public Health is studying our local farm economy, the transition from tobacco and the connections between food, health and the environment. And UNC Hospitals sponsor a weekly farmer’s market with fresh local produce during the growing season.

Students also learn about food in courses across the curriculum, including American studies, anthropology, bio-chemistry, English, folklore, nutrition, environmental studies and land-use planning. Last year the Institute for the Environment co-sponsored a six-part seminar series on sustainable food systems with Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and student groups at both campuses.

The FLO Food student organization (Fair, Local, Organic) is behind much of this energy. FLO is hosting a major southeast regional student food activist conference at UNC in February Feb. 5-7.

Next, we’ll take a look at what’s happening at Duke and N.C. State to see which campus has the best local food in the Triangle ACC.

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Entry filed under: food access, University Food. Tags: .

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