How can I support local/ sustainable agriculture in Pennsylvania?
Specific for State College
Everyone enjoys food. It energizes our bodies to perform critical daily functions and provides the necessary nutrients to remain healthy and active. However, even the food we eat has a profound impact on the environment.
- According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency almost half of the food in the U.S., approximately 100 billion pounds a year, goes to waste, making leftover food the second largest component of the U.S. waste stream by weight (1).
- The food industry requires intensive amounts of energy in production, processing, temperature controls, packaging, and storage. The U.S. food system uses over 1000 trillion British thermal units (Btus) of energy each year. Less than 5% of this energy is generated from renewable sources (2).
- The use of fertilizers and pesticides in food production contaminate aquifers, wells, and waterways. Large amounts of fossil fuels are used to produce fertilizers. Most synthetic fertilizers contain nitrogen, which contributes to global warming.
- A 2002 study from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated that using our current system, three calories of energy are needed to create one calorie of edible food (3).
(1) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Wastes- Information Resources, "Put Holiday Leftovers to Good Use" http://www.epa.gov/waste/inforesources/news/2006news/11-food.htm (2) Energy Information Administration, "Annual Energy Outlook 2010: Food Industry Energy Consumption" (3) Horrigan, Leo, Robert S. Lawrence and Polly Walker. "How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture." Environmental Health Perspectives 110, no. 5 (May 5, 2002)
- At University Park, Penn State Food Services provides for the nutritional needs of students. Food Services is a unit of Penn State Auxiliary and Business Services.
- Food Services operations include five dining commons (North, South, East, West, and Pollock), five convenience stores, 12 coffee shops, and numerous retail establishments.
- Penn State’s own catering service, Java Catering, operates through several locations on campus and provides catering for special events.
- The dining commons serve anywhere between 79,000-94,000 meals per week.
- University Park's post-consumer food waste stream totals 600 tons annually.
What PSU is Doing
Recycling & Waste Management
- Penn State Food Services recycles metal cans, plastic and glass bottles, newspaper, mixed office paper, and corrugated cardboard.
- In 2008, Food Services began collecting plastic film wrap(#4 LDPE) to expand its recycling efforts. The plastic film is sent to a remanufacturer in New Market, Virginia where it is converted into plastic lumber.
- Food waste comprises almost 45% of Penn State’s total recycling stream.
Project Earth Grow
- Project Earth Grow is a collaboration of Food Services, Office of Physical Plant and the College of Agriculture, Hospitality Services, campus lab facilities, and the Bennett Family Child Care Center.
- Since 1997 used napkins and kitchen scraps from dining commons and the child care center have been mixed with leaves and other organics to make compost. The waste is collected and sent to the Organic Materials Processing and Eductaion Center (OMPEC) on the northern boundary of the University Park campus.
- Project Earth Grow composts more than 14,500 pounds of napkin waste and over 681,000 pounds of pre-consumer waste, such as vegetable peels, eggshells, leftover food from dining commons buffets, and other kitchen scraps per year.
- The finished compost is used in University flower gardens, landscaping, practice fields, and elsewhere on campus. This project saves over 1.6 tons of waste daily from the landfill, avoiding over $16,000 in costs annually.
- All 5 dining facilities also engage in back-of-house composting and currently 2 facilities compost front-of-house waste.
Purchasing & Food Selection
- Penn State Food Services strives to purchase from local suppliers whenever possible. Food Services also makes a concerted effort to purchase from environmentally friendly companies.
- 16% of Food Services food purchases are from PA sources.
- Penn State offers vegetarian options at every meal.
Farm to College
- Farm to College is a nationwide initiative that enhances the relationship between local farmers and universities by buying fresh, locally grown produce and dairy.
- Penn State's Berkey Creamery supplies the almost 250,000 gallons of milk consumed by students in the dining commons every year. Half of the milk used by the Creamery comes from a 225-cow herd at the University’s Dairy Production Research Center. The rest is purchased from local family farms in Bellefonte, PA. This practice reduces fossil fuel emissions associated with long-distance shipping and supports the local economy.
- In 2009 Penn State Food Services developed guidelines that encouraged Pennsylvania companies to partner with the University. During the 2008-09 school year, over 16% of Food Services' total purchases met its Standards.
Student Sustainability Coordinators
- Dining Services currently employs student sustainability coordinators. They act as the medium between students and Campus Dining. The coordinators play an active role in the peer education of sustainable practices within the dinign facilities. They aim to visit all 5 dining halls on a monthly basis to assess student and staff knowlege and compliance of sustainable policies, as well as to solicit suggestions to make their experience as sustainanable, yet convenient as possible.
The School of Hospitality Management and Café Laura
- Café Laura is the student-run restaurant contained in the School of Hospitality Management. It is located in the Mateer Building in the Northwest side of campus. Hospitality and nutrition students work at Café Laura and are in charge of running lunches and dinners. They are involved in everything from purchasing to production to service to clean up. Café Laura does numerous things to make their operation green, including composting, sourcing local produce when possible, growing their own herbs, buying supplies and food products from companies that respect the environment, and actively participating in PSU’s recycling program. On its best day, Café Laura diverts 90% of its compost from the landfill.
There are many things that individuals can do to reduce the environmental impact of their food. Some tips include:
- Buy local: Buying locally decreases fossil fuel emissions associated with long-distance transportation and stimulates the local economy.
- Eating fruits and vegetables raw is a win-win: cooking causes many essential vitamins found in fruits and vegetables to degrade and uses energy. Eating produce raw improves your health and saves energy.
- Eat organic, buy organic: Organic foods are grown and produced without artificial pesticides and preservatives. They also help to maintain soil quality as pesticides degrade nutrients in our soil.
- Cut back on meat consumption: According to a University of Chicago study, Americans reducing their consumption of meat by 20%, would have the same environmental impact as if all Americans switched from driving a regular car sedan to a Toyota Prius (4).
- Don’t eat fish species at risk: Many fish species are on their way to extinction because of over-fishing. There are some species that are more at risk than others; a list of these fish and more sustainable choices can be found on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List at: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx (also available are guides for sushi and regional areas).
- Eat less processed foods: The more processed the food, the more fossil fuels were used to make it. Many processed foods contain unhealthy amounts of sugar and sodium and require the most energy to make.
- Wasted food = wasted money: According to the EPA food waste losses account for about $100 billion per year (1). You can minimize your food waste by buying and preparing only what you will eat, donating extra food to local food banks, and composting food scraps.
- Packaging and waste: Don’t forget about the waste that comes from food packaging. By buying fresh foods from either your farmers market or grocery stores (not pre-packaged) and by bringing re-usable shopping bags, you can reduce the amount of waste you create from paper, plastic, aluminum, (etc.) packaging.
(4) National Public Radio, "Rising Demand for Meat Takes Toll on Environment." http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89676010