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Organic farm to provide food to university

(Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

The Associated Press, 09/11/2002: SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. (AP) -- Students at Slippery Rock University will soon be able to put down their pizza in favor of foods grown by an organic farmers' cooperative.

ARAMARK, the school's food service vendor, plans to begin buying about 10 percent of its produce from Pennsylvania Local Organic Works, a seven-member cooperative. The deal is scheduled to be signed by ARAMARK and university officials later this year.

Officials hope the program, which began as a graduate school class project to expose students to organically grown vegetables, will spread to other schools.

``It's not just a matter of putting food on the table for students,'' said Wayne Clickman, food service coordinator for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. ``It's providing academic programs ... and helping students develop habits, eating habits, that will help them later in life.''

Clickman said three other universities in the state's 14-school higher education system are likely to try similar programs.

Slippery Rock is leading the way because of an alliance former graduate student Heather House and others forged between the school, ARAMARK officials and farmers.

One of the farmers, Don Kretschman, is president of the co-op and owner of a 70-acre organic vegetable farm. He sells his vegetables to grocers, farmers markets and hundreds of subscription customers.

He's also an ardent adherent of sustainable agriculture, in which farmers avoid chemicals and farming methods they consider harmful to the environment. Proponents say techniques used to improve vegetable appearance and shelf life -- crucial for vegetables shipped long distances -- can compromise nutritional value.

``I think the most significant thing, and it's significant across agriculture, is we need to start watching not to deplete the agricultural resources we have,'' Kretschman said. ``And this is one way to do it -- keep the production local.''

The Slippery Rock program is ``definitely cutting edge,'' said Marion Kalb, who coordinates school-related food programs for the Community Food Security Coalition. The Venice, Calif.-based nonprofit promotes sustainable agriculture.

Interest in similar programs is growing at U.S. colleges, Kalb said.

Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, buys fresh produce from local farmers there. And the food director at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, buys fresh produce from local farmers and helped establish a program to turn garbage into compost.

The program enabled the college to get rid of five garbage disposals, saving $70,000 in electricity and water bills, Kalb said.

What remains to be seen is how practical the program will be at Slippery Rock, where the May-to-September growing season overlaps with the regular school year for only about six weeks.

Dan Palombo, the district manager for ARAMARK, said the school typically uses 36,000 pounds of lettuce a year, and similar amounts of staple vegetables like tomatoes, onions, celery, and carrots.

``Part of the concern for us is they can't always keep in stock things we use everyday,'' Palombo said.

ARAMARK has already started using some locally grown vegetables, largely for summer students and participants in summer activities.

``The issue with this is going to come down to whether it's cost-effective -- as it always does,'' said university spokesman Gordon Ovenshine. ``But if it works, I think it's really going to catch on.''... http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/business/AP-Farm-Scene.html

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