Students find interest in locally grown food

University Park, PENNSYLVANIA, posted January 27, 2005: Buying locally grown food can mean fresher products and support for the local economy. With that in mind, students in one class at Penn State spent last fall gauging the interest of area restaurants in purchasing food locally, their familiarity with an initiative known as "Buy Fresh Buy Local," and their propensity to do just that.

Restaurateurs’ ten requests to ease buying local

Restaurateur expressed interest in increasing their purchases of locally grown products but expressed concern with lack of selection possibly due to seasonality, quantity or volume issues, higher prices, lack of reliability, fewer delivery options, safety regulations, lack of standards, lack of consistency and fewer payment options as precieved disadvantages. When asked what would make buying locally easier, responses included:

  1. a website of local product availability,
  2. a newsletter,
  3. a weekly price list,
  4. a good representative that is knowledgeable about local products and availability,
  5. prompt delivery service,
  6. a local foods consumer guide,
  7. price and quality assurance
  8. a local co-op,
  9. fax access with prices and products and
  10. alternative billing options such as a 10-15 day payment period with invoice.

Students -- a mix of undergraduates and graduates -- in Nutrition/Science, Technology & Society 497G: Community Food Security spent the latter part of the Fall 2004 semester working on and conducting a survey of restaurants in the Centre Region, gauging their interest and involvement in buying locally produced food. A national initiative guided by Food Routes of Mill Hall, Pa., and at the state level by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), "Buy Fresh, Buy Local," strives to create a widely recognizable brand name for identifying locally grown food and encouraging consumers to support area producers.

"Basically, we hoped to gain a better understanding of where the food served in these restaurants originated and what restaurant owners, managers or chefs considered when purchasing," said Dru Montri, a graduate student in horticulture. "We also were looking to determine what those involved in the restaurant industry believed were the advantages and disadvantages of buying locally and what could be done to make the process easier for them. The final component was to assess the industry's awareness and acceptance of the Centre County 'Buy Fresh Buy Local' campaign."

The 10 students in the class surveyed a total of 24 area restaurants, which ranged from 300 to 9000 patrons served per week, entrée costs of two dollars to 32 dollars and a wide sampling of cuisines. The class found that 13 of the establishments surveyed currently purchase some local product, and six more occasionally do.

In the process, the class found that 15 of the eateries surveyed were interested in taking part in "Buy Fresh, Buy Local," and nine of the establishments would be willing to pay extra for locally grown food. The survey also identified ways in which locally grown food could be made more easily available for restaurants.

Montri has worked with the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" initiative since last summer, and she noted that the findings of the class are a good starting point in encouraging local food consumption in Centre County.

"Our work as a class has concluded," Montri said. "Personally, I will continue to promote the 'Buy Fresh, Buy Local' campaign in Centre County. I am currently working with PASA on membership and a Centre County Local Foods Guide. The survey was a great beginning. From here, I'll work on following-up with those restaurants that are interested and getting in touch with those we were unable to speak to."

The course is in its second year and is taught by Dorothy Blair, assistant professor of nutrition, with students studying nutrition in the College of Health and Human Development and horticulture and agricultural sciences in the College of Agriculture.

Blair said the course examined alternative ways to bring food security to communities, beyond the standard governmental and food bank giveaways. Before surveying area restaurants to gauge interest and feasibility in the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local," initiative, Blair had her class take a close look at community food security programs in Pennsylvania and around the country.

"There are hundreds of programs now happening in the U.S. that fall under this theme," Blair said. "We visited Philadelphia for two days in the early fall, looking at their innovative projects, and also examine what is happening locally in Centre County."

The idea of community food security, Blair explained, incorporates a number of available resources to provide products to community members from local producers.

"Community food security usually focuses on promoting local ag production and local consumption through community gardens, urban agriculture, child through youth and adult food education, cooking skills, and food entrepreneurship, ways to bring people cheaper food that involve their efforts, food coops and local economic stimulation through food projects," Blair said. "Philadelphia has taken a lead role in this, as have many urban areas."

In State College, the class found a number of opportunities for community food security, including a new 87-plot community garden at Tudek Park, Community Supported Agriculture, farmers' markets, and gardens at local schools which get students thinking about food as something in which they can get involved, Blair said.

For area restaurants, the survey discovered that even if it meant an increase in price, restaurant owners and managers would like to acquire some of their food from local producers. Respondents said among ways the process of buying local could be made easy would be centralized information on product availability and prices, a representative knowledgeable on local products and availability and alternative billing options.

"We were able to identify a list of 10 ideas that would make buying locally easier for restaurants," Montri said. "This is the type of information we hope others will use to continue to work for this cause."

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